Manchester City’s record-breaking start faces test against Wenger’s Arsenal
Manchester City go into the weekend as the only undefeated team left in the country – the other side to have remained unbeaten across the four professional divisions of in England, Shrewsbury Town, surrendered their 15-game run in defeat to Peterbrorough last weekend – and some are beginning to wonder if it is too early to suggest that they can match Preston North End in 1888-89 and Arsenal in 2003-04 by going the whole season without losing.
So far City have played 10 Premier League games, winning nine of them. They sit five points ahead of city rivals Manchester United at the top of the league and can extend that to eight points by the time United kick off their game on Sunday afternoon – City host Arsenal at the Etihad stadium in the 2:15 pm kickoff while United travel to Stamford Bridge and don’t face the champions Chelsea until 4:30 pm.
An eight-point lead would put the pressure on Jose Mourinho’s side as the Portuguese returns to his former club. In October 2016, on his first return since leaving Chelsea for a second time and his first visit as Manchester United manager, Mourinho’s team lost 4-0 to the eventual champions. He’s not alone in the United dugout in struggling at Stamford Bridge – Sir Alex Ferguson was the last United manager to mastermind an away win for United back in October 2012.
City won’t be too concerned whatever the result at Stamford Bridge. Assuming that they win their own game against Arsenal then a United win merely maintains the distance in the rear-view mirror, anything other than that will be a bonus. City go into the game nine points clear of both fourth-placed Chelsea and fifth-placed Arsenal and losses for either means that they fall further back behind City.
Even if City only maintain their five-point lead that would be the third-largest at this stage of a Premier League season behind Chelsea’s nine-point gap in the 2005-06 season – they went on to win the title by eight points – and Manchester United’s seven-point lead in 1993-94 – they went on to win the league by nine points. The only other team to have had a five-point lead? City in 2011-12. They had won 10 and drawn the other of their first 11 matches, and went on to win the title, pipping Manchester United on goal difference.
After Liverpool’s capitulation on their visit to the Etihad back in September, Arsenal pose arguably the biggest test of the season for this City side, at least in terms of the Premier League. No matter. City have just come off back-to-back Champions League wins over this season’s Serie A leaders Napoli – winning 2-1 at home a fortnight ago and then traveling to the Stadio San Paolo in midweek and returning with a 4-2 win and qualification to the group stages.
Nothing to fear
They have no reason to fear anyone, let alone Arsenal, because City come into this game in imperious form. In fact, the Napoli win was the club’s 22nd game in a row without a defeat, a new club record and one that shows no signs of being cut short at the moment. City have not had it quite all their own way this season: They labored to a 1-1 home draw with Everton and then needed a 97th-minute Raheem Sterling winner to see off Bournemouth. But that match on the south coast was the last time that City had been behind in a game until Dries Mertens opened the scoring in Italy on Wednesday night. Statistically they are impressive. Leading the league for goals and a goal difference of plus-29 after 10 games. In the Premier League this season they have twice scored five in a game, scoring six away to Watford and putting seven past Stoke City at home. This is the most that a Pep Guardiola team has ever scored in their first 10 league games of a season, with City’s 35 goals one more than the 34 that Barcelona scored during his first season in charge at the Camp Nou in 2008-09. Guardiola’s side ended the season by securing the club’s first-ever treble of La Liga, Copa del Rey and Champions League. It should also be noted that Barcelona started the season off with a league defeat.
In addition to blowing away club records and Guardiola’s past achievements, they have swatted away every challenge that they have faced this season, and despite the free-scoring soccer – which has been dismissed by some as a Newcastle United-under-Keegan, you-score-three-we’ll-score-four mentality that will soon come unstuck – City have shored up their defense. After 10 games last season they had conceded nine goals, and in this season it has been just six in the same period, with six clean sheets. They look set to improve on last season, when they allowed more than a goal a game in the Premier League. Last weekend’s win against West Bromwich Albion – their fifth away win of the season, another club record – saw City set a Premier League record for passes, the highest since Opta records began in 2003 but Guardiola, ever the perfectionist, still talks in terms of room for improvement from his players. No wonder the pundits and even his fellow managers are talking of his side as champions. Jurgen Klopp suggested City might even win the league in January. Guardiola dismissed that talk, just as he said that his team following in the footsteps of Arsenal’s 2003-04 Invincibles and going unbeaten was “not going to happen.” He says he will take it as normal, one game at a time. But the fact is his side are better off than the Invincibles at the same stage of the season and if he can beat this season’s Arsenal on Sunday, the whispers of “what if?” will become louder.
Leroy Sane of Manchester City celebrates after scoring against West Bromwich Albion during their Premier League match on October 28 in West Bromwich, England.