Pep Guardiola’s plans for Manchester City in next season’s Champions League are at stake on Sunday as his predecessor Manuel Pellegrini faces a make-or-break final home game against Arsenal.
City limped out of the Champions League in the semi-finals on Wednesday after an insipid 1-0 defeat at Real Madrid that emphasised why the club’s hierarchy were so eager to acquire Guardiola’s services.
But with Manchester United and West Ham United snapping at their heels, City’s hold on the fourth and final Champions League berth is tenuous and defeat by third-place Arsenal could leave Guardiola facing the ignominy of a Europa League campaign in his first season at the Etihad Stadium.
Pellegrini was criticised for resting several players in last weekend’s damaging 4-2 defeat at Southampton, but he said: “I think it is very, very important to arrive to the Champions League next year.
“I finish my contract here, but that is not a thing I am worried about.”
The 62-year-old Chilean has experienced soaring highs and shattering lows in his three-year Etihad tenure, with Premier League success in 2014 and two League Cup triumphs — in 2014 and this year — offset by modest returns in Europe and this year’s listless league campaign.
On the prospect of his 57th and final home league match as manager, Pellegrini said: “Of course it is a very special game because we finish at home after very intensive years.
“But as a manager you must try to dominate your emotions. Of course I have feelings, but I don’t want to show them in an external way.”
Ahead of the weekend’s fixtures, City trail Arsenal by three points, with Manchester United and West Ham, who face off at the Boleyn Ground on Tuesday in their game in hand, four and five points further back respectively.
Arsenal have won their last two league games against City and a third victory on Sunday will secure a third-place finish at the very least, taking Arsene Wenger’s men into the Champions League for the 19th season running.
– Cazorla comeback -Wenger faced protests from his own fans during last weekend’s 1-0 win over Norwich City, but also received voluble backing from the majority of the Emirates Stadium crowd.
While the title has gone to Leicester City, Arsenal can still pip Tottenham Hotspur to second place and although his side were top of the table on January 1, Wenger suggested that City’s lavish investing meant missing out on the title should be an even bigger disappointment for them.
“It is still a very important game because part of the responsibility of being professional is to prepare the future,” said the Frenchman, whose side finish their campaign at home to long-relegated Aston Villa.
“The future of Arsenal Football Club depends on this game.
“We have regrets because we had the chance to finish top of the league, but apart from that it is difficult to compare with City, you know.
“They are a team who is expected to win the league every year with the investment they have, so they must be in a similar position.”
Wenger revealed on Friday that midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s season has been ended by a knee injury and centre-back Per Mertesacker will also not play again this term due to a hamstring problem.
However, Santi Cazorla is in line to make his first appearance since a five-month lay-off with a knee injury, while fellow midfielders Mikel Arteta (ankle), the club captain, and Tomas Rosicky (thigh) could feature for the first time since January.
City will be without captain Vincent Kompany, whose injury jinx resurfaced at the Bernabeu in the form of a groin problem that forced him off in the 10th minute.
Full-backs Pablo Zabaleta (calf) and Aleksandar Kolarov (knock) are also out, along with playmaker David Silva (hamstring), but Samir Nasri returns, having been ineligible for the trip to the Spanish capital.