The title race is set to become clearer as Manchester City travel to Arsenal

Samir Nasri Samir Nasri of Arsenal celebrates his goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at City of Manchester Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Manchester, England.Arsenal v Manchester City, Premier League, January 5, 2011

Arsenal 1.94; Draw 3.74; Manchester City 4.18

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Chelsea lost there. Manchester United just drew there. But Arsenal managed to win, and win convincingly by the end of the match.

Having suffered a major setback drawing 2-2 at Wigan, the Wenger Boys bounced back in big style with an excellent 3-nil win at Birmingham on New Year’s Day. Not only did Robin van Persie finally open his account for the season while Samir Nasri continued his sublime form cashing in on the Gunners’ second of the game, but it was the toughness and physical aspect of Arsenal’s performance which was so impressive at St Andrews.

For as long as the Wenger Boys’ trophy drought has continued, accusations have been levelled at the north Londoners that they are too power-puff. Passing the pants off the league’s lessor lights have always made Arsenal good to watch on the telly, but year after year they’ve fallen short failing to turn their well-lauded artistry into the hard currency of three points.

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Recent results though has boosted belief that Arsenal are now made of sterner, more robust stuff. Not only did they win at Brum, but their victory over Chelsea at the end of 2010 also saw their hoodoo against their big-boy rivals finally smashed.

A quick-glance at the league table however, acts as an immediate reminder that Arsenal still have plenty of work to do this campaign. Currently sitting in third place, Arsenal stare up at Manchesters United and City in first and second respectively. In order to overtake their northern title challengers wins in their head-to-head matches will undoubtedly be crucial, and in that regard the upcoming contest on Wednesday night is simply ginormously massive.

It will surely have escaped no-one’s notice at the Emirates that Arsenal’s two wins during the Christmas period have arrived when the Gunners fielded the same starting elevens against the London and Birmingham Blues. The corollary statement to that was that when the Professor chose to change Arsenal’s line-up against the Latics, crucial points fell by the wayside.

Looking for patterns, it seems sensible to assume that Wenger will to play the same team when the Citizens arrive in north London. That would again see the Gunners line-up 4-5-1, with Robin van Persie supported by Theo Walcott and Samir Nasri breaking from midfield, while Cesc Fabregas pulls the strings in the midfield with Jack Wilshere and Alex Song in support.

Arsene Wenger will also be looking for another good performance from his defence. Whisper it, but Lukasz Fiabianski is tarted to look like an assured shotstopper, while Johan Djourou and Laurent Koscielny looked like a solid pairing against Birmingham too. Whether Arsenal can record their first back-to-back shutouts since October though remains to be seen.

While Arsenal are a team on the up, so are Manchester City. So far over Christmas City have chalked win wins over Newcastle, Aston Villa and Blackpool, and a fourth consecutive win over the Gunners will further belief at Eastlands that the Premier League’s big spenders can actually win the league this year.

City will be hopeful that Mario Balotelli and David Silva will be fit for the match against Arsenal. Balotelli was absent from City’s 1-0 victory over the Tangerines with a knee injury, while Silva was forced off against Ian Holloway’s men when he also picked up a knock to his knee. Neither player’s injury is though to be too bad however, and most stars could be in contention of starting at the Grove.

The Citizens’ man main against Arsenal though is striker Carlos Tevez. Against Blackpool the Sky Blues’ leading scorer had an off day, missing a penalty and then missing a series of relatively easy chances to put the match to bed. Nevertheless the industrious forward is unlikely to have had his confidence too badly damaged by that one below-par performance, and he’ll be looking to terrorise the home defence with his probing runs and never-say-die work-ethic for which he is famed.

Yaya Toure, Gareth Barry and Nigel de Jong will likely line up in the middle of the park for City, offering a midfield threesome who will fancy their chances of controlling the match at the Emirates. All three players are capable of not only winning possessing back for their side, but they are equally able of springing a quick counter-attack for the visitors which will aim to catch Arsenal short of numbers.

Should City come unstuck, it will arguably be their defence that lets them down. While Vincent Kompany has rightly been earning rave reviews all season, fellow defenders Jerome Boateng, Joleon Lescott and Aleksandar Kolarov have yet to really convince doubters that they are good enough at the highest level. Kolarov in particular will be sighted as a weak-link by Arsenal, and the battle with Walcott down that flank could be one of the decisive match-ups in the game.

With Manchester City boasting the best away record in the division and Arsenal boasting the second best home record in the league, perhaps the cautious punter will look at the draw as the likely outcome in the match. Yet with the stakes so high as the title race heats up, it is hoped that both sides will chuck the proverbial kitchen sinks at each other as they duke it out for three points that may decide the course of this season’s championship.

101gg predicts: Arsenal 3 – Manchester City 2

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