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Arsenal, Man City stumble dazed and confused into date with destiny, which is ideal for everyone else


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An interesting September game has become an absolutely crucial February title clash between Arsenal and Manchester City, neither of whom are in great form.


It’s an unusual, unintentional and entirely welcome quirk of this season that both title-race six-pointers between Manchester City and Arsenal will take place deep into the second half of the season.

Sure, Manchester United are loitering on the fringes of things, watching with interest as the two leading contenders offer tantalising glimpses of collapse, but none of their matches against Arsenal or City have really had the feel of season-defining games determining the ultimate destination of the trophy.

This one absolutely does, and it’s a great twist to have it be the 22nd game of Arsenal’s season and the 23rd of City’s.

Of course, there’s a huge amount of dumb luck in having a rearranged game land just right and for the second time in a year the Premier League have massively lucked out with Arsenal. Last year it was what turned out to be pretty much a fourth-place play-off against Spurs ; this time it’s far earlier in the season but far bigger.

And just like last year it’s not even part of the conspiracy, which at the moment is far too busy with clumsily obvious bullshit like forgetting to use VAR properly and such. Arsenal clearly have Big Football worried if they’re resorting to that kind of hamfisted chicanery.

Amazon have lucked out too, landing a top-of-the-table clash that now carries far greater significance and attention than it would have garnered in its usual spot as just one of Prime’s round of games. , but there’s no doubt the standalone nature of this fixture makes it pop that bit more.

And it’s landed absolutely perfectly. Not for either club, but tits to them. It’s landed perfectly for neutrals and snarky formerly-good websites, which is far more important.

There are so many reasons why this game is perfect right here, right now. First and most obviously, because neither team is playing well. That’s ideal. Weakness and flaws are far more interesting than strength and perfection.

For much of the season, Arsenal have been defined by strength and perfection. Not now. Having sauntered serene and unfazed through the first half of the season, amassing 50 points and looking every inch title winners in waiting (as long as you could get past the Arsenalness), they now find themselves careening into a potentially season and process-defining clash with the City Machine having lost at Everton, who are dreadful, and drawn at home to Brentford, who are not but should really still be turned over by title contenders.

Arsenal players Fabio Vieira and Oleksandr Zinchenko

Having dropped seven points in the first 19 games of the season, the Gunners have now dropped five in their last two, and all of them to teams outside the elite. It is the absolutely ideal scenario to approach a match against the relentless winning machine that is Pep Guardiola’s City, who had cruelly dropped just far enough off the pace to make any Arsenal failure to win a wildly unexpected league title suddenly look like a massive great bottle job.

Those significant setbacks, along with derby defeat at Old Trafford, have all come in the last nine matches, yet they are still the side that approaches this game in the best mood, having clawed back much of their deficit on the leaders. Being the hunter rather than the hunted is always better for the soul in these games, and that brings us to the other key quirk of tonight’s rescheduling.

Top spot is actually up for grabs now. You can’t get more title clashy than that really. If City win, then Arsenal talking about games in hand is going to be valid but almost entirely ignored.

It is one month since Arsenal went eight points clear with the day after . Nobody at that point was pretending City couldn’t possibly reel that lead back in, but it was the first time an Arsenal title win tipped from possible to probable.

For that advantage to disappear completely in just 31 days would be the most serious test yet of Mikel Arteta’s swashbuckling young side and their process, not least because City haven’t even had to play particularly well to find themselves in this unexpectedly early position to strike.

And that’s something else that makes tonight unusual in title-clash terms. Neither team would say it out loud, but both might be reasonably happy with a point. Arsenal to stem the bleeding a bit and avoid the psychological challenge of seeing such a big lead disappear altogether in so short a time, City to keep themselves on Arsenal’s tail with plenty of time on their side and knowing that this February Biggest Game of the Season has an even heftier April Biggest Game of the Season to come at the Etihad.

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Arsenal, Man City stumble dazed and confused into date with destiny, which is ideal for everyone else
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