Three-time defending champion Manchester City visit last year’s runners-up Arsenal on Sunday in a match that again could shape the Premier League title race.
So far, it’s unclear whether a two-team chase will again emerge or if the field will be more crowded.
For that reason and others, City manager Pep Guardiola insisted that the Sunday clash in London — while high profile — won’t be the most important match his side plays in the next two months.
Instead, it’s the next two or three UEFA Champions League group matches, during which City could seal early qualification for the knockout phase after starting the tournament with back-to-back wins.
Most recently, City (6-1-0, 18 points) rebounded from taking their first league loss last weekend to win 3-1 at RB Leipzig on Wednesday behind goals from Phil Foden, Julian Alvarez and Jeremy Doku. If they continue that form, they can book their place in the last 16 sooner and then focus solely on the league for most of the winter.
“The Champions League is the most important thing by far, until February when it starts again,” Guardiola said. “What I want is to arrive here in February when we start the Champions League to be in the competitions and that it’s close. To be close to the top of the league and keep the distance short and make the last 10 games in our competition, ‘OK, let’s do it again.'”
That approach worked last season when City eventually overtook Arsenal late and clinched the title before the final weekend.
Arsenal (5-0-2, 17 points) may find this year’s task more difficult, given rising expectations and a return to the Champions League — where they lost 2-1 at Lens on Tuesday — following a six-year absence.
The Gunners also snapped a eight-match losing streak against City when they won the Community Shield on penalties following a 1-1 draw in early August, making it easier not to focus on those recent struggles.
“Well, we aren’t looking back for sure because there were different players participating in those games, but we know one thing for certain, that we’re going to have to be at our best,” Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said. “We have to be at our best in every department for 100 minutes. Then we have a chance.”
Bukayo Saka, Arsenal’s leading scorer, is questionable after he was forced off early due to a muscular injury in the loss at Lens.
Meanwhile, influential City midfielder Rodri will be sidelined on Sunday while serving the last match of his three-match suspension for a violent- conduct, red-card offense.