(Reuters) - Raheem Sterling says he is “more than confident” that Manchester City can secure one of the top four spots in the Premier League that will guarantee them Champions League football next season.
Yet City’s England international is wary of the potential backlash from a wounded Arsenal in what he describes as a “massive, massive” clash at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday.
This season’s adventures in Europe for City came to an anti-climactic end with a 3-1 defeat in Monaco last month and a subsequent draw at home to Liverpool left Pep Guardiola’s men still with a real fight on their hands to secure another crack at the biggest club prize in 2017-18.
Currently, City are fourth but a victory at Arsenal would move them back into third and go a long way to helping them nail down a Champions League berth.
“The way we play and with the players we’ve got, I‘m more than confident that we can definitely challenge for that (top four) and possibly even more, as well, because we have some great players,” said the England winger.
“At the end of the day we want to be challenging to be the best each year. Chelsea might be ahead right now but we’ve got to keep winning our games. That’s all we’re focused on between now and the end of the season.”
Starting, he hopes, with a victory at Arsenal which would not only put them seven points ahead of fifth-placed Manchester United but 10 clear of the Gunners in sixth.
Sterling senses that it could be another season-shaping afternoon, just like the fixture between the two sides in the week before Christmas, which City won 2-1 to put their campaign back on an even keel after a rocky patch.
“It was a massive win. We’d lost to Chelsea and then at Leicester, and the Arsenal game put us back on track. Sunday will also be a massive, massive game,” said Sterling, who scored the winner in December’s fixture.
“It’s been kind of difficult for Arsenal more recently but with the kind of players they have and the manager they have, at any moment they can start winning games again and go on a good run.”
The 22-year-old is encouraged, though, by his special memories of playing against the Londoners ever since he was a youth player at Queens Park Rangers.
”I love playing against Arsenal. It’s always been a thing for me, even when I was younger. Going away to their training ground was always a massive day for me because I like their style of play.
“Hopefully, it will be another good day.”
Reporting by Ian Chadband,; Editing by Neville Dalton