Zabaleta is eager to end hoodoo of Marsh age

Manchester City will try to win at Arsenal for first time since 1975 today

It may be one of the worst head-to-head records any English champions have endured against serious rivals, but in one way Manchester City can take encouragement from their dreadful sequence of results when visiting Arsenal; and not merely because things can only get better.

Not since 1975, with a goal by Rodney Marsh, have City won at either Highbury or the Emirates. When they lost 1-0 to Mikel Arteta's late goal in March, after Mario Balotelli had been sent off following one of his red-mist moments, any semblance of a championship challenge appeared to be over. The dressing room was a desperate place to be. "I thought then the title was very difficult for us," said the Argentinian full-back Pablo Zabaleta. "We were eight points behind United at the time."

There were six games left, all of which his team managed to win, climaxing in that astonishing finale against Queens Park Rangers. United, meanwhile, won only three of their six and were beaten, crucially, in the Manchester derby to lose the title on goal difference.

This season the margin between the two clubs is already seven points, and if United beat Liverpool at lunchtime, then by the time the champions kick off in north London it will be a daunting 10. "Seven points is a lot already, if it went to nine or 10 it would make if very difficult, of course," Zabaleta acknowledged. And yet the memory of last season will sustain a club never known for making life easy for themselves, or their followers.

"We won the Premier League because we believed in ourselves. Now it's the same. When you win an important trophy it makes all the players stronger. We need to believe we have great quality in the team to retain the title. We need to control the situation and keep calm. We can't drop points.

"We must wait for United to drop some points. They are very strong at the moment. They have [Robin] Van Persie on fire and Chicharito coming on late in the game and scoring goals. But we need to stay positive because the race still has a long way to go. You never know in the Premier League, every game is so difficult. We expect United will drop some points but obviously we need to keep winning to take advantage."

Zabaleta was one of the earlier imports to the great Manchester City project, arriving the day before the Abu Dhabi takeover in 2008. He has been one of the more consistent arrivals too, capable of playing in either full-back position and all the more impressive since establishing himself on the right after injuries this season to Micah Richards and Maicon.

His presence may well have been influential in attracting Carlos Tevez and Sergio Aguero, both also from his home town of Buenos Aires, and completing the Three Amigos, Argentina having now adopted City as their favoured English club to put alongside the traditional support for Barcelona and Real Madrid. Zabaleta accepts with a smile that his goal in the decisive win over QPR (City's first, to equalise at 1-1) will be long forgotten in both countries while Aguero's is remembered: "He scored probably the most important goal in the last 50 years for this club. After that game we went to Argentina to play two World Cup qualification games and people had been talking for a week about that goal. So many people were Manchester City fans for that game because they see three Argentinian players in the squad, and everything that happened was incredible."

Aguero has recently separated from his wife of four years – Diego Maradona's daughter – but Zabaleta believes he will stay in England: "Sergio's always telling me he's enjoying the life in Manchester and at this club. He signed for City to win important trophies and I think he's going in the right direction.

"If you have problems off the pitch it's not easy, we are all human and everybody can have problems. It can be sad, but in the end we know we have to give the best for the team. We know how important Sergio is for this team and club. He's a young player on a long-term contract and always when you have good players in the squad you want to keep them for a long time."

Aguero is not due back from injury until next week, which should allow Tevez to start as City attempt to make another, smaller, piece of history today.

Star gazing: Wenger thinks Fab may return

Arsène Wenger has said his former captain Cesc Fabregas could return to Arsenal in the future because he still "loves" the club.

Fabregas left the Emirates after eight years in August 2011 to sign for Barcelona. Since his departure Wenger has concentrated on building a homegrown core to his side, with Theo Walcott expected to join Jack Wilshere, Kieran Gibbs, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Carl Jenkinson and Aaron Ramsey in agreeing a new contract this month.

After the departures of Fabregas, Gaël Clichy, Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie, that would reverse the recent trend of top players leaving as their contracts expire. And Wenger hopes the Spanish midfielder could one day play alongside Walcott.

"Fabregas is a world-class player and I'm not convinced that he will not come back here one day, you know," he said.

