Manchester City-Arsenal Preview
Tenure doesn't guarantee anything but it can potentially provide the opportunity for everything.
The perennial of the Premier League, Arsene Wenger, has a chance to be atop the table after the final whistle of Arsenal's match versus Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Monday.
Though there have been rocky patches throughout Wenger's 19-plus seasons in London - as recently as this month before the Gunners scraped through to the Champions League knockout round - "Le Professeur" has outlasted everyone as he is currently the longest-tenured manager among all four levels English football.
His longevity was again in the spotlight following the high-profile departure of Jose Mourinho from Chelsea on Thursday. Wenger declined offering his thoughts on Mourinho's second exit from the west London team - the Frenchman was on the Arsenal touchline in 2007 the first time his arch nemesis left Chelsea. With his tenure at 7,020 days come Monday's kickoff, Wenger's stay at Arsenal is only 500 days fewer than the combined tenures of the other current 18 Premier League managers.
All those top-four finishes and occasional pieces of silverware have contributed to the stability to the Gunners (10-3-3), who enter this weekend two points behind upstarts and front-runners Leicester City and in a fine run of form despite a spate of injuries. Arsenal are unbeaten in five matches (4-1-0) across all competitions and showed the ability to build on prosperity, following their crunch Champions League victory at Olympiakos with a clinical 2-0 road win over bottom-club Aston Villa last Sunday.
Olivier Giroud converted an early penalty, continuing his rich vein of scoring, and Aaron Ramsey added a second late in the first half. Wenger is now looking for his charges to seize the momentum at home, where they're 5-1-0 in all contests since their shocking 3-2 loss to Olympiakos on Sept. 29.
"It is a massive game (on Monday)," Wenger said. "When we play at home you want to win because we are ambitious and we feel we have the chance to come out in a strong position after Christmas.
"It will be a very tight game because if you look at the numbers since the start of the season, offensively and defensively the numbers are very close. Manchester City has huge individual potential with David Silva and Sergio Aguero coming back and so we will need a top, top-level team performance."
Giroud - with a team-leading 14 goals in all competitions - has been ruthless of late, netting in league matches around his clutch hat trick in Greece. It's given Wenger the luxury of letting Alexis Sanchez get fully healthy as the Chilean is a doubt due to a hamstring injury.
It's also underlined the quality playmaking of midfielder Mesut Ozil, whose 13 assists in league play are nearly double the nearest player and more than 10 Premier League teams.
"Players who can make you score are very difficult to find and have something special on the vision front and on the technical quality," Wenger said. "That is what Mesut is about. But he is also about, and people forget this many times, in his way (he is) an exceptional fighter. He runs much more and covers the distances during the game. I think he has become an absolutely unbelievable player."
Manchester City (10-2-4) are one point behind Arsenal and in third, but out to stop the rot on the road that has seen them claim two points in their last four league matches there. The Citizens have gone 335 minutes outside the Etihad Stadium without a goal since Kevin De Bruyne's strike in the 25th minute of their 4-1 loss at Tottenham Hotspur on Sept. 26, and have not gone scoreless in four consecutive league road matches since Dec. 31, 2005-Feb. 26, 2006.
City manager Manuel Pellegrini, chasing his second league title in his third season, offered a slight lament over Mourinho's departure, noting "the Premier League is better with Mourinho." But the Chilean, now fourth in tenure among top-flight managers, has dealt with seemingly non-stop speculation over his own job status since arriving in 2013. The rumours have only intensified as Pep Guardiola's future beyond Bayern Munich continues to cause breathless amounts of speculation.
As always the case, though, Pellegrini remains pragmatic heading into a tricky holiday fixture stretch with five of City's next six matches across all competitions on the road.
"It's important to try to be the best team from the first round, to play against a team with one point more. It's a game of six points, to win three and to take three off a rival," said Pellegrini, whose team snatched a late winner in last week's 2-1 win over Swansea City after allowing the Swans to equalise in the 90th minute.
"We must consider Leicester - they are still top of the table. United are just a few points behind us. Tottenham can be involved, so can Liverpool and Crystal Palace. It's impossible just to think there are two teams involved in the title."
City have a well-established legacy of misery at Arsenal - their 2-0 victory in 2013 is their only one in 18 Premier League matches (1-6-11) - but they are 1-4-1 in the last six. Having joint-leading scorer Aguero fully recovered from a heel injury will help, though Pellegrini will have to alter his backline since talisman Vincent Kompany has been ruled out.
Arsenal took four points in last season's meetings, but City salvaged a 2-2 road draw on Martin Demichelis' 83rd-minute goal after compatriot Aguero gave City an initial lead in the 28th.