Sports Desk: Arsenal to edge City in tough title race

Saka will be decisive in the title run-in. PHOTO/COURTSEY 

What you need to know:

Ndawula also believes City's indulgence with the Champions League is not a main concern as they have the squad for it. He just thinks Arsenal's youthful squad is just sufficient for the task at hand. 

The final bend of the 2022/23 English Premier League (EPL) season gets underway this afternoon with a mouthwatering lunch time clash between defending champions Manchester City and Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium.

City trail Arsenal by eight points and although they have a game in hand set to come later in the season, our Sports Desk believes the leaders have created enough room in the points tally to keep the Champions at bay.

The run-in

Everyone acknowledges that Arsenal have the tougher fixtures in the title run in.

"Every fixture in the Premier League is tough," Sports Editor Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo tells SCORE. 

"Of their remaining 10, Arsenal still have to face Liverpool at Anfield and Man City at the Etihad. You could add the trip to St James’ Park to face Newcastle as another big exam. 

Both teams still have to play Chelsea who must relish ties against either side with City also set to host Liverpool," Kigongo adds but with belief that Mikel Arteta's side can grind out up to eight wins in the remaining period.

Sub-editor Innocent Ndawula expects the "title race to go down the wire."

"Both have interesting match-ups that will make it an eyeful for the neutrals but a tension-filled backend of the campaign for partisan fans. That face-off between the two on April 26 could end up being the dare or die moment. But only just," he says.

Emanzi Ndyamuhaki believes the fact that Arsenal have trips to Anfield and Etihad makes the final 10 fixtures for the Gunners harder.

Mwanguhya also looks at Arsenal's meeting with Newcastle as a potential banana skin for the Gunners.

"Looking at City's remaining away fixtures, they all look winnable apart from, perhaps, Brighton, who could give them hard time. Both are expected to navigate their home fixtures without much drama but April 26, when Arsenal visit the Etihad, will really be a big one. 

City will hope to win their game in hand, which would bring them to within five points of Arsenal and then use the direct fixture between the two to further cut that to two, assuming both win their games until then," Mwanguhya believes before revoking history.

"History is on Arsenal's side as only three teams in the Premier League have held an eight-point lead or more after 28 games and not won the title," he adds. 

George Katongole, however, thinks that Arsenal just have to worry about April where they have two London derbies against Chelsea and West Ham plus the aforementioned games against City and Liverpool.

Denis Bbosa, on the other hand, thinks the fixture congestion and distraction of the Champions League and FA Cup makes City's run in tougher. Although Ndyamuhaki counters that City have proven over the years that they have enough talent and experience to negotiate multiple competitions.

"Arsenal also faces Liverpool, Leeds and Chelsea but with plenty of time to prepare for each as a a final," Bbosa tells us.

Champions League disruption

"On the surface, it seems Pep Guardiola cherishes winning the Champions League trophy more that a fifth league title in sixth years and will die trying to eject Bayern and face the winner between Real Madrid and Chelsea," Bbosa added even though he believes that Guardiola's form to overthink big games and the pedigree of Bayern will end City's quest quite early.

Yet he has come short for the last 12 years after Barcelona because of over thinking tactics, pedigree and fate which I believe will haunt him against Bayern. 

Kigongo feels that "the longer they (City) stay in Europe, the more likely they will drop points at home (EPL) as focus shifts to a first continental title."

"With one game a week, Arsenal can spend days working on the minor details of every game. Arteta is not known for flexibility but this an opportunity for him to look at every opponent independently," Kigongo explains.

Ndawula also believes City's indulgence with the Champions League is not a main concern as they have the squad for it. He just thinks Arsenal's youthful squad is just sufficient for the task at hand. 

"It is the sheer will and that ounce of luck that matters in modern football lately. City have every chance to dream on all fronts because they have a quality side and enviable bench power. 

For Arsenal, the youthful and bubbly enthusiasm in their side has kept them going. But the lack of surmountable experience was the reason they bid farewell to Europe early. What looks like a ‘paper-thin’ squad for Europe remains sufficient for the league," Ndawula says.

Etihad meeting

Ndawula further argues that even the April 26 clash between Arsenal and Man City at the Etihad could count for nought.

"The bearing of this result will not count much. It’s just a three-pointer! Such a haul could have already been picked and lost way before the two lock horns.

Unfortunately that is how the league plays out, every result counts. One fixture ends up being inconsequential," Ndawula explains and he has some backing from Bbosa.

Bbosa argues that Arsenal's main plan should be keeping the five-point gap and hope Man City slip more.

"Arteta is yet to get Man City's number and mentally, that is a game already in Man City's favour.

Should Arsenal pull off a miracle and stun the Etihad crowd with a win or draw at a place they have not won in a long time, then they would have written a loud state that this is their year and will be as good as champions elect.

They will deserve all the hats off but the plan should be to just keep winning against 'lesser' sides like Leeds, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Brighton and Southampton. Then they can afford to lose against Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City and still be champions," Bbosa believes.

