Manchester City vs. Arsenal FA Cup Odds, Picks, Predictions (1/27/23)
It’s what we’ve all been waiting for; finally, after the Queen’s passing forced the postponement of their first scheduled clash, we get a matchup between the top two teams in the Premier League. While that’s all the truth, this game actually isn’t in the Premier League- it’s in the FA Cup, one of the biggest and oldest competitions in all of sports. It represents the opportunity for City to keep pushing for silverware in a season that looks increasingly destined to be trophyless, while Arsenal get the chance to once again win the competition in which they are most successful, and fans get an enticing preview to the two upcoming Prem clashes between these sides. Let’s take a look at the odds and make some picks for this showdown between the two best teams in England.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal Odds
Playing at home, City are -150 favorites to win in regulation, while the draw is set at +300 and Arsenal are an eye-popping +320. For a goalscoring line of 2.5, the over is somewhat heavily favored at -160, and the under is +115.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal Prediction & Pick
Arsenal must feel like they’re dreaming right now- top of the table by a decent margin, and with a game in hand to boot. They’ve swept the North London Derby, beaten Liverpool and Chelsea, and stole a dramatic last-second win against Manchester United. What could make things even better? Maybe sticking it to their last semblance of a competitor in the Premier League by knocking them out of a different domestic competition, and asserting themselves as the pretty clear favorites for both trophies. They’re lofty goals, not ones anyone might have thought about before the season had started- but they’re very real and very attainable for the group Mikel Arteta has patiently lifted up over his impressive tenure. The next thing he has to do is win some hardware, and beating City in this competition (or the league, of course) would be a huge step towards just that.
Of course, with Arsenal dominating domestically, this season has the opposite tenor at the Etihad; it’s become a frantic attempt to escape the first trophyless campaign of Pep Guardiola’s tenure. They’re out of the Carabao Cup, their favorite competition of all time, Arsenal are pulling away in the Prem after City (controversially) dropped the Manchester Derby after a late comeback by United, and Europe is never close to a given for this team; they’re about to take on a rested, talented Leipzig team in the Champions League round of 16. So it’s not close to an overstatement to assert that getting through Arsenal and all the way back to Wembley Stadium is the best chance for Guardiola’s men to lift a trophy this year. But how are they struggling after dominating a year ago, and then adding the unquestionable best striker in the World? We’ll get into that below, but in short, City need to find a way to keep Haaland producing while regaining the identity that made them special in the first place.
Frankly, there’s a “City tax” baked into these odds; the sky blues are being overestimated due to their long track record of success, but this team is not the same as the previous ones. Arsenal are the better side, and by a good bit at that; I absolutely love the value of Arsenal +320, or if you want to play it a little safer, the Arsenal/Draw double chance at +110. For goalscoring, the favorite is the favorite for a reason; I’m going to have to go for over 2.5 at -160. I’m not in love with betting minus value like that, but Arsenal are in great attacking form, save for a scoreless draw against defensive wizards Newcastle, and City have woken up to score 7 goals in their past 2 Prem matches. Still, be ready for some goals, and for City to be pushed much harder than Vegas is expecting.
Man City Attack vs. Arsenal Defense
Earlier, I posed the question of how an already-strong attacking side could add a player like Haaland, have that player in excellent form, and still decline from the year before. Haven’t we all said for years that City are a striker away from winning it all? That might be the case, but they needed to keep playing the way they already were, except with one of the players being much, much better than his predecessor. Since Haaland’s arrival, City are averaging fewer shots per 90, a lower xG per shot, and a longer average shot distance than last year; put simply, they’re not getting as many quality opportunities. The creative, dynamic nature of Guardiola’s past attacks is what made them excellent; you never knew where the next goal was going to come from. Well, with this year’s City you know; it’s the Norweigan ultra-star, who has scored 25 of City’s 53 league goals thus far, a ridiculous proportion. For contrast, the team scored 96 goals last year, and their leader was Kevin De Bruyne with 15.
Yes, City are on track for more goals than last year, but if and when Haaland’s impeccable finishing form slows down, the diminished chance creation will come back to bite them. That’s not to downplay how incredible Haaland has been, he’s likely to break every Prem record in the book. It’s just that the team’s second-leading Prem scorer shouldn’t be Phil Foden with 7 goals, and then a drop-off to Riyad Mahrez and Julián Álvarez with 4 apiece. City have infinite options; all of the aforementioned players can be excellent in their roles, and I haven’t even gotten to Bernardo Silva or Jack Grealish. They just need to make proper usage of all of them, not only Haaland, and of course De Bruyne to send passes his way.
