The Big Match

Test of Arsenal's mettle

Gunners last team to beat City in April but they are too inconsistent on their travels

Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (right) celebrating with Raheem Sterling after scoring his record 178th goal for the club during the 4-2 Champions League win against Napoli on Wednesday.
Manchester City's Sergio Aguero (right) celebrating with Raheem Sterling after scoring his record 178th goal for the club during the 4-2 Champions League win against Napoli on Wednesday.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

In an era of impatience, even the questions come earlier.

Pep Guardiola was asked last week if Manchester City can emulate Arsenal's Class of 2003-04, the lone side in England since the 19th century to complete the top-flight season unbeaten.

"It's not going to happen," he replied. His charges will not equal Arsene Wenger's Invincibles. But so far this season, they have looked the Unstoppables.

Everton deprived them of two points. No other team have.

City have equalled the best start in Premier League history, made by Jose Mourinho's Chelsea in 2005-06 and their own Class of 2011-12, with 28 points in 10 games.

Win tomorrow and they could be 12 clear of both Chelsea and Arsenal. It should be an unbridgeable gap.

City have both Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, who lead the Premier League in assists, and four of its eight top scorers. They have as many goals (35) as Chelsea (18) and Liverpool (17) combined.

  • 7-3

    The Arsenal Invincibles' win-draw record 10 games into their unbeaten 2003-04 season. Manchester City went 9-1 to start this term.

Superb displays and stunning statistics have drawn superlatives. Napoli coach Maurizio Sarri called City Europe's best team even before they beat the Serie A leaders 4-2 in Italy on Wednesday.

And yet, as Arsenal can testify, even the best sequences can finish in Manchester. Their Invincibles' 49-match unbeaten run ended at Old Trafford in 2004.

As Arsenal know, underdogs can overcome favourites to reshape a season. The last team to beat City were Arsenal: It was April's FA Cup semi-final in Wembley.

While City have been admirably consistent this season, a rematch depends in part on which Arsenal turn up: Their away results included a shambolic 4-0 defeat by Liverpool, a defiant 0-0 draw at Chelsea and an emphatic 5-2 win at Everton.

If Arsenal's mentality and defending are under the microscope, so is their most gifted individual.

City have looked formidably strong this season. Guardiola believed they could be improved by signing Alexis Sanchez and bid £60 million (S$106.4 million).

Arsenal were interested in taking Raheem Sterling in part-exchange and City have prospered by rejecting the counter-offer: The Englishman has seven times as many league goals as the Chilean. Sanchez, Alexandre Lacazette and Mesut Ozil ripped Everton apart in a 5-2 win last month but this is a test of Arsenal's ability out of possession.

Guardiola transformed last season's meeting at the Etihad around by using Sterling and Leroy Sane as touchline-hugging wingers; both scored in a 2-1 comeback win and width could be the key to unlocking Arsenal's wing-back formation, not least because it will create more room in the middle for their influential midfielders.

That win against Arsenal was a rare triumph against the top teams last season. Now City have beaten both Chelsea and Liverpool. Now the rest of the division may want an Arsenal win. And so, to protect the uniqueness of his Invincibles, may Wenger.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 04, 2017, with the headline 'Test of Arsenal's mettle'. Subscribe