Premier League title rivals Arsenal and Manchester City will run the rule over star forwards before their Monday meeting at Emirates Stadium.
City expect to welcome back Sergio Aguero – the Argentina star having returned to training after a heel problem marked the latest setback of an injury plagued campaign.
Arsenal’s Alexis Sanchez suffered a hamstring injury during last month’s 1-1 draw at Norwich City and remains a more outside bet, although he has resumed running work on the training field.
Arsene Wenger’s hosts are a point better off than City, with both teams behind surprise leaders Leicester City.
City boss Manuel Pellegrini suggested last week that fewer than 80 point could be enough to claim the Premier League crown in a season that has proved devilishly hard to predict so far, and Wenger concurs with his opposite number.
“It looks to be very tight,” he said. “We have played 16 games and the top team is on 35 points [prior to this weekend’s games], so it means that the Premier League could be decided at around 80 points.
“If you look at the results it looks as though the consistency will be the main priority in this league because every week you are surprised by the results. We have really established a good run so for us it’s important to continue that.
“It is a massive game [on Monday]. When we play at home you want to win because we are ambitious and we feel we have the chance to come out in a strong position after Christmas.
“It will be a very tight game because if you look at the numbers since the start of the season, offensively and defensively the numbers are very close. Manchester City has huge individual potential with David Silva and Sergio Aguero coming back and so we will need a top, top-level team performance.”
City are once again likely to be without influential captain Vincent Kompany (calf) and a succession of injury problems have left Pellegrini’s ample squad stretched at time this season as they compete on all fronts.
Next month brings a two-legged League Cup semi-final against Everton, while a last-16 tie with Dynamo Kiev gives City their most favourable prospects to date of progressing into the later stages of the Champions League.
Nevertheless, forward Raheem Sterling insists finishing top of the pile domestically is the priority for the 2011-12 and 2013-14 Premier League champions, who were last-gasp 2-1 winners against Swansea City in their previous fixture.
“The Premier League is the priority. I think most of the players would agree with that,” Sterling told BBC Football Focus.
“We need to win the Premier League again and the Champions League would be a bonus.
“City are a team I definitely think can go far in that tournament.”
Last season’s game between the sides at Emirates Stadium ended 2-2, Martin Demichelis equalising for the visitors after current long-term leg injury victim Jack Wilshere and Sanchez cancelled out an Aguero opener.
Arsenal won the return fixture at the Etihad Stadium 2-0 through a penalty from Santi Cazorla – another of Wenger’s walking wounded due to knee ligament damage – and Olivier Giroud’s second-half header.
Key Opta stats
– Arsenal have lost just one of their 18 Premier League home games against Manchester City (W11 D6 L1) but have only won once in the past six editions (W1 D4 L1).
– Manchester City have lost 22 Premier League games against Arsenal – their joint most defeats to any opponent along with Chelsea.
– City have won none of their past four Premier League away matches and failed to score in their last three. They last failed to score in four consecutive Premier League away games in February 2006.
– Kelechi Iheanacho’s two Premier League goals this season have earned Manchester City four points; the same total to come as a direct result of Olivier Giroud’s nine goals for Arsenal.
– There have been five red cards in the past five Emirates Stadium meetings between Arsenal and Manchester City.
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