Manchester City head to Emirates Stadium on Sunday with hopes of pushing Arsenal further away from a top-four finish in the Premier League while the Gunners will be seeking to prove their merit after a slippery new year.
Pep Guardiola has managed to cultivate progress over the course of his first campaign, but the home stretch of the season will be crucial as the club begins looking into the future.
Here are three things to watch for on Sunday:
1 - A strong start
Arsenal’s desire to find redemption makes them dangerous. A strong first half from City could deflate the Gunners' desire.
If the Blues can activate the speed and passing mastery that Pep Guardiola has helped to develop, Arsenal will be forced to chase and defend.
Poor performances have plagued the Gunners over the last few weeks. If City are able to get under their skin, make them chase shadows and find an early lead, Arsenal would find themselves in a tough position in front of their impatient home supporters.
2 - Prideful Performances
Pablo Zabaleta represents an exemplary approach to the generational shift occurring at the Etihad. He has provided massive amounts of energy as a versatile utility man for Guardiola. With a few goals, assists, and a will to capitalize on every performance, Zaba is sealing his reputation with the club while also making himself more attractive for a new contract next season.
Club objectives and individual aspirations will intertwine for the next few weeks. In an effort to achieve as much as possible in the Premier League and FA Cup and to get clearer visions of what needs to change over the summer, a certain scrutiny will hover around City.
The effort to entertain and improve, regardless of their fate over the summer, will separate the legends from the journeymen.
3 - Magicians
It was no surprise to see David Silva making incredible moves for Spain over the international break. His ability to turn and distribute has been a major asset for City for several years, but under Guardiola Silva has achieved a level of play equaled only by his compatriot Andrés Iniesta and a few others.
His silky, authoritative style is an essential ingredient to the Sky Blue midfield. City can only hope that Silva's success in finding the back of the net with Spain will continue against Arsenal.
City’s nimble wingers, Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling, took their high-flying style to their respective international squads and made each team look more electric. The ability to solidify an individual approach in two different systems proves that these forwards are ready to ignite the City attack — on Sunday and in the future.
Of course, any number of City players can easily infuse incredible energy across the pitch. As they return from different nations, their ability to quickly find their club chemistry will be important when they challenge Arsenal.
The match is bound to be entertaining as both squads will fight for every available point that ensures a Champions League spot next season, but the drama surrounding Arsenal will only get worse if City can take the upper hand.