Arsenal v Man City
Premier League. Kick-Off: 4:00pm, Sunday August 12th. Live on Sky Sports.
ARSENAL'S post-Wenger era kicks off with the toughest of tests for new manager Unai Emery against last year’s runaway champions Manchester City.
It has been a decent pre-season for the Gunners with plenty of goals, both for and against, but these games are more about fitness and player assessment than real competitive football. The real test for Emery and his revamped squad starts now.
The new leadership structure at the club worked swiftly and decisively in the transfer window, addressing the squad deficiencies that had been obvious to the world but seemed nestled in Wenger’s blind spot.
The defence was bolstered by the recruitment of experienced Dortmund centre-back Sokratis Papastathopoulos, veteran Juventus right-back Stephan Lichtsteiner, tough-tackling and highly-rated Sampdoria defensive midfielder Lucas Torreira, Leverkusen keeper Bernd Leno and the promising French youth international central midfielder Matteo Guendouzi.
All of these players have featured in pre-season and gave Arsenal fans a taste of what they can expect during the forthcoming season. Sokratis has done little to convince he can improve a famously wobbly Arsenal back line, looking somewhat unassured and immobile at times. Lichtsteiner looked as composed as he always doesb ut at 34yrs of age his signing is more about back-up and support for first-choice right-back Bellerin.
Torreira only managed a few minutes against Lazio following his late return from the World Cup but he had a successful campaign in Russia and is the summer’s most exciting capture. Fans are rightly excited to see what he can bring to the team and finally have someone capable of providing a defensive platform for the more creative players to operate from.
Leno has done little over the summer to convince he is the man to squeeze Cech out of the first team. While his shot stopping and distribution look good and he is decent with the ball at his feet, he looks nervy at times and uncomfortable at set-pieces. But it's early days and it will take time for these players to settle into the team, perhaps it’s too early to judge these players on preseason alone.
With a feeling of optimism around the club at the proactive player recruitment, Arsenal seem to have hit the panic button during the last few days. Having signed a contract extension in Nov 2017 and then again in June this year, Calum Chambers was sent out on loan to Fulham.
With only inexperienced Rob Holding and Konstantinos Mavropanos as backup to presumed first choice central defence pairing Mustafi and Sokratis, Emery has seemingly decided he needs more and has got rid of Chambers to make room for another senior recruit which seems unfair considering he did no worse than any other defender during the pre-season friendlies.
Links to Croatian international Domagoj Vida have surfaced, which are worrying considering he is no more than a journeyman at the age of 29 having played for clubs like Dinamo Zagreb, Dynamo Kiev and now Besiktas. Commanding a fee of around £25m, off the back of a good World Cup performance does not seem like great business, and will surely offer little more than Chambers could have himself.
It looks like Emery is set to begin with his favoured 4-3-3 formation having used this during most of the preseason. Having paid a club record fee for a goalkeeper, Leno should be expected to start in goal, behind Bellerin at right-back and the aforementioned central defence pairing. With Monreal and Kolasinac out injured, Emery will have his hand forced to play Maitland-Niles out of position at left-back where he deputised admirably for large parts of last season.
Given the opposition, you have to imaginehe will start his strongest possible midfield trio which will be Torreira behind Xhaka and Ramsey. This is despite Torreira and Xhaka only just returning from their summer break and probably slightly behind on match fitness. Ramsey has also missed most of the preseason with a convenient ‘calf strain’.
This is with the backdrop of a situation all too familiar to Arsenal fans, with a star player entering the last year of his contract and then available to leave for free at the end of the season. The club seem unable to convince Ramsey to sign a new contract and could be lost for nothing next year.
Ramsey would command a fee somewhere in the region of £30m but it would be very difficult to find a replacement offering the same box-to-box energy and goalscoring ability within this budget.
The front three is also a slight conundrum for Emery. With two £50m strikers in the squad in Lacazette and Aubameyang, the obvious desire would be to play them both. But accommodating two central strikers in a three man attack along with Ozil doesn’t offer the right balance, and expectation will be for Lacazette to drop to the bench with Mkhitaryan coming in to play wide left.
With a newly-formed back line, and a midfield lacking match fitness, you can only assume that Man City will have too much for the gunners. They looked fresh and match fit against an admittedly out of sorts Chelsea in the community shield last weekend, and it won’t be a surprise to see them take all 3pts back to the Etihad on Sunday. However, with an attack boasting the quality of an invigorated Ozil and one of Europe’s most deadly marksmen in Aubameyang, its difficult to imagine that Arsenal won’t find themselves on the scoresheet at least once.
- BTTS & O2.5MG’s @ 4/5 (NAP)
- Man City O1.5TGs @ 4/6 (NB)
- Result & BTTS Man City @ 9/4 (NB)