Anything less than a win at the Emirates Stadium—something they have never done in the Premier League—will give City a mountain to climb with just six matches of the season remaining.
United showed with their win at Blackburn Rovers on Monday that they have the quality and the persistence to break down a stubborn side battling against relegation. QPR will be riding high off the back of their win over Arsenal last weekend at Loftus Road, but their first league trip to Old Trafford in almost 17 years looks unlikely to be a victorious one.
Alex Ferguson has an excellent record against former players of his who have gone on to become managers themselves. Mark Hughes is no different in that regard. Although he did claim a famous win at Old Trafford while in charge of Blackburn, he was unable to repeat the feat when at the helm of City.
Hughes believes that United's experience in title run-ins gives them a huge advantage. He said in his pre-match press conference (as quoted by Eurosport):
"I think at this stage of the season there is a little bit of a sense of inevitability.
"United have been in this situation so many times before, City haven't and I think that can be key in this situation.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images
"You sense that United are looking at fixtures, taking each game on its merits and just ticking off games they have to play from now until the end of the season."
Hughes is not wrong. Aside from a visit to City at the end of the month, fixtures against QPR, Wigan, Aston Villa, Everton, Swansea and Sunderland certainly represent a favourable run-in for the champions.
Compare that City, who still have to make a trip to Champions League-chasing Newcastle and welcome United to the Etihad Stadium in addition to their visit to Arsenal before the season is out, and it is not hard to see that defeat to the Gunners will all but do for their title hopes.
City boss Roberto Mancini has no choice but to accept that United now have their destiny in their own hands, but is still holding out hope that the champions will not have things all their own way as they close in on a 20th league title. The Italian said (again, via Eurosport):
"We were on the top for a long time and we have been fighting with United until now. I think we have improved as a team, in the Premier League title.
"I think we have improved a lot as a team but it is not finished now. I don't believe this championship is finished.
"If they [United] win all their games, congratulations they deserved to win the title. But seven games from the end I think anything can happen. We lost four points in two games. It is possible to happen to them."
The Gunners' defeat in west London last Saturday brought to an end their run of seven straight league wins. Despite losing at home to City in the Carling Cup earlier this season—albeit with a team that included the likes of Francis Coquelin, Ignasi Miquel, Sebastien Squillaci and Marouane Chamakh—they have not been defeated by the blue half of Manchester in their own back yard in the league since 1975, a run of 26 games.
Clearly, City are now a different proposition than they were at any other time during that period, but a team which looked so invincible earlier in the season now looks vulnerable, especially on the road. In 2012 they have won just two and lost three of their six away games, scoring just three goals in that time.
With Arsenal now going toe-to-toe with local rivals Tottenham Hotspur for the final automatic Champions League qualification spot, the Gunners will not mind doing their big rivals United a favour by defeating City on Sunday, and in the process help them take a big step towards retaining their crown.