Arsenal vs Manchester City on Super Sunday: Freddie Ljungberg's chance to impress
Watch Arsenal vs Manchester City on Super Sunday from 4pm on Sky Sports Premier League and Main Event; kick-off 4.30pm
By Oliver Yew
Last Updated: 15/12/19 7:00pm
Arsenal are no nearer to naming a new head coach with Freddie Ljungberg still leading the club on a game-by-game basis - and the Gunners' interim head coach has another chance to impress when his side face Pep Guardiola's Manchester City on Super Sunday, live on Sky Sports.
The search for Arsenal's new head coach rumbles on. The interview process is thought to be underway but with no decision seemingly imminent from the Arsenal hierachy, Ljungberg's audition for the role continues.
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The 42-year-old is currently in interim charge of the team following Unai Emery's sacking at the end of last month and he helped the Gunners end their nine-match winless streak with a 3-1 win at West Ham on Monday. However, that's the only game they have won under Ljungberg, who, bar a couple of spells against the Hammers and Standard Liege, is yet to see a dramatic improvement in his side's fortunes.
The former Arsenal midfielder, who was a member of Arsene Wenger's Invincibles squad, has been linked with the permanent job but so far he has been coy about his prospects of taking the job on a full-time basis.
Asked whether he saw himself as a contender before the Gunners' Europa League game against Standard Liege, he reiterated that he is working on a game-by-game basis and insisted he has not spoken about his future with the club's hierarchy.
"That's not a conversation I've had with the bosses," he said. "My job is to go from day to day, game to game, to try to help this fantastic club. That's what I try to do. All of those decisions are up to the top dogs."
What would make the top dogs at Arsenal stand up and take notice is a win over Premier League champions Manchester City, who they haven't beaten in the Premier League since December 2015.
Merson: It's been tough for Freddie
Former Arsenal midfielder and Sky Sports pundit Paul Merson thinks Ljungberg has had a tough start in charge of the Gunners, and he doesn't think it's going to get any easier for the Swede facing City.
"It's been tough for Freddie Ljungberg coming into this Arsenal team," Merson said. "He's trying his best.
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"He's trying to get players on the pitch that can make a difference, like defenders that actually want to defend. Mesut Ozil has been in the team because when things aren't going well you need players that can make things happen.
"At West Ham, it was the first time in eight years that Arsenal came from behind at half-time to win a Premier League away game. But for as good as that was, I didn't see anything from Arsenal that will send fear into Manchester City's defence, regardless of how leaky it's been recently.
"Arsenal are not good keeping holding of the ball and are not good enough without it to hurt City.
"If you show the willingness and pace that United had to run at City, you've got a chance, but hardly anyone in this Arsenal team runs off the ball. As United proved, that's the best way to hurt City but that's where the problem lies with Arsenal. I'd be shocked if City didn't leave the Emirates with three points."
'Every game is must-win for City'
Meanwhile, Merson thinks City, who are already 14 points behind Liverpool in this season's table after 16 matches following a 2-1 defeat in the Manchester derby last weekend, must beat the Gunners to avoid "utter disarray".
"Manchester City have to win at Arsenal on Sunday," Merson added. "Every game is must-win for the champions now.
"You'd be worried sick for City if they get beaten by Arsenal, it would be in complete and utter disarray. Let's not forget, aside from that 15-minute spell at West Ham, Arsenal were terrible."
Merson also insists Guardiola's side need to focus on winning the Champions League with it being "impossible for City to bridge the gap" to Liverpool at the top of the Premier League.
"City are 14 points behind Liverpool, it's now impossible for City to bridge the gap. This Liverpool team are serial winners, they've won 24 of their last 25. City have no chance and sooner or later they are going to have to highlight the Champions League, if they haven't already. Their performances in the last couple of weeks show that, deep down, they know they are not going to catch Liverpool.
"Pep Guardiola knows it's over, he's played the game long enough, managed long enough. You've only got to look at the numbers to know that it's all about the Champions League, League Cup and FA Cup for City.
