Manchester City's Erling Braut Haaland celebrates scoring their third goal and his hat-trick Action Images via Reuters/Jason Cairnduff
(Reuters) - Manchester City fans are sweating on the fitness of goal machine Erling Haaland ahead of their key home Premier League game against Liverpool on Saturday.
With Arsenal eight points clear of second-placed City, the champions need to take three from Juergen Klopp's side in the early kick-off to ensure the Gunners do not take their lead into double figures.
Arsenal, who have 10 games remaining and are chasing a first championship since 2003-04, host 14th-placed Leeds United later on Saturday.
Norwegian striker Haaland, who has scored an astonishing 42 goals in 37 matches for City since joining from Borussia Dortmund, is nursing a groin injury and missed training on Thursday as players returned from the international break.
Haaland's father Alfie told Norwegian television last week it looked "touch and go" whether the striker would be back in time for the Liverpool game.
"You can’t just go two weeks without training and then jump right into a fight," he said.
His absence, with England midfielder Phil Foden also out after appendix surgery, will be welcomed by Arsenal supporters as much as Liverpool, sixth in the table and still in the hunt for a Champions League place.
"This is a cup final for Manchester City," former Arsenal playmaker Paul Merson wrote in a skysports.com column. "They have to win this game.
"A win and the gap is five points again and the pressure is back on Arsenal, who have some tricky games still to play.
"A draw for City and an Arsenal win against Leeds on Saturday would take the gap to 10 points and that is too far. That is a gap where you well and truly start to think it might be over."
Arsenal play Liverpool at Anfield on April 9 and City at the Etihad Stadium on April 26 in a revenge clash after losing to their rivals at the Emirates in February.
"We cannot control the outcome of other clubs, all we can control is what we do every single day," said manager Mikel Arteta.
"Now it has to be about enjoying the last part of the season, with enthusiasm, energy and a real hunger to continue to do what we’ve done, and if possible better."
City have a match in hand on the leaders but have played one more than third-placed Manchester United, who are at Newcastle United on Sunday and are 11 points further adrift.
Fourth-placed Tottenham Hotspur have former assistant coach Cristian Stellini in charge for their trip to struggling Everton on Monday after parting ways with Antonio Conte last Sunday.
The battle at the bottom is tighter than ever, with nine clubs separated by just four points and the weekend promises a further shake-up.
Bottom side Southampton travel to 18th-placed West Ham United on Sunday for a match at the London Stadium that neither can afford to lose while 19th-placed Bournemouth host Fulham.
Leicester City, 17th, are at 12th-placed Crystal Palace -- who have 75-year-old Roy Hodgson returning for a second spell as manager -- with only two points between them.
Palace are the only side in the league without a win in 2023, having drawn five and lost seven of their games.