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Tale of the tape: How Man City and Arsenal took it to the final round

Bukayo Saka of Arsenal battles for possession with Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester City
Bukayo Saka of Arsenal battles for possession with Kevin De Bruyne of Manchester CityAFP
Sunday sees the final chapter in a thrilling Premier League title race between Manchester City and Arsenal - one that will go down arguably as one of the most entertaining in history.

While Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk may have duked it out for boxing's heavyweight crown in Saudi Arabia on Saturday night, City and the Gunners have themselves been trading blows in a back-and-forth tussle at the top of the league standings all season.

While Liverpool had something to say before trailing off in the latter stages, we now find ourselves on the last day of the season with a winner yet to be crowned - a scenario that doesn't happen all too often.

Ahead of Sunday's final fixtures, here are some pivotal moments from throughout the 2023/24 campaign that have taken us all the way to an enthralling final round.

Declan Rice arrives at the Emirates

July 15th, 2023

No club in the land would turn their nose up at the signing of Declan Rice, but there were a few at the time that raised an eyebrow or two at the midfielder's £105 million transfer fee.

Indeed, some felt the price for the England international was far too inflated and that the funds could have gone towards more areas of the squad requiring depth, particularly in more attacking positions.

But the former West Ham captain hit the ground running and has proven a calculated financial risk well worth taking.

While not necessarily the only missing piece that might've helped Arsenal get over the line last season, his consistency and reliability in all facets of midfield dynamism were glaringly obvious to see, and the Gunners have been harder to break down and play through in the process.

Declan Rice of Arsenal applauds the fans
Declan Rice of Arsenal applauds the fansAFP

He's built up a tremendous relationship with Arsenal captain Martin Odegaard in the centre, as well as providing world-class cover when required in front of William Saliba and Gabriel in defence.

He's also chipped in further up the pitch throughout the campaign, notching seven goals and eight assists prior to the final game - the best-ever return for the 25-year-old so far in his career.

Arteta finally guns down Guardiola

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City - October 8th, 2023

Mikel Arteta finally claimed a first-ever managerial victory over Manchester City in the Premier League, as Gabriel Martinelli's late strike earned Arsenal a 1-0 win over the champions, condemning Pep Guardiola's men to back-to-back league defeats for the first time since December 2018.

Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta on the touchline during Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium
Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta on the touchline during Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates StadiumAFP

Guardiola’s side initially took control at the Emirates Stadium, with Joško Gvardiol seeing an effort cleared off the line by Declan Rice and Nathan Aké firing over before Arsenal had shown any signs of settling.

Martinelli’s second-half shot cannoned off Aké to wrongfoot Ederson and nestle in the back of the net, securing a huge victory for the Gunners and sending them joint-top with Tottenham at the time.

The two sides would subsequently draw the return fixture 0-0 later on in March, meaning Arteta's men would not drop any points to their biggest title rivals at all in the Premier League this time around.

Manchester City's stumble

Aston Villa 1-0 Manchester City - December 6th, 2023

City's Premier League aspirations appeared to take a big dent as they came away from Villa Park with nada early in December.

In-form Aston Villa were running rampant in the Premier League - even threatening a title tilt of their own - and they extended their remarkable winning home run in the league to 14 games with a deserved 1-0 victory over the reigning champions.

It set alarm bells ringing for fans of the blue half of Manchester, as their slump in form meant they had now gone four Premier League games without a win for the first time in more than seven years.

Aston Villa v Man City match stats
Aston Villa v Man City match statsOpta by StatsPerform

The 22 shots Villa fired at Ederson's goal was the most Guardiola has ever seen his side face since taking over at the club, while his side - who were without the dominant Rodri or classy Kevin De Bruyne in midfield - only mustered two efforts in goal in response.

Yet it proved to be something of a wake-up call for the Cityzens, who didn't lose in the Premier League after that result and have since only tasted defeat on penalties during their second-leg loss to Real Madrid in the Champions League semi-final.

King Kevin returns

Newcastle 2-3 Manchester City - January 13th, 2024

City fans (and fantasy football managers) rejoiced as star man De Bruyne finally returned to first-team action in early January, and boy did the Belgian bounce back with a bang.

After a lengthy five-month layoff due to a hamstring injury picked up in the opening game of the season, KDB had got some minutes under his belt earlier in the week with a cameo appearance in City's 5-0 demolition of Huddersfield in the FA Cup.

But he saved his best for his league return. With City finding themselves 2-1 down at St. James' Park after 70 minutes, Guardiola introduced De Bruyne who would instantly change the game.

Manchester City's Belgian midfielder #17 Kevin De Bruyne (C) celebrates after scoring their second goal against Newcastle
Manchester City's Belgian midfielder #17 Kevin De Bruyne (C) celebrates after scoring their second goal against NewcastleAFP

The midfielder ghosted through his opponents and slid a well-placed shot through Fabian Schär’s legs and into the bottom corner within five minutes of entering the fray, before later laying off a lovely assist for Oscar Bobb in added time to secure a massive three points on the road.

