It’s pretty clear that a lot is riding on Monday night’s game between Arsenal and Manchester City.
Leicester City are currently top of the Premier League, but Arsenal and City are expected to be the top two come May. That makes Monday’s meeting the biggest game of the Premier League so far this season.
Not since 2008/09 have the team that went on to win the league had a negative record against their closest title rivals. Though Arsenal won there last season, Manchester City have a superb record at the Etihad Stadium, and we know head-to-head records are often so vital in the title race. That means a good result is needed on Monday.
So, how exactly have teams fared against their closest challengers in recent seasons?
Chelsea 2014/15: Two 1-1 draws help Chelsea to the title. The draw away from home came as Frank Lampard equalised for 10-men City late on. José Mourinho shut up shop at home with Chelsea already five points clear at the top of the table.
Manchester City 2013/14: A comfortable win against Liverpool over Christmas was helpful, especially as Liverpool beat City at Anfield as the end of the season approached. The Reds’ win seemed to give them the upper hand in the race, which was kept alive by no team having a clear advantage across two meetings.
Manchester United 2012/13: A late deflected Robin van Persie free-kick gave United a win away from home as they charged to the title. Manchester City won at Old Trafford, but the gap was already 15 points by then.
Manchester City 2011/12: The last time the champions beat their nearest competitors twice in a season. A famous 6-1 win at Old Trafford was followed by Vincent Kompany scoring the only goal when City hosted the return game. Without these matches, United would have won the title.
Manchester United 2010/11: Sir Alex Ferguson’s side took four points off their city rivals and won once and drew once against previous champions Chelsea.
Chelsea 2009/10: Carlo Ancelotti’s men took six points off Manchester United. John Terry scored the only goal at Stamford Bridge before Joe Cole and Didier Drogba sealed a win at Old Trafford to send Chelsea top by two points with just five games remaining.
Manchester United 2008/09: Back when Fernando Torres was good an made a fool of Nemanja Vidic on a biannual basis, Manchester United incredibly won the title despite losing to Liverpool twice. It can be done.
So, all hope isn’t lost should Arsenal fall to defeat on Monday night. However, it’s incredibly rare for a side to let their rivals win the head-to-head battles before going on to win the league anyway.
It’s not a position you want to be in, and Arsenal will need to take something from Monday’s fixture to avoid it.