London: According to some of the headlines after Manchester City’s crushing defeat of title rivals Arsenal this week the sky blue ribbons can already be fastened to the Premier League trophy.
Their 4-1 thrashing of the long-time leaders at The Etihad wrenched control of the race out of Arsenal’s hands and put City firmly in control of their destiny.
But City boss Pep Guardiola is too long in the tooth to assume a fifth league title in six seasons is now a formality.
The reaction to City’s victory in the so-called title decider was understandable. It was their seventh successive league win and left them two points behind Arsenal with two games in hand, having trailed by eight not long ago.
Guardiola urges caution
Victory for a relentless City at Fulham on Sunday will take them into the lead and, should they achieve that, it really will be their title to lose, especially with home games against struggling West Ham United and Leeds United up next.
But Guardiola urges caution.
“I have a feeling the next three games will dictate a lot,” he said. “Fulham have come from the Championship and this season have been amazing. We play at home against Leeds and West Ham. We feel comfortable here with the crowd.”
After their mauling at City, Arsenal have the weekend off to lick their wounds and regroup after their home clash with Chelsea was shunted to Tuesday on police advice.
But there is no respite for the teams battling at the other end of the table to avoid being relegated.
Time appears to be running out for bottom club Southampton after their defeat by Bournemouth on Thursday left them six points from the safety zone with five games left.
Southampton go to third-placed Newcastle United on Sunday to face a side that has scored 10 goals in two games and appear on the cusp of a return to the Champions League.
The two clubs immediately above Saints, Everton and Leicester City, meet on Monday in a true ‘six-pointer’.
Nottingham Forest climbed out of the drop zone with a priceless victory against Brighton & Hove Albion on Wednesday and victory at Brentford on Saturday would put even more pressure on Everton and Leicester.
Leeds, who are above Forest on goal difference, travel to almost-safe Bournemouth on Sunday.
With Fulham comfortable in 10th place and Bournemouth and Forest on course for survival, it could be only the fourth time in Premier League history that all three teams promoted from the Championship avoid relegation in their first season up.
The last time that happened was in 2017-18 when Newcastle, Brighton and Huddersfield all stayed up.
Tottenham Hotspur’s chances of a top-four finish are almost over though they did show some fight to draw 2-2 with fourth-placed Manchester United on Thursday in Ryan Mason’s first game in interim charge, four days after a 6-1 drubbing at Newcastle.
Spurs in fifth go to Liverpool, who are seventh, on Sunday in a match that could go a long way to decide which of the two clubs can salvage a Europa League qualification spot.
Tottenham have 54 points, the same as sixth-placed Aston Villa, with Liverpool on 53 having played a game less.
Liverpool are seeking a fourth successive win and, belatedly, have joined the Premier League party.
“This season taught us lessons that I didn’t want to learn but the most important lesson in football is getting the three points at the weekend or midweek,” manager Juergen Klopp said.