Will Man City slip up in Premier League title race?

By Alex Keble 8 May 2024
Pep Arteta

Alex Keble says history may favour Pep Guardiola's side, but there is a glimmer of hope for Arsenal

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Premier League 2023/24 title: Will Man City or Arsenal be champions?

Alex Keble takes a look at the final two Matchweeks of a thrilling 2023/24 title race as Manchester City and Arsenal go toe-to-toe to be crowned Premier League champions.

Manchester City and Arsenal will be locked in a title race right up until the final minutes of the 2023/24 Premier League season. That much is certain after emphatic victories for both clubs over the weekend.

2023/24 title race

Position Pos Club Played Pl GD Points Pts
1 Man City MCI 38 +62 91
2 Arsenal ARS 38 +62 89
3 Liverpool LIV 38 +45 82

But Arsenal remain the underdogs, because there is a growing sense that both sides will simply win all of their remaining matches, meaning a record-breaking fourth title in a row for Man City.

Is there any hope for Arsenal? We take a look at whether Man City will slip up in the next fortnight.

Guardiola has only once lost a title race…

Here’s a daunting piece of trivia for Gunners fans - Pep Guardiola has lost only one title race in his 14 seasons as a manager.

He has won 11 league titles in 14 seasons, but in two of his three unsuccessful years his team were well off the pace, finishing third in a transitional year at Man City in 2016/17, and 18 points behind 99-point Liverpool in 2019/20.

When the chips are down, when a title battle goes all the way, Guardiola almost always comes out on top.

Six times Guardiola has been in a title fight right up until the final few weeks of the season, and five times he was won (three in England, two in Spain).

Guardiola, PL Trophy

The other occasion was the 2011/12 season when Jose Mourinho’s Real Madrid triumphed.

Mourinho beat Guardiola’s Barcelona 2-1 in April to move seven points clear with four matches to go, prompting Guardiola to congratulate Real on winning the title in his post-match press conference.

So rare was that event it is still remembered now as an iconic moment in LaLiga history and one of the greatest achievements of Mourinho’s career. That is what Arsenal are up against.

Man City always end strongly when there’s something on the line

At first glance, Man City’s record in the final three Premier League matches between seasons 2016/17 and 2022/23 offers Arsenal some hope. They have won 16, drawn three, and lost two, winning just 76 per cent of those matches.

City's final three results 2016/17 - 2022/23
Season Final three PL results Final league position
2016/17 W3 D0 L0 3rd
2017/18 W2 D1 L0* 1st
2018/19 W3 D0 L0 1st
2019/20 W3 D0 L0 2nd
2020/21 W2 D0 L1* 1st
2021/22 W2 D1 L0 1st
2022/23 W1 D1 L1* 1st

* Title already won before final three matches

But context is important. Whenever there has been something on the line, Man City have done enough.

In 2017/18, 2020/21, and 2022/23 – three of the four seasons Man City have dropped points in the final three matches – the title was already sewn up prior to those games being played.

The only other year they dropped points was in 2021/22, and on that occasion they began the run three points clear of Liverpool, meaning they could afford to draw 2-2 at West Ham United and remain in control.

However, that was the season Man City also went 2-0 down at home to Aston Villa on the final day and needed a dramatic late comeback to stay one point ahead of Liverpool.

That, at least, offers Arsenal some comfort. But where are Man City most likely to drop points?

Silva has a dreadful record against Guardiola yet Fulham are no pushovers

Marco Silva has faced Guardiola 12 times in his career. He has lost all 12 meetings.

This probably isn’t the ideal time for try number 13. Fulham have won only two of their last nine Premier League matches and are slowing down as they approach the finish line.

Fulham are also on a 15-match losing streak against Man City in all competitions.

If that wasn’t bad enough for Arsenal, Erling Haaland – fresh from scoring four goals against Wolverhampton Wanderers last weekend – netted a hat-trick in a 5-1 destruction of Fulham in the reverse fixture back in September.

However, that match wasn’t quite as one-sided as the result suggests.

Fulham and Man City had just three shots apiece in a first half that should have ended 1-1 but for Nathan Ake’s goal on the stroke of half-time that Howard Webb, chief operating officer at PGMOL, subsequently admitted should not have stood.

What would have happened had Fulham gone in level after a hard-fought and surprisingly even first half? We will never know, but City’s second - and the sense of injustice in the dressing room - possibly contributed to their second-half collapse.

So, not only do Fulham already have a game plan to deploy at Craven Cottage, and not only should the task theoretically be easier given they are at home this time, but Silva and his team will be fired up for revenge.

Spurs curse gives Arsenal a glimmer of hope

Tottenham Hotspur have lost four Premier League matches in a row and the most recent of these, a 4-2 defeat at Liverpool that could have been a lot worse, indicates that Man City will tear past their hosts without breaking a sweat.

But this is Spurs versus Man City, a fixture that just doesn’t follow the rules.

Guardiola’s side have won one of their last five Premier League meetings with Spurs and have been beaten in each of their last four league visits to the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium, falling to and Mourinho (twice), Nuno Espirito Santo and Antonio Conte.

Ange Postecoglou will believe he can make it five, not least because his team were so competitive in a 3-3 draw at the Etihad this season and a 1-0 loss at home in January's FA Cup fourth round.

Granted, Man City missed lots of chances in both contests, but that was arguably a symptom of being pulled into the Postecoglou chaos.

City did not enjoy the aggressive, confrontational, and daring way that Spurs came at them. Very few clubs even attempt to put them under that sort of pressure, and those who do occasionally get results.

In the 3-3 draw Spurs scored on the counter-attack and in the transition after assertive front-foot defending, something we also saw from a courageous Villa in their 1-0 win in December and from Chelsea in a 4-4 draw in November.

The odds are stacked against Spurs, but if it’s a wild and unruly contest there is a chance of a high-scoring draw.

Guardiola seeks control. Postecoglou will do everything he can to deny them it. With the title on the line, could that be enough to jangle the nerves and knock Man City off course?

Retreating West Ham stand almost zero chance at the Etihad Stadium

West Ham at the Etihad Stadium is a dream final fixture for Man City.

David Moyes’s side have won only one of their previous nine Premier League matches, and have not kept a clean sheet in their last 16 outings. More importantly, West Ham haven’t taken a single point from the Etihad since Guardiola arrived in England.

Even if West Ham were to start well, their tendency to retreat into a shell this season spells trouble.

Far too often they sink back and invite pressure in the latter stages of matches, especially when already in the lead, and for that reason alone an experienced Man City would surely get the job done.

Case in point, Man City were 1-0 down at half-time at the London Stadium back in September, but their possession share rose from 66 per cent to 73 per cent in the second 45 minutes as they came roaring back to win 3-1.

And the chances of West Ham even getting into a strong position are slim. They have conceded 17 goals in their last five away matches in all competitions, losing 5-0 to Chelsea and 5-2 to Crystal Palace in their last two.

Arsenal, then, need to hope for a Man City draw against Fulham or Spurs - not impossible, but not likely either.

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