Action Images via Reuters/John Sibley
16:00 BST, Sunday 12th August, Emirates Stadium (London, England) Sky Sports Main Event
With Arsene Wenger out and seven new players in, Arsenal have a fresh look to them this season. Whether this is enough for them to push back into the top four or it’s merely the first phase of consolidation and the rebuilding process remains to be seen.
Expectations are subdued and replaced by intrigue, and the Gunners could well be this season’s dark horse team. Whichever way you look at it though, this game could well prove a baptism of fire for Unai Emery.
Pep Guardiola’s centurions are the team standing in the Spaniard’s way and will surely prove a tall hurdle to negotiate.
As several key players did not play in Russia this summer and only one new signing arriving in the shape of the PFA Player of the Year 2016/17, consistency appears to be the name of Guardiola’s game.
Whilst no side having been able to defend the Premier League title in the past 10 years, Guardiola will be incessantly focussed on changing this quirk heading into this match.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 2-0 Lazio (Friendly)
Played out on neutral territory at the aptly named Friends Arena, the Gunners took another good performance from their pre-season schedule.
Club debuts for both Lucas Torreira and Stephan Lichtsteiner saw Emery field a team a step closer to his expected first choice XI. It was an old face who stole the limelight, however.
Alex Iwobi — having just signed a new contract extension — again showed glimpses of the potential that he has in abundance.
The goals came through Reiss Nelson and substitute Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, while Lazio themselves struck the woodwork on the half hour mark. Despite the Gunners looking troubled by crosses into the box, Bernd Leno didn’t have to make a save until the 67th minute.
It proved a good test for Emery’s side and a test which they passed, although there still appear to be areas in need of improvement on this performance.
Chelsea 0-2 Manchester City (Community Shield)
City produced a dominant display in the inaugural curtain-raiser which was sure to have worried the fans of other teams watching on. Sergio Aguero supplied the finishing touches to both goals, each coming 13 minutes from kick-off in either half.
City purred through this game and despite Guardiola’s claim that his players were far below the required fitness levels he expected of them, there were very few weaknesses on display at Wembley.
The final 10 minutes saw Guardiola experiment with John Stones pushed up into the midfield holding role, which could be a sign of things to come in the forthcoming season. Otherwise, this very much looked like business as usual for the Premier League champions.
Emery will be without a trio of injured defenders. Nacho Monreal (knee) and Sead Kolasinac (knee) join Laurent Koscielny (Achilles) on the absentee list, though the Frenchman’s injury picked up last season.
Lucas Torreira could make his Premier League debut at the base of midfield while Matteo Guendouzi’s good form in pre-season, coupled with a small doubt over Aaron Ramsey’s fitness could see the young French player get a surprise start this weekend.
Manchester City Lineup
Danilo (ankle) is struggling to be fit for the opening weekend otherwise there are no major injuries for Guardiola to negotiate with his selection.
Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling only returned to full training on Monday so they will require late decisions regarding their involvement, but Riyad Mahrez looks set to make his first Premier League start for the Citizens.
Key Battle: Sokratis (Arsenal) vs Sergio Aguero (Manchester City)
He may be a commentator’s worst nightmare, but Arsenal’s new Greek defender looks set to play an important role for the club this season.
Having just enjoyed a series of good performances during the summer at his new club, the centre back brings a commanding presence to the back of the Gunners team, missing for large parts of last season.
He will be given a thorough test in the opening weekend with Aguero looking in imperious form at Wembley in the Community Shield. With 201 goals wearing a City shirt and a strike rate of 0.84 in the league last season, the Argentine forward is becoming more clinical with each passing season and will once again be his team’s major goal-threat.
Arsenal’s gameplan should be to eliminate the service he receives with Emery’s preference for pressing when out of possession, however, if given a chance, Sokratis will need to be at his best to deny the prolific striker.
Fighting fire with fire
Emery is looking to bring a possession-based game to North London, much in the vein of Manchester City, Liverpool and Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea.
It’s not so much retention of the ball that yields positive results in facing City, rather high pressing, though it requires much tactical awareness and many hours on the training ground to refine it.
It may well prove to be the blueprint which helps elevate the Gunners from their current malaise, but it will also take time to integrate his new squad into the finer details of this philosophy.
A system which leaves little room for error, the teething problem could prove painful if the players do not fully buy into this new style of play. How well the players hold their nerve in front of last season’s champions will be a very telling factor in how big Emery’s project will be.
The quest for greatness
Manchester City’s achievements last season should not go unnoticed. Having won the league by 19 points and taking three-figure returns in both points and goals scored, they claimed the title in emphatic fashion.
But while they dominated their rivals, it still feels too soon to label this side as one of English football’s great sides.
This season can see them cement these credentials with both the FA Cup and European competition still offering elusive achievements for the Citizens. A back-to-back league win will also serve to ensure there’s little denying their dominance in the modern game, but these things are all easily said and harder to achieve.
Everyone now knows their style of play and with the lure of beating a side who are within touching distance of greatness, City will find some of their matches more competitive this season. If they come through this test, they will be close to writing a new legacy in English football’s history.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-3 Manchester City
Unbeaten against Arsenal in their last five league fixtures, City could make it six this weekend. Arsenal’s home record was highly impressive last season, but this game may prove too early in Emery’s preparations for his side to make an impact against the current champions.
With an open game of football likely to come out of this encounter, the City players’ level of understanding between each other and in the system they play is the factor which could make the most difference.
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