The cavernous setting of an empty Wembley Stadium will play host to two FA Cup semi-finals this weekend as holders Manchester City face Arsenal in a week when old animosities between the clubs were flamed, while Chelsea and Manchester United switch focus from their battle for a place in next season’s Champions League.
City and Arsenal are first up on Saturday (1845 GMT) as the Gunners attempt to spring a surprise for the second time in a week after downing English champions Liverpool 2-1 on Wednesday.
That an Arsenal victory would be considered a shock says it all about the way City have overtaken one of English football’s traditional superpowers over the past decade.
Only once in the past 10 years have Arsenal finished above City in the table and Pep Guardiola’s men have won the past seven meetings between the two by a combined score of 20-2.
Arsenal cannot come close to matching Abu Dhabi-backed City’s resources, especially as they now face a fourth straight season without Champions League riches after 19 consecutive years in European football’s elite competition under Arsene Wenger.
Guardiola made reference to the legendary former Arsenal boss after City overturned a two-season ban by UEFA from European competitions for alleged breaches of Financial Fair Play in the Court of Arbitration for Sport this week.
Mikel Arteta played his part in back-to-back league titles for City in the past two seasons as Guardiola’s assistant, but now has the tough task of beating his former boss.
Beating Liverpool was a perfect confidence booster, but victory came thanks to two uncharacteristic errors from Virgil van Dijk and Alisson Becker as Jurgen Klopp’s men camped inside their half for much of the match with nearly 70 percent possession and 24 shots to Arsenal’s three.
“The gap is enormous but the gap in many areas we cannot improve in two months,” Arteta said of closing the chasm to Liverpool. “The gap between the accountability, the energy, commitment and fight of the two teams is now equal and before it wasn’t like this.”