As one of the longest seasons in football’s recent history approaches its climax, a decisive act in this term’s Premier League title story will play out on Wednesday night.
With the defending champions Manchester City welcoming Arsenal, the top two face-off at The Etihad Stadium.
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Following Arsenal’s third game on the spin in dropping points, the Gunners remain five points ahead but City now have two games in hand.
This is the big one, and it is certainly must-not-lose for the visitors; in all likelihood, Arsenal must win.
As a rivalry, though one of the newer Premier League classics, the history of this contest stretches far back.
Lets dive into a fixture that harks back to the end of the 19th Century.
November 11 1893.
On a cool South London evening, Woolwich Arsenal entertained Ardwick – the product of a team formed as St. Marks (West Gorton) in front of 4,500 fans at Plumstead’s Manor Ground.
How times have changed.
Meeting for the very first time under the umbrella of English football’s second tier, League Division Two in its infancy, the hosts came out on top by a single goal-to-nil courtesy of James Henderson.
As London’s first professional club and the first to come from the South of England, that year, Royal Arsenal – themselves formed from Dial Square Football Club in 1886 – changed the direction of the beautiful game.
Ardwick, meanwhile, were in their second season in existence having joined the Football League in 1892.
Like Arsenal, the club were then named after the city centre area of Manchester the team were founded in.
After winning their first-ever meeting, the two met again in December 1893 over the festive period with Arsenal coming out on top via the same 1-0 scoreline.
Ardwick were then renamed Manchester City the following year – the date that adorns their current badge – and won their first game against The Gunners, at their Hyde Road home in December of that year.
Meeting in League Division One for the first time in 1904, it was again 1-0 to the Arsenal.
You almost wonder how that moniker came about….
Arsenal then relocated to north London and their more familiar Highbury haunt in 1913 before the impending arrival of World War I.
The first official game between Arsenal and Manchester City as we know them today took place in September of 1920 and ended in a 2-2 draw.
Fast-forward to the inauguration of the Premier League.
City and Arsenal went four years without a game as the former battled back to the top-flight after dropping to the third tier.
Despite this, Arsenal had the rubber on City for 19 games.
As City finally won in 2006, the two then exchanged victories and defeats in the four years to come.
Then, City’s revolution began to take a vice-like grip.
De Bruyne supremacy
As the guard was changing in the Premier League’s pecking order, Arsenal waned under a tiring Arsene Wenger.
Meanwhile, a Blue Moon was rising, first under Roberto Mancini and then into the salubrious era of Pep Guardiola.
Results between the two in recent years reflect the story, a statistic spearheaded by Arsenal’s kryptonite, Kevin De Bruyne.
The Belgian talisman has netted seven goals against the Gunners since 2016, about the same time that Arsenal’s struggles against City began.
Indeed, Arsenal have not taken a single point from the Cityzens in over six years.
That was back in April 2017 when they drew 2-2 at The Emirates Stadium with all four goals coming inside 53 minutes.
The season before, the Gunners took a point away from the Etihad for the first time since 2012 but have not beaten City at Eastlands since 2010.
Despite their league malaises, Arsenal have taken the scalp of City twice in the same period, most memorably in the FA Cup semi-final of the pandemic season.
Under Mikel Arteta however, Arsenal’s relentless press has given City more regular problems in the last two outings – particular in this fixture last season.
Yet, City have always come out on top.
So in a game that pundits, fans and critics alike are already mooting must-win in their quest for a first league title in 19 years, can Arsenal end another lengthy drought?
In total there have been 207 meeting between these two sides; Wednesday night’s latest edition is likely to be memorable. One way or the other.