Of course, City haven’t played many defenses remotely like Arsenal’s; their UCL group was, as always, a total joke, and Arsenal are pretty clearly the second-best goal prevention unit in England. They’re only behind Newcastle, with whom City played a confusing 3-3 draw, way back in August. I wouldn’t say the Gunners had their best defensive match against United, although scorelines can be deceiving. One of United’s two goals came from an absolute stunner from Marcus Rashford, hardly any sort of defensive lapse; he scored from essentially a non-chance. In fact, goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale faced just 0.61 expected goals on target, compared to over 2.5 in the shutout against Tottenham.
Centre-backs Gabriel and William Saliba both had pretty solid performances in one of the most important outings of what is becoming an excellent season for both of them. Contrary to the Tottenham match, the fullbacks, Oleksandr Zinchenko on the left and Ben White on the right, struggled a bit- White even picked up a yellow card and was subbed out at half. Takehiro Tomiyasu came on in his spot, and less than 10 minutes later, he assisted Saka’s outstanding go-ahead goal. The final score may not show it, but Arsenal’s defense (short of Ramsdale, really) held up admirably against a very hot attack- let’s see if they can do it against a group that hasn’t been so consistent, but is far more talented than United’s.
The Midfield Battle
If there’s anything I’ve learned from watching Arsenal this season, it’s that it almost doesn’t matter who’s playing up top when the midfield is playing this damn well. The Gunners dominate the ball, and create so many chances for their attackers that all that’s needed up top is a steady hand. So, let’s take a look at that star group of midfielders, and see how they stack up against a very interesting group from Man City, led of course by midfield maestro, manager Pep Guardiola. Interestingly enough, Arsenal are only 5th in the league when it comes to possession percentage, but that’s not a perfect stat. The Gunners’ midfielders are opportunistic, unafraid to play the ball upfield, and frankly, the team has been leading so frequently that opponents have had a chance to possess the ball for decent chunks of the game.
Arsenal’s midfield doesn’t necessarily thrive on depth, but has a hell of a starting three. They’re led by their new captain, Martin Ødegaard, who leads the team with 8 league goals and is not far from the top with 5 assists. Former captain Granit Xhaka has also been very productive, with 3 goals and 5 assists, putting him well on the way to career highs in both categories. Thomas Partey does not light up the scoreboard as much in a deeper role, but make no mistake; ask a Gunners fan anywhere, they’ll tell you that he may well be the tea’s most important player. The numbers pop in some cases, namely Ødegaard’s, but the influence of these players goes far beyond the scoresheet; often they’re the ones making the pass before the assist, or even earlier than that, but the one that opens up the space to create a key chance for Arsenal.
Sometimes, Pep is just going to do weird things; City’s recent 3-0 win over Wolves was one of those times. Yes, it was a 3-0 win, but the talent gap between the two sides is enormous, and almost any tactic would have worked. What Guardiola opted for was a bizarre 3-2-4-1, which featured two players sort of staggered between the outside backs and the central man, serving as a sort of hybrid midfielder-fullback. On the right in that pairing was Rico Lewis, a youngster who has been seeing more and more time at right back, and Rodri, one of the most versatile and vital players on the team, and just about the best holding midfielder in the Prem or even the World.
Above those two was a more normal pairing, the familiar duo of the sometimes-quietly excellent Ilkay Gundogan, and Kevin De Bruyne, who (rather unshockingly) tops the league with 11 assists, and all qualifying players with 2.74 chances created per 90 minutes. City might plausibly have the best player in the World in Haaland, there’s been plenty of chatter about that but there should be more talk about whether or not they have the two best- De Bruyne is and has been simply that good. Bernardo Silva did not start, although he is potentially City’s third best player- surely I will never understand their usage of him. But he did come off the bench, as did newcomer Kalvin Philips, who made his long-awaited return from injury, World Cup duty, and poor fitness. City have an embarrassment of riches at midfield, as they do everywhere on the pitch, it’s just up to Guardiola to manage them correctly, and it’s hard to say he’s consistently done so this year- we’ll see what he cooks up for this matchup.