All eyes this weekend will be directly focused on the matchup between Arsenal and Manchester City. The two teams previously battled it out for the 2022/23 Premier League title. The Gunners led much of the season but dropped in the standings following a heavy defeat to City in April. Following the big win, City held on to the top spot for the remainder of the campaign and lifted the trophy in May.

The current campaign is turning out to be similar. Arsenal leads the Premier League table with a trip to Etihad Stadium on the horizon. The Gunners, however, will hope that their previous disappointing display in 2023 will help prepare themselves for this monumental moment.

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta hinted at this during his press conference on Friday. “We learned from [City’s] level,” proclaimed the Spanish coach. “It’s the level we want to be at. We have been getting closer in the last two or three years. We need to close that gap and try to be better than them.”

“They have earned the right for everyone to look at them as an example. It has raised our level and demands [us] to try to be like them and beat them.”

Rodri is among the most important players in the Premier League

The upcoming game could see some key players miss out due to various injuries. Arteta has claimed that Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli, and Gabriel have not trained with the squad this week. The Spaniard went on to say, however, that the starting trio has a chance to be named in the squad at the weekend.

City boss Pep Guardiola also informed reporters that John Stones and Kyle Walker will not be fit enough for the clash. The defensive duo has been a mainstay in the coach’s starting lineup in recent seasons. Guardiola did give City fans a bit of good news though. Manuel Akanji has recovered from a knock and should feature for the reigning European champions.

With Arsenal’s issues up front and City’s at the back, the match may very well be decided in midfield. Both clubs currently have highly rated players in the middle of the pitch. Many would even claim that these are the top two teams in midfield among all Premier League clubs.

Nevertheless, City has an advantage in this specific category due to Rodri’s presence in the squad. Erling Haaland and Kevin De Bruyne receive much of the praise from pundits and fans, and rightly so, but Rodri is equally important to the club.

The dynamic midfielder has not lost in any of his last 62 total appearances in Guardiola’s lineup. On the flip side, the English champions have lost all three league matches this season without Rodri. One of these defeats came at the hands of Arsenal back in October. The midfielder missed out on the matchup due to a previous red card.

Rodri is a defensive midfielder and a world-class one at that, but he does much more for Guardiola than just sit in front of the defensive line. Along with racking up tackles and interceptions, Rodri has also added goals and assists to his game. The Spain international does not have a hole in his game and is a perfect complement to the aforementioned De Bruyne.

Arsenal splashed the cash in midfield to compete against City

Arsenal, however, now have an answer to the imposing Rodri. The Gunners went out last summer and signed Declan Rice from West Ham for around $125 million. While some assumed the English star would potentially team up with Rodri at City, Arteta managed to nab his number-one target.

Rice was brought in by the north London club specifically for these massive matches against top teams. Although Rodri is the undisputed top player at his position in all of Europe, the Englishman is now on his heels at the moment. Statistically speaking, the two midfielders mirror each other in many important categories. This includes goals, assists, passing accuracy, big chances created, and tackles.

The winner of Sunday’s match will grab a key advantage in the title race. Although the entire squads of both teams will be important in the fight, the midfield battle, specifically between Rodri and Rice, could prove to be the most important factor of the game.