"I think Pep will approach City's remaining Premier League like a snooker player plays snooker and play five shots ahead. With City out of the title race, Pep can afford to play several games ahead and use the Premier League fixtures to fine-tune his side ahead of crucial games in the Champions League. They are favourites to win the Champions League, for the life of me I don't know why, but I suppose it's because it is the only major honour left."
City players miss Christmas party as Pep fears form dip
City players missed the club's staff Christmas party on Thursday night, with Guardiola fearful of risking a repeat of last year's drop in form.
City lost back-to-back Premier League games against Crystal Palace and Leicester in December 2018 within a week of their previous staff celebration. Although no players missed training last season, many did stay out until the early hours by going to a nightclub in Manchester following the party.
It is believed Guardiola blamed the night out for their shock 3-2 home defeat to Palace two days later, before they were then beaten 2-1 by Leicester on Boxing Day.
City went on the win 18 of their remaining 19 league games on their way to lifting the title, but are already 14 points behind Liverpool in this season's table after 16 matches.
Guardiola and the players arrived back from their Champions League win over Dinamo Zagreb in the early hours of Thursday morning and trained on Friday ahead of Sunday's trip to Arsenal.
The Arteta to Arsenal sub plot...
So, what's the latest with Arsenal's search for a new permanent head coach?
Ex-Arsenal midfielder and Manchester City assistant coach Mikel Arteta is one of the favourites to land the top job at the Emirates Stadium alongside Carlo Ancelotti, Mauricio Pochettino, Patrick Vieira and Massimiliano Allegri, and they face a rigorous interview process in a bid to land the role.
From the candidates, to the decision-makers, Sky Sports News reporter Kaveh Solhekol brings us the latest on the process to appoint Emery's successor and takes a closer look at the complexities surrounding the Gunners' recruitment process...
Is this Pep's last season?
Manchester City have now dropped as many points in 2019/20 as they did in the whole of last season and trail Liverpool by 17 points coming into Sunday's game. Are there signs that Guardiola's time might be up at the Etihad?
"I feel there may be an ounce of truth to him being fatigued," Matt Le Tissier told Soccer Saturday. "When you see the attention to detail that he puts into his job, he puts everything he's got, every waking minute of every day into being the manager of Manchester City.
"When you do that over a period of years, it has to have an effect on you, it must take its toll on your body and on your mind, and I can completely understand why at some points managers need a break to refresh. He's done it in the past, so it wouldn't surprise me if that's the case."
What the managers have said...
Arsenal boss Freddie Ljungberg: "Sometimes in transitions we are vulnerable when people come at us but it has been like that for a long time. We try to fix small things.
"Certainly our structure is getting better but it is [about] time. I don't have a magic wand! They are developing and we are getting better but at the same time we defend as a team, not just the back four."
Manchester City boss Pep Guardiola: "Normally Arsenal have a typical style of play. If you let them play, they have the quality to play. Arsenal away is always a big test for any team."
Regarding his future, Guardiola said: "I am incredibly satisfied to work with this club, with these players, and if the people think I am going to resign for these results and being nine points behind, the people do not know me. I like to have this challenge, I love to be in this position. If the club wants [me] next season I want to be here 100 per cent.
"I want to live in this city because I know lovely people here and I want to work and live with them and I want to be here."
Arsenal forward Nicolas Pepe will have his knee injury assessed ahead of the visit of Manchester City. The club-record signing missed the Europa League trip to Standard Liege with knee bruising but is in contention to return against the reigning champions.
Hector Bellerin (hamstring) will also undergo a fitness test but Kieran Tierney (shoulder), Granit Xhaka (concussion), Rob Holding (knee) and Danny Ceballos (hamstring) will all miss out.
City will again be without record goalscorer Sergio Aguero (thigh) and defender John Stones (hamstring).
Playmaker David Silva is also doubtful after missing the midweek Champions League game at Dinamo Zagreb after what manager Pep Guardiola described as a kick in the leg.
Goalkeeper Ederson should be available again after illness but defender Aymeric Laporte and winger Leroy Sane (both knee) are long-term absentees.
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