By: Kelvin Omachonu
It has been an exhilarating season in the English top-flight. With seven games left – for most of the clubs – the tension has continued to heat up as they jostle for glory. For some, their battle is to stay alive, for others, the battle is to qualify for Europe, and for others, the Premier League title is the target.
Last season was a fierce battle between Manchester City and Liverpool. The title was eventually decided on the final day of the season by one point. Some late drama by Ilkay Gundogan at the Etihad ensured that the trophy which looked Merseyside-bound changed its direction to Manchester.
This season seems like it will mirror last season’s pattern. However, this time, the race is between Arsenal and reigning champions Manchester City. Despite dropping points against West Ham on Sunday, Arsenal sits on top of the Premier League log, four points above the Cityzens who have a game in hand.
It has been an excellent season for Arsenal. Last season, they finished outside the UEFA Champions League spots. But this season, they have performed wonderfully well. To some, they have even punched above their weight.
They currently top the league, but they are in a very tricky and slippery position. With eight games left, there is a chance that the North Londoners could slip up and allow Manchester City to pounce.
Who has the tougher schedule?
First of all, Manchester City has a better squad and more quality than their title rivals. Most of the players in the City squads are experienced winners and have played at the highest level. But this can not be said about the Arsenal squad. As such, Manchester City would be more bullish but relaxed in the final games of the season.
Arsenal plays Manchester in a tie that could decide the direction of the league. But before that, they play Southampton. Then after playing Manchester City at the Etihad, they take on Chelsea, Newcastle, Brighton, Nottingham Forest, and Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Asides from Arsenal, Manchester City take on Fulham, West Ham, Leeds United, Everton, Chelsea, and Brentford. Based on the quality of their opponents and their performances this season, Manchester City seems to have an easier fixture schedule as backed by Opta. But it is important to note that results swing easily at this point of the season.
Teams in the relegation zone could be potential banana skins at this point of the season. Manchester City will play Forest, West Ham, Leeds United, and Everton. With these teams battling for their lives, one of them could cause an upset.
Meanwhile, Arsenal also faces Southampton Forest and Wolves. They also play a Newcastle United side that has been on a rollercoaster since the turn of the year. However, Arsenal would hope that the Magpies have a stinker when both teams clash.
According to Opta Analyst, Manchester City are favorites to claim the Premier League crown based on their statistics.
However, one thing that could play into Arsenal’s hands is the fact that Manchester City is still in Europe while they have only the Premier League to focus on. They are in the quarterfinals of the Champions League, and the fixtures they would have could be potential energy-zappers. The Cityzens are also in the FA Cup, and that could cause fatigue.
What does history say?
Manchester City has become notorious for their pique in form in the final weeks of the season. Last year, they picked six wins and two draws in the final eight games of the season when they were in the race with Liverpool. No one would forget the year before Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement 2011/2012, when they won the league on goal difference, or the 2013/14 season when they won by just two points. Also, there was 2017/18, when they beat Liverpool by just one point.
With their recent history, the best way to beat Manchester City to the title is by establishing a big gap before the season reaches the home stretch.
Arsenal Meanwhile, have not been in a title race since the 2015/2016 season when Leicester City beat them to it. But even then, the race ended before it even started, because the Gunners could not sustain their chase, finishing ten points behind the Foxes.
The last time, the North Londoners were involved in a title race was the 2003/2004 season, when they beat Chelsea to it. But the mentality and quality of the players then can not be juxtaposed with what Arsenal has at the moment. That team had players like Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, and Patrick Vieira. Also, they were coached by Arsene Wenger.
What do UItes think?
Oladipo Gabriel(Gabby), a final-year student of the Department of History, who is also a Manchester City fan believes his club has all it takes to defend their title.
“I believe Manchester City can win the league because presently, they are more experienced in the race for the EPL title and they’ve been there before so they can do it again,” he said.
Also, Pep is more brilliant tactically than Arteta, so he is dependable. Moreso, the Man City team is presently in form so I don’t see them losing to any team for now. The teams that can act problematic for Man City are Brighton and Arsenal, and Man City won the first leg, so they should be able to win this as well.
However, Emmanuel Utibe a 200-level student of MBBS believes Arsenal are still the favourites to win the league. “I think our biggest problem would be Manchester City,” he said.
“Manchester City are more experienced than us, and they have older players. But if we can hit form and keep playing to our strengths, we will surely beat Manchester City to the league title.
A neutral, Omonijo Seyi, a 300-level student of the Department of Petroleum Engineering is sitting on the fence. He feels the winner of the tie when both teams clash in two weeks would eventually emerge as champions.
“City would always be the most reliable and consistent team in the Premier League and more so in the final stages of the league competition.
“Arsenal, on the other hand, has always been the complete opposite, but we have to give it to them that this season has been a special one thus far for them. However, with their last seven fixtures comprising City (away), Newcastle(away), Brighton, and Chelsea, you can’t but think it’s the end of the road for their title aspirations.
“City thrives in these moments, they’re used to the experience already having battled and won Liverpool under probably tighter conditions two times over the last five years. Unfortunately, Arsenal, on the other hand, has no luxury of experienced players or managers to thrive and triumph especially given that they are the weaker of the two teams.
“Still, I don’t write them off and predict that the game between the two at Etihad would be the decider if there’s a winner.”