After a 3-month hiatus, the eyes of the world will be back on the Premier League on Wednesday.
Top flight action returns following a 100-day absence due to the coronavirus-enforced suspension of the football season.
Aston Villa’s 6pm clash with Sheffield United will be the curtain raiser, before attention turns to Arsenal’s trip to Manchester City.
Both games, and all subsequent Premier League fixtures between now and the end of the season will take place behind closed doors.
Arsenal’s visit to the Etihad Stadium marks the first time Mikel Arteta has returned to Manchester City since leaving his role there as assistant manager.
The Spaniard departed Eastlands in December to replace axed compatriot Unai Emery at the helm of the Gunners, a club for whom he played 150 times.
Arteta will now pit his wits against former colleague Pep Guardiola – the man who assisted his development as coach for over three years.
His Arsenal side will still harbour hopes of a European place, currently residing in 9th spot in the Premier League standings.
Dreams of European football coming in the form of a Champions League berth won’t have evaporated either, with it still possible a 5th placed finish could hand them that prize, depending on the outcome of Manchester City’s court case with UEFA.
With a 5-point deficit between themselves and Manchester United in 5th, Arsenal will need to continue the form displayed under Arteta before the season’s suspension – just 2 defeats in 15 games in all competitions – to catch their Mancunian adversaries.
Ironically, it was the Arsenal boss contracting Covid-19 in early March which encouraged authorities to halt the season.
Manchester City meanwhile are comfortably in the European places, in 2nd position with a 12 point cushion over cross-city rivals United – albeit, it is uncertain as to whether European competition will grace the Eithad next season, or indeed, the season after that.
City have no tangible chance of chasing down runaway leaders Liverpool at the top – Jurgen Klopp’s side a mammoth 25 points clear at the summit.
A defeat to Arsenal would leave Liverpool needing just a single victory to claim their first Premier League title in 30 years.
Pep Guardiola will be in no mood to let his former assistant leave with the bragging rights, however, and is expected to field a strong side against Arsenal on Wednesday, despite many claiming his trademark steely focus is more likely placed on scooping a first Champions League crown for nine years.
Guardiola may opt to deploy Leroy Sane for the first time this season against Arsenal – the German has not played for City since rupturing knee ligaments in the Community Shield in August 2019.
Speculation around the winger’s future and a possible switch to Bayern Munich remains tantamount.
With Sane available for selection, that leaves Pep with a rare clean bill of health.
The same can’t be said for Mikel Arteta though, with options slightly thinner due to knocks for Calum Chambers and Lucas Torreira.
Sead Kolasinac is fit, Kieran Tierney has recovered from a niggling injury, and Southampton loanee Cedric Soares is also in contention to make his debut, a full 6 months after joining the club.
Manchester City will wear special one-off shirts for the fixture, to raise awareness for the Cityzens Giving for Recovery campaign, a charity initiative launched by the club’s owners to support communities affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Manchester City v Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium kicks off at 8.15pm on Wednesday, 17th June.