Arsenal face another tough trip to Manchester
LONDON (Reuters) - Arsenal's lunchtime game at Manchester City on Saturday could be a defining one for their Premier League title hopes, even if Arsene Wenger has greeted that idea with a typically Gallic shrug.
The Gunners have a comfortable cushion over second-placed Liverpool, who travel in the opposite direction on Sunday for a clash in North London with sixth-placed Tottenham Hotspur (11 a.m. ET), and Chelsea.
"We are five points ahead and, overall, the Premier League is a marathon," said Wenger, speaking before his side progressed to the knockout stages of the Champions League despite a 2-0 defeat to Napoli on Wednesday that left them facing a potentially tricky last-16 clash.
"We will be in the race no matter what happens."
City, who surged back from 2-0 down to beat European champions Bayern Munich 3-2 in Germany in their final Champions League group game, are fourth and six points behind Wenger's men.
Despite their position, Arsenal will be the underdogs against a side who remain unbeaten at home in the league this season and see no reason why they cannot at least match Manchester United's 1-0 win over the north Londoners last month.
"With the disappointing results we have had away from home, it's important that we try to go through the season winning every single home game," City's England midfielder James Milner, who scored the winner on Tuesday, said.
"That won't be easy, but the way we are playing we can do that."
Neither of City's top two league goalscorers played in Munich with Sergio Aguero, the second most prolific scorer in the Premier League after Liverpool's Luis Suarez, rested and Yaya Toure suspended.
Arsenal were held 1-1 at the Emirates by Everton last weekend but their defense has been tough to penetrate with three clean sheets before the Everton game and two goals conceded in their last nine league and European games prior to Wednesday.
Jose Mourinho's Chelsea, at home to struggling Crystal Palace on Saturday (1500), play at Arsenal before Christmas and could be in a position by then to take the overall lead if Liverpool stumble at Spurs.
They have let in six goals in their last two Premier League games, however, and the leaky defense will have to be made watertight.
"We are creating a lot, we are playing a lot of nice football, but we have to finish off opponents," Mourinho said before Chelsea's 1-0 home Champions League victory against Steaua Bucharest.
While Suarez is on fire, with 15 league goals in 10 matches after being belatedly awarded a second from last weekend's 4-1 thrashing of West Ham United, Liverpool will be without England captain Steven Gerrard.
Media reports indicated he would be out for at least a month with a hamstring injury, joining striker Daniel Sturridge on the sidelines for the busy Christmas period and matches at Manchester City and Chelsea.
Champions Manchester United, 13 points behind Arsenal, are at Aston Villa on Sunday (1330) after the confidence boost of beating Ukrainians Shakhtar Donetsk on Tuesday to top their Champions League group.
Fifth-placed Everton, a point behind Manchester City, are at home to Fulham (1500) on Saturday while seventh placed Newcastle United host Southampton (1500).
(Reporting by Alan Baldwin, editing by Toby Davis)