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Friday, February 23, 2018

Arsenal vs Manchester City: Pep Guardiola poised to resume trophy collecting

Pep Guardiola’s trophy gathering was put on hold last season but the Spaniard gets the chance to resume populating his mantelpiece when his Manchester City side face Arsenal in the League Cup final on Sunday.
The Spaniard won 11 major trophies with Barcelona and seven more with Bayern Munich so his failure to mark his debut season with Manchester City with anything tangible was a surprise.
This season, however, Guardiola’s blueprint for success has fully infiltrated his City squad to such an extent that only a few days ago an unprecedented quadruple seemed possible.
Third-tier Wigan Athletic ended that hope with a stunning 1-0 victory in the FA Cup fifth round on Monday — becoming only the third team to beat City in any competition this season.
That setback served as a wake-up call for runaway Premier League leaders City who will start as firm favourites to beat Arsenal at Wembley and win the League Cup for the third time in five seasons having triumphed twice under Manuel Pellegrini.
Their progress to Wembley has not been straightforward and they needed penalty shootouts to dispose of Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City.
They will be wary too of an Arsenal side who, despite their lack of a credible title challenge in recent years, have made a habit of rising to the occasion in big one-off finals.
They have won their last three Wembley finals, all in the FA Cup, against Hull City (2014), Aston Villa (2015) and Chelsea last year when they were also underdogs.
The League Cup is the only domestic trophy to elude Arsene Wenger in his near 22-year reign in north London and the Gunners have to go back to 1993 for the last time they won it.
Wenger has often treated the League Cup as an excuse to experiment, concentrating on the so-called bigger prizes, but Sunday’s showdown with City offers the Frenchman the chance to shove the words of his critics back down their throats.
His side are languishing in the sixth place in the Premier League, eight points off the Champions League places, and they were knocked out of the FA Cup by second-tier Nottingham Forest.
The Europa League could also offer salvation this season but a League Cup trophy, especially against City, would help create calmer waters over the final months of the season when Wenger’s future is again likely to be a matter of intense speculation.
Former midfielder Ray Parlour, who played in Arsenal’s 2-1 win over Sheffield Wednesday in the 1993 final, said Sunday’s showpiece is a huge game for both clubs.
“At the end of your career people ask you what did you win, not how much money you earned,” Parlour told Sky Sports.
“Every single player wants another medal in the cabinet.”
Both sides are expected to start with their back-up goalkeepers on Sunday with Wenger keeping faith with Colombian David Ospina who has played throughout the competition.
Guardiola is also likely to use Claudio Bravo, his Cup goalie this year, rather than Ederson.
He will also be without Fabian Delph who is suspended after his red card against Wigan.
Arsenal, who were in action against Ostersunds on Thursday in the Europa League, are without Alexandre Lacazette who has undergone knee surgery but midfielder Aaron Ramsey should have recovered from a groin injury in time to face City.