The Big Match

Football: Stakes high for Manchester City, Arsenal managers

Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger.
Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini (left) and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger. PHOTO: REUTERS

Physical factor could lift Arsenal's prospects as City try to salvage some of their legacy

A game that has long had the potential to be a title decider could determine much else instead. Rather than bringing glory, it is also about avoiding failure.

It is essentially a third-place play-off but with the additional possibility that the loser will end up in fifth, which could have considerable repercussions for either Pep Guardiola or Arsene Wenger.

If Manchester United or West Ham win today and Manchester City are beaten tomorrow, they would lose control of their destiny.

Manuel Pellegrini and Guardiola both oversaw Champions League semi-final exits this week but the Chilean requires victory on his Etihad Stadium farewell to help his successor return to the competition.

Pellegrini has achieved much, taking City to one Premier League title, two League Cups and uncharted territory in Europe. He certainly deserves a rousing send-off in his final home game.

Win, and he will get one. Lose, and his could be a particularly anti-climactic departure, especially after City's flat display in Wednesday's 1-0 Champions League defeat by Real Madrid.

It bodes badly for them that Arsenal produced a counter-attacking masterclass and played with great tactical nous when they won 2-0 at the Etihad last season.

Francis Coquelin was outstanding then. While he has been a substitute in Arsenal's last three games, there is a case for restoring him to the starting XI.

As they would gain from a draw more than City, Arsene Wenger could consider partnering the Frenchman with Mohamed Elneny in a defensive midfield duo.

He should certainly amend his starting XI to bring in Danny Welbeck, last week's match-winner against Norwich, and they should be fresher than City.

That physical advantage could be key: City have often struggled against opponents who play with intensity, though Arsenal have done that too rarely of late.

Arsenal lost 6-3 at the Etihad two seasons ago, just as they lost five players to City in a five-year period. There was a time they would have dreaded this game.

Not now. Even Olivier Giroud, who has stopped scoring against everyone else, has three in three meetings with City. Arsenal are unbeaten in four, winning three.

And now City, strangely, could have the inferiority complex. They have yet to beat a top-six team this season, a wretched record for a team of their talent.

They have conceded only seven league goals with Vincent Kompany on the pitch but their talismanic captain is injured again. His replacement, Eliaquim Mangala, will be under the microscope.

For Pellegrini and some of his players, this is a legacy project. There is an end-of-an-era feel about City and it may be a goodbye to more than just Pellegrini.

Wenger, to the annoyance of protesting fans, will be at Arsenal again next season. The question is if, as usual, he will be in the Champions League, and if Guardiola will join him there.

Ch102 & Ch227, tomorrow, 11pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2016, with the headline 'Stakes high for both managers'. Print Edition | Subscribe