Arsenal v Man City Sunday 16:30, Sky Sports Main Event. Match Odds: Arsenal5.00, Man City 1.60, The Draw 4.50.
City looking to bounce back
Manchester City suffered a shock defeat to Wigan Athletic on Monday evening, but have the opportunity to bounce back here to win their first trophy under Pep Guardiola in the League Cup final at Wembley. Guardiola made a couple of changes for that FA Cup defeat, but will name his strongest side here. That means a return for Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker, who combine so dangerously down the right for City.
Arsenal, meanwhile, have just three days to recover from that shock Europa League defeat at home to Ostersunds. Although having led 3-0 from the first leg, Wenger was able to rest some of his star names, it was nevertheless a surprisingly strong side with the tie already won, so the benefit of City's extra rest shouldn't be entirely dismissed.
Guardiola sometimes has specific plans for big games, but this is likely to see him name his default 4-3-3 system with his strongest players in every position. That means Sergio Aguero spearheading the side, making runs into the channels on the outside of Arsenal's centre-backs. The Argentine could get plenty of joy here, with Laurent Koscielny looking immobile in recent weeks and Shkodran Mustafi diving into challenges far too often, and getting turned too easily. Some direct through-balls from the likes of De Bruyne and David Silva are City's most obvious path to goal.
Out wide, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling will stretch the play. Sane offers width and directness from the left flank, and will engage in a lightning-quick battle against Arsenal speedster Hector Bellerin, while Sterling has featured more prominently this season as a goalscorer, popping up unannounced at the far post. Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal must watch him carefully.
City offer great creativity
De Bruyne and Silva are unstoppable on their day, and it remains to be seen whether Arsenal have enough defensive quality and positional discipline to stop them. Granit Xhaka hasn't impressed this season and the use of Mohamed Elneny doesn't entirely solve the problem.
Guardiola's biggest problem is at left-back, with Fabian Delph suspended. Danilo is likely to slot in there, with Walker returning on the right. John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi still seems the first-choice centre-back partnership, while in goal Guardiola is likely to stick withClaudio Bravo, his designated 'cup goalkeeper', although the Chilean still seems somewhat poor in terms of shot-stopping, as the game against Wigan demonstrated - one shot conceded, one goal conceded.
Arsenal are defensively vulnerable
After spending the first half of the season playing a three-man defence, Arsene Wenger now seems set on a back four. Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Monreal is a good quartet on paper, but Arsenal still seem to be opened up too easily, and against the pace of this City front three, that could be very dangerous.
In midfield, Aaron Ramsey is a slight doubt but should be fit enough to play alongside Xhaka here. Wenger has switched between 4-2-3-1 and a more cautious 4-3-3 - which was used against Tottenham - and the latter seems more likely here. Jack Wilshere may come into the side alongside Ramsey, competing three-against-three in the centre. Elneny would be a more defensive option.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan is cup-tied, Alexandre Lacezette is injured and Mesut Ozil hasn't trained much this week because of illness, so Wenger's front three is somewhat unpredictable. Danny Welbeck might be in line for a start - a left-sided brief up against Walker might suit his tactical discipline - with Alex Iwobi the other option. Ozil seems likely to play, however, probably on the right flank where he can drift inside and attempt to find Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, making his League Cup final debut in the final itself.
Arsenal will probably play as they did against Tottenham at Wembley recently, sitting deep and allowing the opposition more of the ball than usual, before attempting to break through Ozil. Their transitions must be much better, however, to cause any real danger. Aubamyenag is an obvious threat and Ramsey's record in cup finals shouldn't be ignored - but this seems an obvious City win to me, and I'll back them in the Match Odds even as short as1.63.
The Betfair Trader - Alan Thompson
Manchester City have grown fond of this competition in recent years and are making their biennial visit to the final, beating Sunderland in 2014, Liverpool in 2016. This time they face an Arsenal side who have lost at this stage of the competition more than any other club (five times) and haven’t won this trophy since 1993.
The Citizens were dumped out of the FA Cup last week by Wigan and I think there will be a response from them in this. They responded to their only league defeat of the season against Liverpool in January by winning four straight games and I am expecting a similar return to form starting here.
Arsenal had to contend with Ostersunds in the Europa League on Thursday, just three days before this final which isn’t ideal preparation but the win in Sweden allowed Arsene Wenger men to stroll through that game and he was able to rest some of his key players in preparation for Wembley.
This game has produced some entertaining encounters recently, there hasn’t been a goalless draw in the last eight renewals and in six of those games both teams scored and five produced a 90 minute result that was over 2.5 goals.
I think this game will follow in a similar style, the one reservation I do have is that Arsenal have only scored six goals on their way to the final, which is the lowest amount of any team to reach the final in the competitions history.
I will be backing Manchester City and Over 2.5 goals but I will be looking for somewhere in the region of 2.20.
Michael Cox - Back Man City @ 1.63
Alan Thompson - Back Manchester City and Over 2.5 goals @ 2.20