THEY are the two hottest teams in the Premier League with every reason to feel optimistic as they stand on the threshold of a New Year.
But deep down inside even the most fanatical Arsenal fans fear the worst from Manchester City’s visit to the Emirates.
Many of those supporters are still scarred by the memory of the last meeting between these two sides in August, when a 5-0 thrashing left the Gunners goalless and pointless at the foot of the Premier League table.
So it’s hardly surprising that no-one is getting too carried away as they steel themselves for another bruising encounter with Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Champions.
The runaway leaders have taken maximum points from their last ten games to leave all their title rivals floundering in their wake.
They have also won their last nine League meetings with Arsenal so it’s hardly surprising that they are odds-on favourites with the bookies to prevail again tomorrow.
Yet it’s not all doom and gloom for Mikel Arteta as he makes his final preparations in isolation at home after testing positive for Covid this week.
Because his team are currently in the finest form of his two year reign, scoring an impressive 19 goals in their last five games to move into contention for Champions League qualification.
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And arguably their best result under Arteta came when they beat City 2-0 in the FA Cup semi-finals in July 2020, so it’s not as if they don’t have the capacity to pull off a shock result.
But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, scorer of both Arsenal’s goals that day, has been banished from the squad after breaching Arteta’s strict disciplinary code.
So now it’s down to young tyros such Bukayo Saka, Emile Smith Rowe, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard to maintain the feelgood factor against a team who rarely give opponents much to smile about.
And those kids are certainly justifying Arteta’s bold gamble on youth which looked as though it might cost him his job not so very long ago.
Arsenal’s turnaround from relegation candidates to top four contenders in the space of four months has been one of the biggest shocks of the season so far.
But Arteta knows they have embarked on promising winning streaks before only to have their limitations exposed by one of the Premier League’s serious players.
Six weeks ago they were stopped dead in their tracks by a 4-0 mauling at Liverpool which was quickly followed by further defeats by Manchester United and Everton.
So now the challenge for Arsenal is to not allow their heads to drop should they suffer another setback tomorrow.
There is no shame in losing to a Manchester City team who are probably playing the best football in the world right now.
But they have to bounce back straight away if this is not going to be another false dawn over the Emirates.
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