Gunners' glutton for goals

February to March, 2024

With the 2023/24 season going right to the wire between the two teams, goal difference was looking increasingly more important up until the last few weeks, with the Londoners holding all the cards despite lacking a clear centre-forward in their ranks.

No other point in the season sums up the reason for their superior goal difference than the period from the start of February and into March.

Having already not long hammered Crystal Palace 5-0 in January, an emphatic winning run blossomed as February rolled around, featuring goal-fests aplenty.

Arsenal's English midfielder #07 Bukayo Saka (C) celebrates after scoring their second goal
Arsenal's English midfielder #07 Bukayo Saka (C) celebrates after scoring their second goalAFP

During that stretch, Arsenal stuck three past Liverpool, six with no reply away to West Ham, plus another five at Burnley.

Despite a shock defeat to Porto in the Champions League sandwiched in between, their domestic form remained relentless as they then beat Newcastle 4-1 and battered Sheffield United 6-0 at Bramall Lane, before...

Arsenal's never-say-die spirit

Arsenal 2-1 BrentfordMarch 9th, 2024

Arsenal picked up a statement win at the perfect time ahead of Manchester City and Liverpool's fixture on the Sunday, but it was also about the manner of the victory.

The Gunners took the lead early through Declan Rice. Still, Brentford equalised shortly after with a goal from Yoane Wissa, capitalising on a horrendous error by Aaron Ramsdale in goal, who was playing due to on-loan David Raya being ineligible to play against his parent club.

Arsenal's German midfielder #29 Kai Havertz celebrates scoring the team's second goal against Brentford
Arsenal's German midfielder #29 Kai Havertz celebrates scoring the team's second goal against BrentfordAFP

The tension was immense as the game entered the final stages. In the 86th minute, substitute Kai Havertz rose to the occasion, scoring the winner and propelling Arsenal to the top of the table for the first time since December.

The late goal blew the proverbial roof off the Emirates and the dramatic victory showcased Arsenal's resilience and ability to grind out results even when not playing at their best - the skill all genuine title challengers need in abundance.

Villa the villains again

Arsenal 0-2 Aston VillaApril 14th, 2024

Arsenal relinquished control of the Premier League title race after being beaten 2-0 at the Emirates Stadium by Aston Villa, ending the Gunners’ five-match winning streak on their own turf in the league.

The Gunners were uncharacteristically second-best throughout the encounter but remained in with a shout of nicking all three points heading into the last 10 minutes.

Arteta's side failed to clear a corner, and Lucas Digne's ball across goal evaded the Arsenal defence, allowing Leon Bailey to pop up at the back post to steer home from a tight angle in the 84th minute.

Aston Villa's Argentinian goalkeeper #01 Emiliano Martinez takes a kick as the scoreboard displays the final scoreline
Aston Villa's Argentinian goalkeeper #01 Emiliano Martinez takes a kick as the scoreboard displays the final scorelineAFP

The points were wrapped up minutes later following a quick break from an Arsenal corner as Ollie Watkins broke forward and exquisitely lofted the ball over David Raya - securing a vital three points for themselves for the top-four race, and also for the landscape of the title race as a whole.

Villa also secured themselves the unique honour of beating both Arsenal and City this season. Talk about party poopers.

No favours from the neighbours

Tottenham 0-2 Manchester City - May 14th, 2024

Manchester City put themselves in control of their own destiny and on course for a fourth consecutive Premier League title after a hard-fought 2-0 victory over Spurs, ending a run of four consecutive top-flight away defeats at the Tottenham Hotspur Stadium in the process.

A perplexing atmosphere in the ground added to a strange occasion in north London, with Tottenham boss Ange Postecoglou riled by suggestions that Spurs supporters would want their side to lose this match and prevent arch-rivals Arsenal from winning the title.

Manchester City's Norwegian striker #09 Erling Haaland (C) shoots and scores his team's first goal
Manchester City's Norwegian striker #09 Erling Haaland (C) shoots and scores his team's first goalAFP

The affair was ultimately settled by two goals from a back-in-form Erling Haaland, taking his league tally to 27 for the season.

Things could've been very different, mind. At 1-0, Ederson was on the receiving end of a nasty collision with Cristian Romero and subsequently subbed off with a head injury.

Enter back-up keeper Stefan Ortega, who made a string of excellent saves - including an excellent one-on-one stop from the usually clinical Heung-min Son - to keep his side in front at pivotal moments in the match.

Ortega's stats against Spurs
Ortega's stats against SpursAFP/Opta by StatsPerform

Cue a series of theatrical responses from Guardiola on the sidelines, at points crumpled in a ball on the touchline. 

The win left City top of the pile, two points ahead of Arsenal going into the final day of the Premier League season.

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