Win or bust for City and Arsenal
Defeat at the Etihad could kill Pep or Wenger's campaign
MAN CITY v ARSENAL
(Tonight, 11pm, Singtel TV Ch 102 & StarHub TV Ch 227)
For Pep Guardiola and Arsene Wenger, tonight's Etihad encounter is the biggest game of next season.
What happens between Manchester City and Arsenal will echo through the post-season period and into August.
Both managers find themselves standing at the precipice at their respective clubs - in the case of Guardiola, before he even starts - and the ramifications of defeat are enormous.
The thought of falling out of the top four is unthinkable for Manchester City, but a distinct possibility considering Manchester United's game in hand.
For Arsenal, a similar outcome is mathematically possible, but highly unlikely. Wenger's overriding concern is less obvious, but more damaging, potentially, in the long term.
If this season represented the Gunners' best chance of winning the title, next season will be the hardest yet to finish in the top four.
Tottenham will be there. So should Juergen Klopp's rapidly improving Reds, especially if they swagger in with Europa League medals around their necks and Champions League entry visas in their wallets.
Antonio Conte's Chelsea and possibly Jose Mourinho's Manchester United must finish in the top four, the bare minimum of requirements for both managers.
And then there's a potential sequel to the animated Disney spectacular at Leicester.
Even West Ham will have 60,000 reasons at a heaving Olympic Stadium to justify significant investments to mount a Champions League charge.
Bringing up the rear will be Wenger, the last of the dinosaurs struggling with the dazzling meteors devastating the landscape, unable to evolve fast enough to keep up with the improving species around him.
He needs to finish fourth and face a Champions League play-off like he needs Olivier Giroud leading the line next season.
It's another scenario fraught with uncertainty that the beleaguered manager could really do without.
Guardiola almost certainly shares a similar sentiment, no doubt aware of his new side's inherent shortcomings.
Man City, like Arsenal, blew this campaign. It's been an unmitigated disaster for both clubs.
The Etihad Stadium should have hosted a title decider, a shoot-out between the league's leading contenders and master craftsmen.
Instead, the event promises to be a scruffy contest between two imploding clubs doing everything within their power to fall out of the top four.
Guardiola must have found City's sterile performance in the Bernabeu alarming. Manuel Pellegrini's misfits failed to muster a single shot on target.
But there is a deeper, largely overlooked, problem at City.
Kevin de Bruyne, like Sergio Aguero, hinted once again that although he has enough talent to illuminate a league won by Leicester, he falls a fraction short in the Champions League.
With a £54-million ($106m) price tag, de Bruyne had to dominate against Real. But he didn't.
Nor did Aguero. The Argentina striker failed to kick (or head) the ball on target across five consecutive Champions League matches, an accurate reflection of City's mediocrity when facing authentic opposition.
At a conservative estimate, Guardiola requires four distinguished signings in the summer. He needs the Champions League carrot to reel them in.
Wenger faces a similar predicament, with the added obstacle of a smaller chequebook and a weaker reputation.
Despite his Champions League failings at Bayern Munich, Guardiola will still join City as a serial title winner.
The last time Wenger won the league title, back in 2004, Guardiola was still a player.
So tomorrow isn't about salvaging a dying campaign. Arsenal's ended weeks ago and City's last rites were performed at the Bernabeu. This is about saving next season.
A third-placed finish appeases the antagonistic at Arsenal, just about, and settles nerves at City.
Fourth place is a headache both Wenger and Guardiola could do without, but it's a minor irritation, easily overcome with the right transfer treatment.
Anything else is apocalypse now. Next season could be over before it's even begun.
BY THE NUMBERS
Close to 100,000 English Premier League fans are late-night warriors, staying up past 2am to watch the games on Singtel TV.