"He is a real Arsenal man. He loves Arsenal and watches every game. But of course Barcelona was his home town, where he grew up, and we have to accept that. Not in the next two or three years certainly, because he's still with Barcelona, but maybe later?"

Arsenal are likely to field at least five British players aged 23 or under against Manchester City this afternoon, and Wenger believes that bodes well for the future.

"What you want is players to grow up together and be successful," he said.

Ed Aarons

Arsenal v Manchester City is on Sky Sports 1 today, kick-off 4pm

Life and Style
A teenager boy wakes up.
Life and Style
Researchers have said it could take only two questions to identify a problem with alcohol
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Critics say Kipling showed loathing for India's primitive villagers in The Jungle Book
filmChristopher Walken, Bill Murray, Scarlett Johanssen Idris Elba, Andy Serkis, Benedict Cumberbatch, Cate Blanchett and Christian Bale
Life and Style
Playing to win: for Tanith Carey, pictured with Lily, right, and Clio, even simple games had to have an educational purpose
lifeTanith Carey explains what made her take her foot off the gas
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
A still from Duncan Campbell's hour-long film 'It for Others'
Turner Prize 2014
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hadley in a scene from ‘Soul Boys Of The Western World’
musicSpandau Ballet are back together - on stage and screen
Arts and Entertainment
From left to right: Ed Stoppard as Brian Epstein, Sheridan Smith as Cilla Black and Elliott Cowan as George Martin in 'Cilla'
tvCilla review: A poignant ending to mini-series
Life and Style
Bearing up: Sebastian Flyte with his teddy Aloysius in Brideshead Revisited
lifePhilippa Perry explains why a third of students take a bear to uni
Arts and Entertainment
Sir Alan Sugar appearing in a shot from Apprentice which was used in a Cassette Boy mashup
artsA judge will rule if pieces are funny enough to be classed as parodies
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Isis is an hour from Baghdad, the Iraq army has little chance against it, and air strikes won't help

Isis an hour away from Baghdad -

and with no sign of Iraq army being able to make a successful counter-attack
Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

Turner Prize 2014 is frustratingly timid

The exhibition nods to rich and potentially brilliant ideas, but steps back
Last chance to see: Half the world’s animals have disappeared over the last 40 years

Last chance to see...

The Earth’s animal wildlife population has halved in 40 years
So here's why teenagers are always grumpy - and it's not what you think

Truth behind teens' grumpiness

Early school hours mess with their biological clocks
Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?

Hacked photos: the third wave

Why can no one stop hackers putting celebrities' private photos online?
Royal Ballet star dubbed 'Charlize Theron in pointe shoes' takes on Manon

Homegrown ballerina is on the rise

Royal Ballet star Melissa Hamilton is about to tackle the role of Manon
Education, eduction, education? Our growing fascination with what really goes on in school

Education, education, education

TV documentaries filmed in classrooms are now a genre in their own right
It’s reasonable to negotiate with the likes of Isis, so why don’t we do it and save lives?

It’s perfectly reasonable to negotiate with villains like Isis

So why don’t we do it and save some lives?
This man just ran a marathon in under 2 hours 3 minutes. Is a 2-hour race in sight?

Is a sub-2-hour race now within sight?

Dennis Kimetto breaks marathon record
We shall not be moved, say Stratford's single parents fighting eviction

Inside the E15 'occupation'

We shall not be moved, say Stratford single parents
Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Air strikes alone will fail to stop Isis

Talks between all touched by the crisis in Syria and Iraq can achieve as much as the Tornadoes, says Patrick Cockburn
Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

Nadhim Zahawi: From a refugee on welfare to the heart of No 10

The Tory MP speaks for the first time about the devastating effect of his father's bankruptcy
Witches: A history of misogyny

Witches: A history of misogyny

The sexist abuse that haunts modern life is nothing new: women have been 'trolled' in art for 500 years
Shona Rhimes interview: Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Meet the most powerful woman in US television

Writer and producer of shows like Grey's Anatomy, Shonda Rhimes now has her own evening of primetime TV – but she’s taking it in her stride
'Before They Pass Away': Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Endangered communities photographed 'like Kate Moss'

Jimmy Nelson travelled the world to photograph 35 threatened tribes in an unashamedly glamorous style