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EPL Match of the Week: Manchester City at Arsenal

The match: Manchester City (10 wins, two draws, four losses, third place with 32 points) at Arsenal (10-3-3, second place with 33 points)

When: 3 p.m. EST Monday, Dec. 21 on NBCSN

Where: Emirates Stadium in London, home of the Gunners

Last meeting: 2-0 Arsenal, at the Etihad, on Jan. 18, 2015 (Cazorla, Giroud)

Why it's a big match: Because it's No. 2 vs. No. 3, that's why! With apologies to Everton vs. Leicester (10 a.m. Saturday), it doesn't feel right to write about the Foxes for a third time, and the Citizens and Gunners are breathing down Leicester's metaphorical neck.

It's the first meeting of this campaign between the two English Premier League powers, with the Gunners in slightly brighter form. Arsenal own impressive wins (5-2 over Leicester and 3-0 over United), as well as a head-scratching loss (2-1 to West Brom) and a dubious draw (to Norwich). Counting Champions League play, Arsene Wenger's club has won three straight by a composite score of 8-1.

Perhaps the most Arsene Wenger face of all Arsene Wenger faces. (Getty Images)

Perhaps the most Arsene Wenger face of all Arsene Wenger faces. (Getty Images)

Manuel Pellegrini, City's manager, saw his team recover from a shock 2-0 defeat to Stoke by potting four goals on German side Borussia Monchengladbach in a decisive UCL win, then eking out three points against Swansea, as Yaya Toure's shot deflected past Swans' keeper Lukasz Fabianski in the 92nd minute for a 2-1 win.

How Manchester City can win: Argentine striker Sergio Aguero, who's earned the "brittle" label, has been declared fit, the Manchester Evening News reports, which is an absolute boon for the Citizens. The attacking dervish has only appeared in two EPL matches for City since Oct. 3, missing six contests while recovering from hamstring and heel injuries.

While "Kun" hasn't been a consistent scorer when healthy -- he tallied five of his seven goals in one match, a 6-1 massacre of Newcastle -- he's more dangerous than former Swan Wilfried Bony, who had some bright moments in Aguero's absence but is better suited as a second striker or valuable reserve at a club of City's ilk.

Sergio Kun Aguero, right in light blue, has suffered hamstring and heel injuries this year for Manchester City. (Getty Images)

Sergio Kun Aguero, right in light blue, has suffered hamstring and heel injuries this year for Manchester City. (Getty Images)

Perhaps more important, though, is the return to health of midfielder David Silva -- City are simply a more predictable team without him. Belgian maestro Kevin de Bruyne and Silva have only started together twice this year: the annihilation of Newcastle and the strange loss to Stoke. It will be worth keeping an eye on whether Pellegrini thinks the pair can coexist on the field, as neither star shows much interest in defending.

How Arsenal can win: It's no secret that City are vulnerable on defense without captain Vincent Kompany, as Nicolas Otamendi and Eliaquim Mangala are slowly (and at times painfully) forging a central back partnership. Fortunately for annoyed City fans, Martin Demichelis has been banished to the bench.

Considering that City conceded twice to Stoke -- who are tied for the fewest goals for in the EPL (13) -- then the Gunners could very well run rampant.

Mesut Ozil's 13 assists are approaching the EPL single-season record of 20, held by former Arsenal star Thierry Henry. (Getty Images)

Mesut Ozil's 13 assists are approaching the EPL single-season record of 20, held by former Arsenal star Thierry Henry. (Getty Images)

White-hot going forward, Arsenal are buoyed by Mesut Ozil, whose 13 assists have him within striking distance of Thierry Henry's EPL single-season record of 20, and surging striker Olivier Giroud (five goals in his last three matches, or six if you like own-goal jokes).

Here are some fun Arsenal facts:

*Both Ozil and Alexis Sanchez rank within WhoScored.com's top five rated EPL players this season
*Arsenal are No. 1 in passing percentage (85.3) and No. 2 in shots per game (16.8, just behind City)
*The Gunners' goal differential (+16) is best in the Premiership

Players to watch:

*Arsenal: Olivier Giroud -- five goals in his last three games in all competitions

*Manchester City: Sergio Aguero -- scored five goals in a match this year, but how healthy will he be?

Injury update:

*Arsenal: Alexis has yet to be officially ruled out, an encouraging sign since the Chilean hasn't featured since Nov. 29, but Wenger doesn't sound too optimistic. As usual, the Gunners are thin in the midfield, as Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Francis Coquelin and Mikel Arteta are all out. Coquelin's presence as a holding midfielder cannot be overstated.

*Manchester City: Kompany, Fernando and Pablo Zabaleta are tentatively expected to return on Boxing Day, while Sami Nasri still appears to be a long way away due to a hamstring tear. Keep an eye on the injury report over the next few days in case Aguero suffers a setback.

The Citizens will gladly welcome back Vincent Kompany, sliding in light blue, for Boxing Day. (Getty Images)

The Citizens will gladly welcome back Vincent Kompany, sliding in light blue, for Boxing Day. (Getty Images)

What I think will happen: A 3-2 Arsenal win. Aguero's return will make Monday evening difficult for the Gunners' healthy and organized back four, but the home side's potent attack will be too much and Joe Hart will be sad.

Email Ben Tsujimoto at btsujimoto@buffnews.com

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