LONDON. – Leicester City will be wary of a reality check when the English Premier League soccer front-runners visit Arsenal on Sunday before Tottenham Hotspur’s burgeoning title ambitions come under scrutiny at Manchester City.
A quirk of the fixture list has pitted the top four against each other and although there are still 13 matches to go, this weekend could prove pivotal.
Against all the odds, Leicester have sustained their push for a first-ever English top-flight title, and their magnificent 3-1 win at Manchester City last time out finally convinced bookmakers to install them as favourites.
Tottenham’s odds for a first English title since 1961 also shortened after they eased into second spot, five points behind Leicester, with a narrow victory over Watford last weekend.
While Arsenal and Manchester City, third and fourth respectively, are familiar with the home stretch of a title chase, once described by former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson as “squeaky bum time”, Leicester and Tottenham are entering unfamiliar territory.
Leicester spent most of the past decade outside the English Premier League, while Tottenham’s target is usually a top-four finish, something they have achieved only twice since 1992.
With the pressure mounting, Arsenal, who are also five points behind the leaders, will probe for mental cracks having inflicted one of only two league defeats this season on Leicester.
That was a 5-2 hammering at the King Power Stadium in September – a result many expected would precipitate a return to the lower regions of the table.
Instead, it sparked a 10-match unbeaten run that was halted by Liverpool in December, since when Leicester have scaled the summit on the back of another seven-game stretch without defeat.
Arsenal are chasing a first title since 2005 but have stuttered since the turn of the year and victory at Bournemouth last week was their first in five games.
With a huge Champions League tie looming against Barcelona, beating Leicester would give Arsene Wenger’s side momentum with which to attack the final months of the season.
Manchester City, six points adrift of Leicester, plundered 10 goals in Tottenham’s last two league visits to the Etihad Stadium with Sergio Aguero scoring six of them.
They also won 5-1 at Tottenham in 2014, but have already experienced Tottenham’s rapid improvement this season, going down 4-1 at White Hart lane in September.
While it looks likely the title will be contested by the current top four, Manchester United are lurking in fifth place, six behind City, and are still eyeing a Champions League spot.
They visit struggling Sunderland tomorrow.
Meanwhile, Samir Nasri hopes to end his career at Manchester City despite the club replacing the injury-plagued midfielder with young striker Kelechi Iheanacho in their Champions League squad for the knockout rounds earlier this month.
Nasri was initially expected to miss the rest of the season with a thigh injury he picked up in October but the France international said last month that he hoped to return to action by the end of March.
“There are so many exciting things happening here. You never know what will happen in football, but it would be a pleasure to finish my career at City,” Nasri told the club’s website.
The former Arsenal man, who has scored one goal in eight appearances this season, said he was looking forward to rekindling his ‘special connection’ with midfield duo David Silva and Yaya Toure upon his return.
City, who have failed to win back-to-back Premier League games since October, have slipped to fourth in the table and will hope to get their title charge back on track when they host second-placed Tottenham Hotspur on Sunday. – Reuters.