The Premier League season has surprised many, with Arsenal topping the table by a distance as we reach the halfway point. Ahead of a crunch weekend, we debate whether the Gunners can hold off Man City
By Becky Gamester-Newton + Chris Miller, Writers
The Premier League is the best domestic competition in the world, as we all know, but this season the standards have been raised even higher – making it a proper belter.
Champions Manchester City started the season as clear title favourites, but Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal have surpassed all expectations – they hit the top of the table in August and have been there ever since. Will the youthful Gunners hold off the experience of City?
This week both clubs face huge tests away against their local rivals. A resurgent Tottenham, spearheaded by the relentless Harry Kane, will go into their home tie against Arsenal with confidence, while Manchester United have been a different gravy recently after a tricky start under Erik ten Hag, with Marcus Rashford and Casemiro in scintillating form. Can City pick up the points at Old Trafford?
As the contenders head into what could be a revealing weekend in the title race, our writers find themselves split over which of the two sides will be lifting the trophy in May. Chris Miller believes Arsenal’s young team have what it takes to stay on track and lift the trophy, while Becky Gamester-Newton thinks Man City’s greater squad depth and experience will help them overhaul the Gunners.
Read on for their debate over the key aspects of the two sides and see which you agree with…
Manchester United v Manchester City
Saturday 14 January, 11.30am, BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527) + BT Sport Ultimate (CH 531)
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal
Sunday 15 January, 4pm, Sky Sports Premier League/HD (CH 512/502)
Becky: There is no doubting Pep Guardiola’s success as a manager. The stats speak for themselves: three La Liga titles, three Bundesliga titles, four Premier Leagues and two Champions Leagues – and that’s before you get to the numerous cup competitions.
But Pep isn’t just about stats – it’s his ability to nurture and improve players, even those who are already top-quality. An example this season can be seen in Rodri; often City’s best player on the day, the defensive midfielder has also added slick attacking play to his locker.
With this record and a squad of huge depth and experience to select from, Pep undoubtedly has the edge over his former protégé flapping around on the touchline.
Chris: What’s better than having Pep Guardiola as your manager? Having Pep’s younger, hungrier protégé. Mikel Arteta spent three and a half years learning from the City boss as his assistant, and brings that knowledge to the job plus his own considerable nous – helpful, since he doesn’t have a Man City-style budget.
He’s proved a shrewd transfer operator though, acquiring quality at reasonable prices and spending big for the right players, while also bringing through brilliant youngsters like Gabriel Martinelli.
Arteta’s been through rough patches with Arsenal but maintained his belief that his team would come good – and look, he was right. Some mock his touchline antics but when he was appointed, he seemed perhaps a little bloodless. Now his passion could inspire a title win.
Becky: Do you remember back in August when Erling Haaland’s horrible Community Shield miss had everyone convinced that City had made a terrible mistake with their marquee signing? Oh, how we laugh now.
At some point in his career, Haaland has probably been told 20 goals is a good marker for a decent striker. What the Norwegian didn’t understand is that you had the whole season to achieve this, not 14 games. Even on the odd occasion City have dropped points, Haaland has somehow found the back of the net when pickings have been slim.
Since Sergio Agüero’s injury problems and eventual retirement, that prolific goalscorer role has been the missing piece of an otherwise complete jigsaw puzzle for City… except Haaland has finished it while everyone else is still going round the edges, and solved a Rubik’s Cube at the same time. With his exceptional awareness, power and movement – and uncanny ability to score pretty much every game – there’s just no stopping him.
Chris: When Newcastle visited the Emirates in early January, they paid Bukayo Saka a huge compliment by doubling up on him. Between them Dan Burn and Joelinton just about kept him quiet, and the Toon gained a point – but not every team can do that without leaving gaps elsewhere.
Saka makes things happen. There’s a buzz whenever he receives the ball, and we’re almost certain it’s not just from the vibrations in defenders’ shorts as they panic. He’s pacy, he’s creative, he will beat his man all day long, and he doesn’t even have a weaker foot.
Sure, Haaland’s scored loads. And yet City are two points worse off after 17 games than they were last season. A goalscorer isn’t everything. Son Heung-min was joint Premier League top scorer in 2021/22, and Spurs finished 22 points behind City.
Becky: It may have been a disappointing World Cup for Kevin de Bruyne, but don’t let an underachieving Belgium side cloud your judgement. Make no mistake, he is still one of the best midfielders in the world.
As Fantasy Football veterans will know, De Bruyne is an assist machine – in fact, only a certain Lionel Messi provided more than him in the 2022 calendar year. Furthermore his creativity is second to none, and he also has an eye for goal. He could go down as one of the Premier League’s best ever and rightly so – has there been a more complete player?
Chris: When Martin Ødegaard arrived at Arsenal, supporters were concerned he was not the player they needed. It hadn’t worked out for him at Real Madrid, and Gooners had seen a fair few underwhelming attacking midfielders come and go. Nicolas Pépé, anyone? (“No thanks” – all Arsenal fans.)
They’re not concerned any more. The red side of north London hasn’t seen a left foot this magical since Liam Brady. He sees the passes others simply can’t – and with incisive runners like Saka and Martinelli around him, they often lead to big chances.
Arteta has been impressed enough with the Norwegian to give him the captaincy. That faith will be rewarded when Ødegaard hoists the trophy in May, leaving his international team-mate Haaland disappointed.
Becky: For all City’s stars, it’s their strength in depth that will see them over the line this season. Pep has the freedom to rotate his players to keep them fresh, and will always have a premium back-up to deal with injuries.
In City’s last game of 2022, the likes of Kyle Walker, İlkay Gündoğan, Phil Foden, João Cancelo and World Cup winner Julián Álvarez were sat on the bench. The omission of Walker, Foden and Cancelo from the starting XI since the World Cup illustrates the luxury the manager has.
While Arsenal struggle with the absences of Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe, and the underwhelming Eddie Nketiah now starting, their other attacking options are Marquinhos and Fábio Vieira – and they’ve largely stayed on the bench. It doesn’t matter if that means they are not good enough or Arteta is not brave enough: either way, it suggests the Gunners will struggle to keep up their form in the second half of the season.
Chris: “You’ll never win anything with kids” is the most remembered, most quoted phrase from Alan Hansen’s punditry career. And why? Because those kids did win, and Arsenal’s youngsters of 2022/23 share a few characteristics with Man Utd’s legendary Class of 92: a lack of fear, a joie de vivre, a youthful resistance to negativity that money just can’t buy.
Martinelli, Saka and William Saliba are 21. Captain Ødegaard is 24, as is goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale. Defensive stalwarts Gabriel Magalhães, Ben White and Kieran Tierney are 25. Fringe players like Nketiah and Reiss Nelson (both 23) have done a sound job when called on, while Smith Rowe (22) is on his way back from injury, with Gabriel Jesus (25) to follow. Even relative veteran Oleksandr Zinchenko is only 26. They’re looking to add 22-year-old forward Mykhailo Mudryk.
Zest, mobility, irresistible energy – they’re all attributes that have been associated with Guardiola’s City teams in the past. But right now, it’s this young Arsenal team that have those qualities in spades.
When are the Manchester and north London derbies on TV?
You can see Manchester United v Manchester City on Saturday 14 January at 11.30am on BT Sport 1 HD (CH 527) + BT Sport Ultimate (CH 531).
Tottenham Hotspur v Arsenal is on Sunday 15 January at 4pm on Sky Sports Premier League/HD (CH 512/502).
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