Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City: 5 things we learned from Emery’s league debut

RealSport look at the conclusions that can be drawn from Arsenal's opening weekend defeat to Manchester City.


Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

Arsenal lost 2-0 to the reigning champions Manchester City on Sunday after a game that saw the beginning of the Unai Emery era at Arsenal.

The fans hoped to see a rejuvenated side boosted by debuts of the additions made to the squad during the short, post-World Cup summer transfer window. But many of them — including Lucas Torreira and Bernd Leno — started the game on the bench and the team lost to City in a style reminiscent of the Arsene Wenger era.

Petr Cech nearly put the ball in his own net as he attempted to embrace Emery’s philosophy of playing out from the back, whilst issues with Arsenal’s defensive shape remain as Benjamin Mendy found a lot of joy down the left, setting up both Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva’s goals.

RealSport discuss five talking points from the Gunners’ opening day defeat.

  1. 1 Arsenal's high pressing is improving


    Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

    Emery’s mark on Arsenal's style of play has been visible literally from day one.

    The game against City saw the demise of 'Wenger-ball,' and the Gunners’ gameplay was undoubtedly more reliant on counter-attacking as a means of creating danger, instead of the passing game favoured by the legendary Frenchman

     In order to achieve that, Arsenal pressed their rivals high up the pitch and very often, at a tempo that was rarely seen under Wenger.

    It's set to change under Emery, and the club will only make progress in the area once Torreira — who's made the most tackles in Serie A over the last two seasons — is fully fit and ready for the challenge of the Premier League.

  2. 2 The defence needs more tinkering


    Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

    What hasn’t changed since Wenger's departure, however, is the vulnerability of Arsenal's defensive line.

    The duo of Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos were unconvincing at best, cumbersome and slow, and Hector Bellerin was relied on as something of a defensive linchpin, despite his own shortcomings at the back. That, in itself, sums the Gunners up.

    Both goals conceded against City were caused by a lack of support from the defensive midfielders just outside the penalty box, meaning Arsenal still don’t play defensively as a collective.

    On top of that, Petr Cech — despite making a handful of sublime saves on Sunday — didn’t make it through the game without commentators noting that ‘he could have done better there.' The 36-year-old went as far as giving Arsenal fans a heart attack as he nearly passed the ball into his own net.

    The decision of loaning Callum Chambers to Fulham seems increasingly illogical, especially considering Laurent Koscielny remains unavailable for the forseeable future.

  3. 3 Guendouzi showed promise despite flaws


    Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

    Initially considered a signing for the future, Matteo Guendouzi impressed during pre-season. To the point of creating an air of excitement about his arrival, enough that he was thrust into the starting XI against the champions.

    Sunday afternoon, however, proved that Premier League football is a completely different challenge and the Frenchman will need time to adjust and raise his game to the level required.

    He showed his great potential — Guendouzi wasn’t afraid of playing with the ball at his feet even against an opponent like Manchester City — and he excelled at linking play and looked dangerous going forward.

    But, he needs to work on maintaining poise and focus in front of his own penalty box. For both of the goals City scored on Sunday he was arguably the one to blame, alongside Granit Xhaka.

    Guendouzi needs to work on his defensive positioning if he's to play a holding midfield role, as this flaw will become brutally exposed in the Premier League.

  4. 4 Arsenal still out of shape


    Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

    Arsenal are still clearly not up to the expected physical standard ahead of the new Premier League season.

    Most players — including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, famous for his lightning speed — couldn’t compete with the incessant energy of Manchester City. Kyle Walker, Riyad Mahrez Sterling and Mendy were running Arsenal’s wide players ragged throughout the game.

    Sterling, in particular, posed a danger to the Gunners' defensive line every time he touched the ball. He was too quick for the Arsenal players and freely weaved his way along the outskirts of the penalty box before scoring the opening goal.

    All of that with Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane starting the game on the bench, as David Silva wasn't even included in the squad.

    There was no freshness in Arsenal’s game on Sunday though this isn't a reason for overt concern just yet considering the season is still in a rudimental phase.

  5. 5 Starting midfield as of yet undecided


    Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley

    Restructuring the midfield was one of the biggest challenges facing Emery when he took over at the Emirates. Against City, the formation was clearly ineffective, meaning the Spanish coach needs more time to find the correct line up in the middle of the park.

    Mesut Ozil was given the number ten shirt, only to find himself out of position on the flank, losing the control he has on the team while playing in a more central role.

    Xhaka and Guendouzi as holding midfielders didn't offer enough support for a vulnerable back four, while Henrikh Mkhitaryan couldn’t really find space for himself on the pitch and often looked lost going forward.

    Arsenal seem to be desperate for a quick post-World Cup recovery of Torreira, a player hoped to solidify Arsenal's defensive play and provide a sturdy foundation for attack.

    There's one more mystery that needs solving. If Alexandre Lacazette is to create a strike partnership with Aubameyang, who from the midfield is going to be benched?

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Damian Burchardt

Damian Burchardt is Real Sport's writer specialising in football and the NBA.

He's featured in the Guardian, the Independent and led the QH's sport section.

You can follow him on Twitter @D_Burchardt.

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