The final Premier League clash before Christmas is a potentially significant one in the title race as Arsenal take on Manchester City with the incentive of moving four points above their opponents.
With the exception of finding out that Barcelona lie in wait in the last 16 of the Champions League, the last fortnight has been very satisfying all round for Arsenal and if over the festive period they can maintain the form which has delivered them three straight wins, they may convince a few more people that they are truly capable of being crowned champions in May. A draw here would not be a damaging result, but three points would significantly lift the atmosphere around the club and would represent a proper statement to their rivals.
This is likely to be a much tougher encounter for the Gunners than it was last time at Aston Villa, where they were gifted an early penalty and eventually sailed to a 2-0 victory without ever having to hit top gear. The game yielded yet another goal for Olivier Giroud and another assist from Mesut Ozil, and if the in-form duo can repeat that kind of form here Arsenal will sense success, especially as City have had more than the odd struggle in defence in recent games.
The continued absence of Vincent Kompany is giving the Man City backline a somewhat disjointed look and they do appear vulnerable, and Arsenal will take inspiration from how badly they fared in their last away match at Stoke City in their attempts to play their way through them here. Manuel Pellegrini’s side are still seen by most as the team most likely to win the title due to the quality they have and the money they have spent, but lately they have underperformed and concern will rise if they were to lose this one.
They were unquestionably fortunate to win on their last outing at home to Swansea City, a game in which they rarely threatened and were often on the back-foot, but a freak stoppage time goal from Kalechi Iheanatcho was just enough to spare their blushes after conceding an equaliser as late as the 86th minute. Needless to say, they must show much more here if they are to come away with anything from the Emirate Stadium, and the potential return of Sergio Aguero gives City a major boost in that regard.
Alexis Sanchez misses out here, but may be available for Arsenal later in the festive period. A number of other players are out with longer-term injuries.
Aguero is fit for Man City and will play a part, but they are still unable to call upon Kompany as well as Fernando and Pablo Zabaleta.
Played for both – Patrick Vieira: The fiery midfielder was a powerful presence in the Arsenal team for nine incredibly successful years under Arsene Wenger, the last three of which he was captain. Three Premier League titles and four FA Cup winner’s medals ensures he is among the most decorated foreign players in English football. He finished his career at Man City in 2010-11, scoring three goals in 28 appearances.