MANCHESTER, England (AP) — Arsenal spent 248 days at the top of the Premier League last season and still ended up empty-handed.
By Sunday night it could return to the summit of England’s top division and deliver a big statement in the process.
Arsenal hosts champion Manchester City at Emirates Stadium in a meeting between last season’s top two that will be seen as an early gauge of the Londoners’ title credentials.
Arsenal last won the trophy in 2004 and looked set to end its wait to lift it again by repeatedly confounding preseason expectations to lead the way from the start until the closing stages of the campaign. Eventually, though, it folded under the pressure from City to earn the distinction of having spent the longest period at the top without being crowned champions.
Arsenal has responded impressively after last season’s disappointment. It beat City in the Community Shield in August and goes into Sunday’s game a point behind the champions, whose 100% winning start in the league came to an end with a 2-1 loss at Wolverhampton last week.
But its hopes of winning the title this season could be dependent on its results in head-to-head games against City.
Arsenal lost all three of its games against Guardiola’s team last season, twice in the league and once in the FA Cup. The aggregate score line was 8-2 in City’s favour.
Those six points picked up in the two league games were the difference in the race for the title as City ended five clear.
That is why Arsenal’s penalty shootout win in the Community Shield seemed so symbolic and was so joyously celebrated by Arteta as it ended an eight-game losing streak against City.
City has been even more dominant In the league, having won 12 in a row, dating back to 2017. Arsenal hasn’t beaten City in any game at the Emirates since 2015.
Having started the season in such ominous form by winning its first six games in the league, City suffered back-to-back defeats against Newcastle in the English League Cup and then Wolverhampton. It returned to winning ways against Leipzig in the Champions League on Wednesday.
“After a couple of poor performances and results we’ve now got the ball rolling again and hopefully we carry on from here,” said City defender Rico Lewis. “(Sunday’s game) is a way we can put a stamp on the season and really make sure the rest of the league knows we’re aiming to do the same as last season.”
That is a bold ambition, given City is defending a trophy treble of the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup.
City will be without the suspended Rodri on Sunday. His importance to the team has been underlined by the losses in his absence against Newcastle and Wolverhampton, while victory against Leipzig came with him back in the heart of midfield.
But Arsenal could also be without a key player in Bukayo Saka after the England forward was injured in the 2-1 loss against Lens in the Champions League on Tuesday.
Saka was included in England’s latest squad on Thursday for the upcoming games against Australia and Italy.
“He’s still being assessed,” said England coach Gareth Southgate. “Obviously, they’ve (Arsenal) got a big game this weekend and then there’s another seven days before we play Australia and 10 days before we play Italy as well.
“So, everybody will monitor everything as we go forward.”
James Robson is at https://twitter.com/jamesalanrobson
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