Dhakaba and Ndyamuhaki insist that meeting will be huge if there are still fine margins between the sides when they meet.

"While coaches and players always claim to only focus on the next fixture, we all know both teams have an eye on the meeting at the Etihad. Because it comes so late in the season, it will decide who wins the title if the gap between the sides is within reach for City by then," Dhakaba says. 

Ndyamuhaki adds that "if the two sides are still neck-to-neck going into the tie, it could spell danger for Arsenal. But what a statement it would be for Arsenal to go to City and smash them out of the race!"

Who must stay fit?

It is, however, not all about fixtures and ambitions, the players from both ends have to stay fit for the task at hand.

Katongole, like everyone else believes City cannot afford to lose Norwegian striker Erling Braut Haaland and Belgian creator Kevin De Bruyne.

He also adds that Arsenal need Bukayo Saka and Haaland's country-mate Martin Odegaard to stay fit.

Bbosa adds Rodri to the City list then joins Kigongo in adding Thomas Partey and William Saliba, who has been nursing a back problems during the international break, to Arsenal's.

"For Pep, it is clear Haaland is one player he needs every week. He makes way too many changes to the team and formations that it’s hard to say one player is indispensable to the extent that even De Bryune has spent a lot of time on the bench this season," Dhakaba says.

Ndawula throws in Gabriel Martinelli for the Gunners then backs the rest with the numbers.

"The class of Arsenal young wingers, Saka and Martinelli, has been visible to even those that are literally ‘visually impaired’. Saka, the ever-smiling assassin in particular, has been a special gem with 12 goals and 10 assists -the only player in double figures for both.

For City, Haaland is the goals machine - 42 strikes for the season thus far with the record on 44, and has been in avenger mode lately. But he can only score sacks of goals if De Bruyne – the team engine – does the hard work," Ndawula adds.

The final call

When all is said and done, all our members bar Mwanguhya, are tipping Arsenal to end their 19 year wait for an EPL trophy.


Ismail Dhakaba Kigongo: I don’t know of anyone who picked Arsenal to win their first title in 19 years at the start of the season. However, I am now convinced that the will end their drought because Arteta’s side have been consistent while Man City may not be as ruthless as seen in season gone by.

Innocent Ndawula: The Gunners! Hard-fought wins can be rousing, but title chases can also be buckled by mettle fatigue. Arsenal have had a few of those games recently, steepening challenges against deepening defences, but at the right moment, they have risen and rode out the worst of storms. Their dismemberment of a rudderless Crystal Palace was their sixth win in a row, and of the past four, three have been achieved with consummate comfort. Everything they did was playstation-esque – it came off easy. Arsenal have an eight-point lead over Manchester City, and although they have played one game more, that is a position of some command which they should be able to hold onto and win the league since City have been plagued by consistent inconsistencies.

Andrew Mwanguhya: Arsenal have done everything right until now, and have an almost divine belief that this could be it. The balance in the team is good and they don't seem to know when to give up. But City's mental fortitude and title winning experience should see them beat Arsenal in a photo finish to retain the title.

George Katongole: Arsenal are gunning this down

Emanzi Ndyamuhaki: Tough. Very tough. But going by how Arsenal have recovered from all hiccups this season, I will give them the edge. It will be tough against a City team that can choose to win 10 in a row and knows how to win the title. 

But this just looks like Arsenal’s season and I will pick them to take it.

Denis Bbosa: Arsenal has ticked many boxes this season to merit a chance.
Should they keep winning against 'lesser' sides like Leeds, West Ham, Nottingham Forest, Newcastle, Brighton and Southampton, then they can afford to lose against Liverpool, Chelsea and Man City and still be champions.

Makhtum Muziransa: In all this drama, what is forgotten is that Arsenal have over-achieved this season.

However it is the hope that kills you. Last season when the goal was to return to Europe, Arsenal flirted with a return to the Champions League then fell apart in the final bend and settled for Europa, which was the initial goal at the start of the season.

For this season, the goal was to return to the Champions League but Arteta has made Arsenal fans dream. My heart says, don't wake me up! But my brain is thinking deja vu!

Arsenal Remaining Fixtures
April 1: Leeds (Home)
April 9: Liverpool (Away)
April 16: West Ham (A)
April 21: Southampton (H)
April 26: Man City (A)
April 29: Chelsea (H)
May 6: Newcastle (A)
May 13: Brighton (H)
May 20: Nottingham Forest (A)
May 28: Wolves (H)

Manchester City's Remaining Fixtures
April 1: Liverpool (H)
April 8: Southampton (A)
April 15: Leicester (H)
April 26: Arsenal (H) 
April 30: Fulham (A)
May 6: Leeds (H)
May 13: Everton (A)
May 20: Chelsea (H)
May 28: Brentford (A)
TBC: West Ham (H)