Cesc Fabregas has backed Arsenal to ‘surprise people’ in their crunch match with title rivals Manchester City and predicts his former club will come away from the Etihad with a 2-1 victory this weekend.

Arsenal ensured they went into the international break at the top of the Premier League table thanks to a dramatic defeat of Brentford at the Emirates, their eighth straight win in the English top flight.

The Gunners’ title credentials were called into question after a severe dip in results over a challenging winter period, but Mikel Arteta’s men have recovered emphatically and will be targeting another statement performance in Manchester on Sunday.

Gabriel Martinelli scored the only goal of the game in north London as Arsenal triumphed in October’s reverse fixture and a repeat result would see the club go four points clear of Pep Guardiola’s side, last year’s treble winners.

City have been dealt a number of injury concerns heading into the heavyweight clash, with the likes of John Stones, Kyle Walker, Kevin De Bruyne and Manuel Akanji all struggling for fitness.

Arsenal, meanwhile, are sweating over injuries to Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Magalhaes and Martinelli, though there are hopes the trio could all feature against the defending champions.

Previewing the clash on the Planet Premier League podcast, Fabregas said he felt City’s injury woes could prove a key factor, with Arsenal a ‘step higher’ than many fans even believe this season.

‘I think Pep [Guardiola] always approaches games with the same perception, the same context. To win the game, he will put an offensive team, whoever it is,’ the ex-Arsenal captain said.

‘He’s proven as well that he’s giving opportunities to younger players and he’s not afraid to do that. He’s done it everywhere he’s been. I don’t think this will be an issue for him but it will be more in terms of quality and pace at the back.

‘I think Walker is such a big asset for them because they can play with such a high line when he’s in and they feel so confident to keep pushing because they know they have two or three machines sprinting back when they don’t have the ball, so this will be interesting.

Fabregas added: ‘I think Arsenal have grown so much in the last year with these new two or three additions… they look more solid, they look more mature, their ability to counter-attack, to keep the ball, to defend high, to defend deep. They control a lot of variants now and they are a very, very complete team.

‘They know what it takes to beat Man City because they have done that already so it will be a really interesting game and, definitely, it will be a big challenge for Arsenal, especially to see where they are at this point.

‘But I think they will surprise people because they are a step higher than everybody thinks.’

Asked for his prediction, Fabregas replied: ‘I think realistically, and I’m just saying based on what I see and what I feel and the perception that I have from both teams, and the news coming out from injuries and doubts… what I have in my mind is 1-2 to Arsenal.’

According to Fabregas, Declan Rice has proven himself to be the ‘complete package’ in midfield and a ‘very big plus’ for Arsenal following his big-money move from West Ham last summer.

‘He’s brought dynamism, physicality, quality, intelligence, maturity. He’s the complete package in midfield, in my opinion,’ the former Spain World Cup winner explained.

‘He can play also as a double-pivot, he can play by himself, he can play higher up as a No.8 and I think he looks like a very intelligent boy.

‘He knows his limitations as well so I feel safe. I see him play and I’m like: “I don’t think this boy will make a mistake in this game!”

‘Listen, I don’t know what will happen on Sunday, but he gives you that trust that, in midfield, in big games, you want players who take responsibility, have personality, players who you can trust, especially against a top Manchester City team when they have so many players in midfield with so much quality.

‘I think Arsenal, Arsenal fans and Mikel, when they have Declan in there they feel safe. That’s a very big plus for the team.’