Paul Higham can only see one winner when Arsenal and Manchester City battle it out for the Carabao Cup at Wembley.
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Arsenal v Manchester City (Sunday 16.30 GMT Sky Sports)
The first silverware of the season is on offer at Wembley on Sunday as Manchester City and Arsenal clash in the Carabao Cup final – in a game which suddenly means a lot more for both teams than you’d have thought at the start of the season.
Until City’s shock FA Cup defeat at Wigan this was the fourth priority in their quadruple bid, but lose on Sunday and all of a sudden, Pep Guardiola may feel a hint of pressure – the league may be locked up but the Champions League then almost becomes a must-win.
Arsene Wenger somehow lives with the constant scrutiny and criticism that comes his way, but this would complete his set of English domestic trophies and Arsenal did beat City at Wembley in last season’s FA Cup semi-final before lifting the cup against Chelsea.
There’s no doubt City deserve to be big 4/11 favourites to lift the trophy given they’re 27 points above the Gunners (5/2) in the league table and the fact Wenger’s side have struggled against the top teams in recent games.
It is that inferiority complex which Wenger must address if Arsenal are to stand a chance of upsetting the odds – they have a decent record at Wembley and that may count for something but he’ll have to get his tactics and team selection spot-on.
Oddly, it looks like we’ll have two back-up goalkeepers lining up in the final as David Ospina should keep his place ahead of Petr Cech while Claudio Bravo has been standing in for Ederson in this competition.
Keepers have proved decisive as stand-in Willy Caballero famously saved three penalties in the 2016 final as City beat Liverpool on penalties, while Bravo has already emerged from two shootouts in this competition this season. It’s around 7/1 for penalties to decide the winner again.
Ospina looks a safer pair of hands as he’s conceded just one goal in the competition, while Bravo has shown signs of being just as edgy as he was in his debut season in England – and Wembley is not the place to be making mistakes as a keeper.
Shutting down City’s abundant attacking options will be Wenger’s main headache, and on Wembley’s big pitch Kevin de Bruyne in particular will enjoy pulling the strings and loading up the ammunition for Sergio Aguero.
The Argentinian has scored in his last four games against Arsenal and unsurprisingly is generally odds-on at 10/11 to make that five in a row in 90 minutes, while he also leads the first goalscorer market at a best of 7/2.
With Alexandre Lacazette injured and Henrikh Mkhitaryan cup tied it’s down to Mesut Ozil and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang to provide the spark for Arsenal – although Ozil has been struggling with illness.
Be prepared for a new addition in the wonderful world of VAR as well, as the Wembley screens will tell fans when the referees are consulting with video replays to avoid the confusion that has surrounded previous incidents.
This will be the highest-profile use of the system so far and both main officials have previous experience of big incidents – as man in the middle Craig Pawson was the referee in West Brom’s eventful FA Cup tie at Anfield, while video ref Neil Swarbrick ruled out Juan Mata’s strike at Huddersfield.
Both will hope for a quiet afternoon at Wembley on Sunday.
Posted at 1600 GMT on 23/02/17.
While Sergio Aguero to score and City win need no explanation - Leroy Sane offers a touch more value to get on the scoresheet and is worth the investment given he's City's top scorer in the competition this season with three goals.
Hector Bellerin will be up against Sane down City's left wing and the Arsenal full-back's attacking intent means there should be gaps to exploit. Sane is making his way back from injury but started the Cup tie at Wigan and should be up to back to his blistering best.
- This is Arsenal’s eighth League Cup final – they’ve lost more than any other side in the history of the competition (5), winning the tournament twice in 1987 and 1993.
- Manchester City will be making their sixth appearance in the League Cup final, and third in the last five seasons. They’ve won four of their previous five, failing only in 1974.
- This is the first ever meeting between these sides in a major final. Arsenal have won both previous meetings with Man City at Wembley – 3-0 in the 2014 Community Shield, and 2-1 in last season’s FA Cup semi-final.
- Man City have lost just one of their last five meetings with Arsenal in all competitions (W2 D2), beating them 3-1 in their previous meeting in the Premier League this season.
- In the League Cup, Man City have won their last two ties against Arsenal (2009-10 and 2011-12), having lost their previous five between 1977-78 and 2004-05.
- Arsenal have scored just six goals in the League Cup this season, the lowest tally of any team to reach the final in the competition’s history.
- Arsene Wenger has won just three of his previous 12 managerial meetings with Pep Guardiola, drawing three and losing six.
- Wenger is aiming to become the eighth different manager to win all three of the English top-flight, FA Cup and League Cup after Bill Nicholson, Joe Mercer, Don Revie, George Graham, Alex Ferguson, Kenny Dalglish and Jose Mourinho.
- Pep Guardiola has triumphed in six of his previous seven major domestic and European finals, losing only to Real Madrid with Barcelona in the 2011 Copa Del Rey final.
- Meanwhile, Wenger has won seven of his 10 domestic cup finals with Arsenal, with his last two defeats coming in this competition (2007 vs Chelsea and 2011 vs Birmingham).
- Of the 13 players who played for Arsenal in the 2011 League Cup final defeat to Birmingham, only Laurent Koscielny and Jack Wilshere are still at the club.
- Both Leroy Sane (3 goals, 1 assist) and Bernardo Silva (1 goals, 3 assists) have been involved in 50% of Man City’s eight goals in the competition this season.
- Sergio Aguero has scored in each of his last four appearances against Arsenal in all competitions (4 goals in total). Only twice before has he netted in five consecutive games for Manchester City against a single opponent (Tottenham with a run ending in May 2015 and Sunderland in a run ending in March 2017).
Aaron Ramsey is winning his battle to be fit for Sunday's Carabao Cup final against Manchester City.
The Wales international has missed the last three games with a groin injury but Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger is confident he will now be ready to be involved at Wembley.
Mesut Ozil is also expected to be available after illness while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang can plan having been ineligible in the Europa League - meanwhile Alexandre Lacazette (knee) and Santi Cazorla (Achilles) are out and Henrikh Mkhitaryan is cup-tied.
Manchester City forward Raheem Sterling is doubtful with an unspecified muscle injury.
Striker Gabriel Jesus (knee) could come into contention after almost two months out but a change will be required at left-back with Fabian Delph suspended. Oleksandr Zinchenko or Danilo could feature with Benjamin Mendy (knee) out long term.
Manager Pep Guardiola has confirmed Claudio Bravo will retain his place in goal having featured in all domestic cup matches this season.
Arsenal (from): Ospina, Cech, Macey, Holding, Mustafi, Chambers, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerin, Nelson, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Xhaka, Elneny, Wilshere, Willock, Ramsey, Ozil, Iwobi, Welbeck, Aubameyang.
Manchester City (from): Bravo, Ederson, Walker, Stones, Otamendi, Kompany, Laporte, Zinchenko, Danilo, Toure, Gundogan, Fernandinho, Sane, Sterling, De Bruyne, D Silva, B Silva, Foden, Diaz, Aguero.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester City (Sky Bet: 10/1)