BILLY BUNTER

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Patience needed for Pep in quest for trophy hunt

Arsenal v Man City
Sky Sports Football, 4.30pm Sunday


It's a matter of when not if Pep Guardiola lifts silverware for the first time in English football and his drought should come to an end against Arsenal in the League Cup final.

Guardiola suffered frustration on his trophy hunt last season, drawing a blank for the first time in his managerial career, but the Premier League title is almost in the bag and this Wembley showpiece offers Manchester City the perfect tonic following Monday's shock FA Cup exit at the hands of Wigan.

As the Sky Bet League One outfit showed, there is no such thing as a certainty in sport and City are far from invincible, although they fully deserve to be considered strong odds-on favourites given there is a 27-point gulf between the teams in this season's Premier League.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger bemoaned refereeing decisions in their 3-1 reverse at the Etihad in November but the result was as comfortable as the final scoreline suggested and bridging the gap will require a seasonal-best performance from the Gunners.

The Londoners have, on occasion, been able to turn on the style as their back-to-back FA Cup triumphs highlight. Last season's semi-final success over City was followed by a deserved final flourish against Chelsea.

Wenger has some big hitters in the attacking third - world champion Mesut Ozil, speedy striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Wembley specialist Aaron Ramsey, who has shown his liking for the national stadium with winning goals in the 2014 and 2017 FA Cup finals.

There could be an argument to suggest Arsenal may not fancy it away to Swansea or Bournemouth but can raise their standards in cup ties. The flip side of that was last season's Champions League last-16 defeat to Bayern Munich which finished 10-2 on aggregate.

Too often Arsenal doze off or have a dodgy 15 minutes when they can be blitzed and City, with Sergio Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Bernardo Silva, Leroy Sane and possibly injury doubts Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus in the mix, should be capable of taking full advantage.

However, Arsenal conceded only once in the first half at City, have kept two clean sheets at Chelsea this season and held out in the first 45 minutes at Wembley two weeks ago before shipping to Tottenham, so a bet on the second half to produce most goals is of interest.

Arsenal are unlikely to stay concentrated and compact against the quality of City for 90 minutes but could do half a job, while given the counter-attacking talents on both teams it could become wide open if the deadlock is broken.

Five of City's six fixtures against the big six this season have featured more goals in the second half and the majority of their matches tend to follow the same pattern of opposition teams initially repelling a wave of attacks before finally being picked apart.

Much like Guardiola's quest for titles, this final may be a slow-burner but should eventually be worth the wait.

Recommendation
Second half to be highest-scoring

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Match in Focus

19:45 Fr 19Oct SKY

Sheff Wed v Middlesbro

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • Middlesbrough have won four of their last five meetings with Sheffield Wednesday
Expert verdict
No side has shipped fewer goals in the Championship than Middlesbrough this term and their defensive resolve can give them the edge against playoff hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday. Tony Pulis’s team have lost just once on the road this season and the Owls are yet to keep a clean sheet in the league.