City’s 3-0 win at Manchester United on Tuesday took them to within three points of Chelsea and with two games in hand, they are the bookmakers’ favourites to finish the campaign on top of the pile.
Arsenal are only three points behind Manuel Pellegrini’s side, but having played two games more, they cannot afford to lose when the teams meet at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Humiliated 6-0 by Chelsea last weekend, Arsenal conceded a stoppage-time equaliser in a 2-2 draw at home to Swansea City on Tuesday, and defeat by City would likely end their title challenge for good.
Arsenal conceded early goals in both the thrashing by Chelsea and last month’s 5-1 loss at Liverpool, and having gone down 6-3 to City in the reverse fixture, midfielder Mathieu Flamini says they cannot afford another sloppy start.
“We have to be strong defensively; first of all because that is very important when you play against a big team who are a very offensive side,” the Frenchman, whose own goal handed Swansea a share of the points in mid-week, told the Arsenal website.
“When you play a big game, you cannot lose it in the first 10 or 15 minutes because it is not good for the rest of the match. So we have to be focused and be ready because these kinds of games are battles.
“You have to win the duels, win the fight, and then play your football. After that, we have enough quality in this team to find a goal.”
City’s win over United will give them a spring in their step as they head to the Emirates, but with a trip to second-place Liverpool coming up in a fortnight, captain Vincent Kompany is not getting carried away.
“We have momentum, but who doesn’t have momentum at the moment? Liverpool have momentum and Chelsea have momentum, too,” he said.
“We have a game against Arsenal and that’s good in a way because you don’t have to make a big effort to get the lads focused again.”
– More Moyes protests?
With Liverpool not in action until Sunday, when they host sixth-place Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea will have an opportunity to stretch their lead to four points when they visit fourth-from-bottom Crystal Palace the day before.
Saturday could also prove a pivotal day for Manchester United manager David Moyes, whose position is once again under scrutiny following his side’s midweek derby defeat.
There were isolated displays of fan dissent towards Moyes at the end of that game, while a group of United supporters have threatened to charter a plane to fly over Old Trafford during Saturday’s match with Aston Villa, towing a banner calling for him to resign.
United’s hopes of a top-four finish have been all but dashed and on Tuesday they welcome Champions League holders Bayern Munich to Old Trafford for the first leg of a daunting quarter-final.
In stark contrast, life could scarcely be rosier for United’s arch-rivals Liverpool, who closed to within a point of Chelsea by beating Sunderland 2-1 on Wednesday.
Daniel Sturridge claimed his 20th league goal of the campaign in the game, but he has echoed manager Brendan Rodgers by expressing caution about his side’s title prospects.
“It’s important to take each game as it comes,” he told regional newspaper the Liverpool Echo. “There are seven games to go and they will all be difficult. They will all be different in their own way.”
Arsenal’s travails have given Everton encouragement that they could steal into the top four.
Roberto Martinez’s side currently trail Arsenal by six points, with a game in hand, and on Sunday visit bottom club Fulham, who are four points adrift of safety and in danger of being cut adrift.
Second-bottom Cardiff City are only a point better off ahead of their trip to West Bromwich Albion on Saturday, while third-from-bottom Sunderland could have ground to make up by the time they host West Ham United on Monday.
Fixtures (1500 GMT unless otherwise stated)
Arsenal v Manchester City (1730 GMT), Crystal Palace v Chelsea, Manchester United v Aston Villa (1245 GMT), Southampton v Newcastle United, Stoke City v Hull City, Swansea City v Norwich City, West Bromwich Albion v Cardiff City
Fulham v Everton (1330 GMT), Liverpool v Tottenham Hotspur (1600 GMT)
Sunderland v West Ham United (2000 GMT)