Why this weekend is the biggest round of this year’s Premier League title race
If the Premier League season is the proverbial marathon rather than a sprint, then this weekend sees the pacesetters in the title race, Arsenal and Manchester City, approach the halfway marker.
As they do so, they face personal duels with bitter rivals that could have a huge impact on their momentum heading into the second half of the campaign.
Depending on how City fare at Manchester United on Saturday lunchtime and Arsenal’s result at Tottenham Hotspur a day later, the Gunners’ lead at the top of the table could be slashed to two points or stretched to eight.
It’s too early to be called a decisive round, but it will determine whether each team enters the home straight with a spring in their step or a stumble.
Tottenham v Arsenal
Arsenal have already set a personal best, having made their strongest ever start to a Premier League season.
Their goalless draw with Newcastle United last time out was only the third time Mikel Arteta’s team had dropped points this term.
They have already beaten Spurs, 3-1 at home in October, as well as Liverpool and Chelsea, and have shown no sign of being knocked off their stride by the World Cup break or the loss to injury of striker Gabriel Jesus.
Tottenham matched their north London rivals stride for stride in the opening weeks and were just one point behind them after eight games.
Since then, however, they have treaded water while their neighbours have hit their straps and they now trail Arsenal by 11 points.
Spurs can take heart from their formidable recent home record in this fixture, having not lost a home north London derby in the top flight since 2014.
Most recently, their 3-0 triumph in May swung the race for the final Champions League spot in their favour and Arteta’s men didn’t recover.
What they wouldn’t give for a repeat that threatened to put the skids under Arsenal’s unexpected tilt at a first Premier League crown since 2004.
Manchester United v Manchester City
By kick-off at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, City could be on the shoulder of the leaders – if the Manchester derby goes their way 24 hours earlier.
When they last met, in October, the champions won 6-3 with embarrassing ease to pull eight points clear of United.
But United are a team transformed lately, having won eight games in a row in all competitions and 11 of their last 12.
They now rival Arsenal for the status of England’s most in-form team and have climbed to fourth, only four points behind Pep Guardiola’s outfit now.
City have not been bad but uncharacteristically dropped points at home to Brentford and Everton either side of the World Cup break and suffered a shock Carabao Cup exit to Southampton on Wednesday..
Kane and Rashford
England’s two leading strikers look set to have a major say in this weekend’s derbies, and therefore the rest of the title race.
Harry Kane seems to raise his game when facing Tottenham’s biggest enemies, scoring 14 times in 16 starts against Arsenal.
Currently one goal shy of Jimmy Greaves’s 266 Spurs goals, Kane could equal or even surpass the record in the most fitting fashion on Sunday.
Marcus Rashford, meanwhile, is in perhaps the form of his life, having netted seven times in his last six outings for United.
Rashford has flourished since the sidelining and ultimate departure of Cristiano Ronaldo, becoming the most potent weapon in Erik ten Hag’s new-look side.
Arsenal and City may have sprinted away from their local rivals for now, but Kane and Rashford are in prime shape to trip them up.