Arsenal can continue their recent good form when they host reigning champions Man City at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (4pm GMT, live on Sky Sports).
The Gunners are sixth in the Premier League with 34 points from nine wins, seven draws and four defeats, but have a game in hand over a number of the teams around them.
Even victory in that game in hand, at home to West Ham later this month, would not take Arsenal into the top four. That is the their primary objective now they have fallen away from title contention.
Arsenal have endured a patchy season, but have been on a good run recently, recording four wins and one draw in their last five Premier League matches, a sequence that included a 5-2 win away to Reading and a 7-3 home mauling of Newcastle United.
They were, though, fortunate to emerge with a point from their most recent league fixture, a 1-1 draw away to Southampton on New Year’s Day. Arsenal lacked pace, purpose or precision and were thankful to a calamitous own goal from Guly do Prado for providing the equaliser their own best efforts looked unlikely to bring.
It was a display that will have had Arsene Wenger scratching his head after watching his side perform so impressively in the preceding matches. Theo Walcott, who had scored a hat-trick in the thrashing of Newcastle, was kept quiet by a determined Southampton defence, while Lukas Podolski returned to his anonymous, early season self.
That result was followed by a 2-2 draw with Swansea in the FA Cup last weekend, a match in which Arsenal at least showed a little more fight. The replay next Wednesday does, however, add a further fixture to a hectic couple of weeks for the Gunners that could test the limits of Wenger’s squad.
Olivier Giroud will undergo a late fitness test to determine whether he is able to play on Sunday, while Andre Santos, Abou Diaby and Lukasz Fabianski are all out with injuries of varying severity. Arsenal will also be without striker Gervinho, who has left to join up with the Ivory’s Coast Africa Cup of Nations squad.
Wenger’s opposition number Roberto Mancini has also suffered from call ups for that tournament, with the Toure brothers, Yaya and Kolo, joining Gervinho at the Ivory Coast training camp.
Yaya was one of City’s key players during last season’s league title success and although he has not always hit the same heights in the current campaign his absence will still be keenly felt. It is coupled with an injury to Sergio Aguero, the Argentine striker who scored 23 goals last season, including the last-gasp winner against QPR that sealed the title.
Aguero pulled his hamstring in City’s 3-0 win over Stoke on New Year’s Day and although he has returned to light training this week is unlikely to take to the pitch from the start on Sunday. Mancini will also be without Samir Nasri, who is serving the final match of a three match ban for his sending off against Norwich.
These various absences have come at the wrong time for Mancini, as he contemplates a seven point deficit to local rivals United at the top of the Premier League.
City are in second place with 45 points from 13 wins, six draws and two defeats, but have been unable to live with United. The Premier League leaders are setting a pace that would see them finish five points clear of the total City achieved in winning the title last season if they can maintain it through the remainder of the campaign.
Matija Nastasic has impressed as a ball-playing central defender, but fellow summer recruits Javi Garcia and Scott Sinclair are yet to make an impact. Maicon and Jack Rodwell have spent most of their short City careers to date on the treatment table.
The Citizens are scoring at a significantly lesser rate than last season while conceding marginally more, a formula that will be insufficient to mount a genuine challenge to United. Mancini needs to instigate a quick improvement in performances and end results if City are to have any chance of defending their title.
Arsenal v Man City Betting Tips
Arsenal have an excellent record at home to City in recent years, having won five and drawn two of the last seven Premier League encounters between the sides in North London, with City in fact failing to score in each of the last five fixtures.
The Gunners have been very inconsistent so far this season, but against a depleted City side should be considered favourites for the victory on Sunday.