Arsenal need to stay in title race as Man City could still slip up – but Erling Haaland is a unique. Despite Arsenal’s loss to Manchester City on Sunday, Gary Neville believes that the team must remain focused and “do their job” because “strange things” can still occur in this title race. After a successful week that included a 4-1 victory over Arsenal on Wednesday night, Pep Guardiola’s City won 2-1 at Fulham to move into first place in the table for the first time since February.
Arsenal need to stay in title race as Man City could still slip up
City host West Ham 24 hours later in a chance to regain their lead, but the reigning champions are now one point ahead of the Gunners with a game in hand. Mikel Arteta’s team can go back to the top of the table if they beat Chelsea on Tuesday.
“Still, things can happen. We have seen where a powerful team goes in front but then struggle, like Arsenal have had in the last few weeks.
“The year that City won the league for the first time in 2012, United got in front of them and everyone thought: ‘Oh here we go, they are going to power forwards’ and they didn’t, they stumbled.
“So Arsenal have got to keep going, it’s about keeping teams honest at this time of the year. I use that phrase a lot with four or five games to go.
“Where you don’t want to be – and I had it at my first season at Manchester United – is where we didn’t win at West Ham on the final day and then Blackburn didn’t win at Liverpool and if we had won, we’d have won the league.
“So you just have to make sure you do your job. And I think if you’re Arsenal, make sure you are not looking back in three weeks time thinking: ‘Oh we thought we lost it. But if we had beaten Chelsea and Newcastle we would have won it as City dropped points.’
“Arsenal have to recover in time for Chelsea on Tuesday night and Sunday against Newcastle.”
Why Man City is doing so well?
Everyone expected Guardiola’s team to win the title after their February victory over Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. But City immediately drew with Nottingham Forest to give Arsenal the initiative back. The defending champs kept away from such a mishap against Fulham on Sunday, yet Neville accepts that 1-1 draw at the City Ground three months prior was a reminder for City.
“I saw Ilkay Gundogan’s interview over the weekend and it really resonated with me,” he said. “He said the Nottingham Forest game woke them up and I get that.
“There’s a game where you go: ‘That’s enough now, enough of that rubbish. Conceding against one of the bottom teams in the league with two minutes to go?’ Well done to Nottingham Forest but that’s not what you do if you’re at the top of the league.
“That was the last game where Pep Guardiola was rotating and fidgeting around with his back four. Instead, it’s got really serious and they’ve had to switch on.
“That resonates with me. Sir Alex Ferguson was a rotator and would trust the squad but then he’d say: “Right this is it, we want seriousness and concentration.” And you’d really start to get serious. That’s what they’ve done: Manchester City have gotten serious about their work and Arsenal have wobbled.”
And at the centre of City’s title push is striker Erling Haaland – who notched his 50th goal of the season by scoring an early penalty at Fulham.
“We have become accustomed to watching Manchester City over the last few years and talking about the passing, possession, the brilliance of it,” said Neville. “But if you ever asked me who I would rather watch out of the two teams, I would rather have watched Jurgen Klopp’s style of play.
“But I love this version of Manchester City more than any other of the Pep Guardiola teams over the last four or five years. And that’s because of Haaland.
“He is a battering ram of a centre-forward with a brilliant finish and is something really special. If you are watching him play, you are watching something unique. It’s the same with Kevin De Bruyne, he is unique. But Haaland is truly unique.
“He’s a player that very rarely graces this league, they are normally at Barcelona or Real Madrid. In time gone by, maybe they would be at PSG. But very rarely do we have a player who would be considered in the top couple in the world as they arrive.
“We normally have players who emerge into that after signing in this league. It is usually that those players would then go into those aforementioned clubs. But Haaland is a world star, who has come as a world star and is performing like a world star.
“Haaland has got the finishing of Harry Kane, the power of Wayne Rooney, he is unbelievable. Even the Brazilian Ronaldo, the power that he had when he ran, the explosion off the mark. Haaland is like four players in one.
“During the season, many questioned and I was one of them: Does Pep actually like having a player like that? At times it has looked a little bit dysfunctional from how Pep likes to play.
“But it looks like that harmony is coming at the right point in the season where those moments where he delivers contribute so much more than when they had the perfection of everybody else that played.”