Let’s lay the facts down first, shall we?
Manchester City, second in the Premier League, 12 points behind run-away leaders Manchester United and with only 11 games to go.
The last defeat Sir Alex Ferguson's side suffered came in the league away to Norwich City on November 17, and they have since managed to rack up an amazing 41 out of a possible 45 points since, with two away draws to Tottenham and Swansea respectively.
Roberto Mancini's side are challenged with the unenviable task of overturning a 12-point deficit to beat their city rivals to the league title for a second consecutive year. Even after last season's exploits, the gap seems insurmountable, impossible even.
In fact, Manchester City are closer to losing second place than they are to gaining top spot. Spurs are only five points behind in third, with Chelsea a further two adrift and Arsenal trailing by nine. It may be a tall order for the Gunners to challenge for a top-two finish, but stranger things have happened in football. In short, City are by no means guaranteed a runners-up position and must be at their best to avoid falling further behind United.
Arsenal are embroiled in a battle for a top-four finish. If we are to go by Arsene Wenger's words, then fourth place might be another trophy that the north London club are to miss out on for the first time during Wenger's tenure.
A loss in Sunday’s derby will threaten to completely unhinge their season. The fact that Arsenal have gone into their last three derbies against Spurs as underdogs is testament to how much Andre Villas-Boas' side have improved, and further highlights the demise of the Gunners.
A look at the other clubs vying for Champions League qualification shows Arsenal have their work cut out if they are to cement their position as a top-four club.
Chelsea may be stuttering, but Spurs are anything but. Led by the (insert superlative here) Gareth Bale, they are unbeaten in their last 10 games having conceded only seven in that run.
Times like these are indeed a true test and indication of a team’s character. You either allow the walls to cave in on you, or you come out fighting to the very end. Times like these are when seasons are defined, legends born, fate rewritten. These are nervy, edgy and uncomfortable moments for the fans of the respective clubs, who had really not envisioned their season panning out the way it has. It is times like these then when they need a saviour, someone who will stand tall both in the dressing room and on the pitch.
Some believe that only teams with a true English core can really possess such qualities. Qualities such as determination, playing without fear and fighting to the very bitter end. For Manchester City and Arsenal, you wouldn’t have to go too far to find such players.
James Milner, Joe Hart and Jack Wilshere epitomise this English heart already, they play every game as if it’s their last and wear their hearts on their sleeves. This is not to say that the foreign imports cannot deliver on these requirements, far from it. However, both teams will need such players to stand tall for them if they are to achieve what many believe is beyond them.
Wenger and Mancini don't need strong egos right now, but strong individuals. Such positive energy filters through to the players on the field, and to the fans in the stands, and generally lifts the whole club.
At times, all it takes is one penalty save, one last-gasp winner, one driving run into the box, one goal-saving tackle or one goal-line clearance to change a club’s destiny. Who knows, this might be the difference between success and failure.
Will the real men now please stand up?
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