LONDON • Both managers dismiss it but Manchester City's trip to Arsenal today is being billed as a clash between the two teams most capable of lifting the English Premier League trophy.
Leicester City's 3-2 win at Everton on Saturday guaranteed that they will top the table on Christmas Day. But, amid doubts over their staying power and with other contenders floundering, Arsenal and City remain the favourites.
Leicester have a five-point lead over Arsenal, with City a point further back in third place.
The London club's manager Arsene Wenger knows how important it is for his side to take points from their rivals today.
"We have really established a good run so, for us, it's important to continue that," he said.
"It is a massive game.
"When we play at home, you want to win because we are ambitious and we feel we have the chance to come out in a strong position after Christmas.
"It will be a very tight game because, if you look at the numbers since the start of the season, offensively and defensively, the numbers are very close.
"Manchester City have huge individual potential with David Silva and Sergio Aguero coming back and so we will need a top, top-level team performance."
Silva recently returned to action for City after two months out with an ankle injury.
Aguero could make his comeback at the Emirates Stadium after missing four games with a heel problem.
Wenger, meanwhile, is hopeful that Alexis Sanchez will be fit to play after a hamstring injury, raising the appetising prospect that both the teams will be at full strength in attack.
They are both bereft elsewhere, however, with the Gunners missing midfielders Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla and Tomas Rosicky. Forward Danny Welbeck is not available too.
City captain Vincent Kompany is not ready to play despite having returned to training following a calf complaint. Fernando, Pablo Zabaleta and Samir Nasri are also unavailable for selection.
City made a storming start to the season. However, they have hit a patch of inconsistent form, winning only three of their last seven league games.
They have already lost four times this season, including 1-4 losses to Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool.
However, manager Manuel Pellegrini rejected the notion that another setback against Arsenal would be fatal.
"We have to play 21 games more," said the Chilean.
"We must consider Leicester - they are still top of the table. (Manchester) United are just a few points behind us.
"Tottenham can be involved, so can Liverpool and Crystal Palace.
"It's impossible just to think there are two teams involved in the title race. We have to play five of the next six away.
"It's a good target to return to clean sheets and to advance in positions. Playing away is always a bit more difficult."
Arsenal were routed 6-3 by City at the Etihad Stadium two years ago. But they came out on top last season, sweeping to a 3-0 Community Shield victory and producing a smash-and-grab 2-0 win in Manchester in January.
It was seen as an uncharacteristic Arsenal victory - one built on patience, defensive discipline and clinical counter-attacking - and Wenger believes the experience will stand his team in good stead.
"It was a needed step for our team," he said. "It was not enough, but it was the first step, which was certainly vital to strengthen the belief of our team.
"When you have never done it, people can tell you, 'You aren't good enough, you aren't good enough', but when you have done it, you know you can do it and that strengthens you.
"Of course, it is important."
ARSENAL V MANCHESTER CITY
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