While Manchester City may have lost to Arsenal just twice from their last twelve top flight meetings, there’s an aura of unpredictability about the Premier League pair’s coming encounter this Sunday.
For starters, this will be Unai Emery’s first competitive game in charge of the north London outfit after replacing Arsene Wenger and it remains to be seen exactly how he’ll set his side up, but there are also some question marks hanging over the Citizens – can Pep Guardiola’s intensity stop them from putting in yet another underwhelming title defence?
With all that in mind, the likely outcome of Sunday’s game isn’t as obvious as you might assume, so here’s a quick look at where the 4pm kickoff will be lost and won…
Having both missed out on places at the World Cup despite being widely regarded as amongst the best young players Europe has to offer in their respective positions, Hector Bellerin and Leroy Sane will be desperate to impress this season, especially considering they’re both now under serious competition for starting berths from summer signings Stephan Lichtsteiner and Riyad Mahrez.
Tactically too, this battle should have a key impact on the match. Sane will be expected to jump up a level this season and become City’s main attacking force from out wide, while Bellerin’s ability to balance out his natural offensive flair with his defensive obligations will give us a crucial insight into the mentality Unai Emery wants this Arsenal team to take – whether they’ll be as open as they were under Arsene Wenger or whether there will be more structure and resilience to the new-look Gunners.
City proved last weekend against Chelsea, in the absence of Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva, that the structure of their midfield is almost as devastating as the personnel involved for their opponents, the Blues failing to cope with Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva in the roaming No.8 roles at Wembley.
And considering how vital their flowing, rampant midfield was to City’s successes in the Premier League last season, it’s obvious that Arsenal will need to find a way of shutting down this department if they’re to secure a big win on Sunday.
Easier said than done, of course, but Football FanCast have already laid out three potential game-plans for City to consider. Summer signing Lucas Torreira, who has been brought in to add some much-needed grit to Arsenal’s midfield, will be a key part of that as well.
Arsenal boast a unique advantage heading into Sunday’s game in that so many of their key players either weren’t involved in the World Cup or came back from it incredibly early. In fact, just two Arsenal players made it to the knockout stages of the tournament in Russia and none ventured past the Round of 16, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Alexandre Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Aaron Ramsey weren’t involved at all and Mesut Ozil’s Germany failed to advance from their group.
In contrast, Manchester City had eight players in the quarter-finals and three in the semi-finals. Most of those only returned to training in the buildup to the Community Shield, and Raheem Sterling and Kevin De Bruyne’s returns were delayed even further until earlier this week. Considering the intensity of City’s football, they’re bound to get tired towards the end of the game when Arsenal’s better-prepared players should still be able to operate at close to full throttle. That could well be the difference on Sunday.
Although there is the potential for both to start on Sunday, Arsenal and Manchester City boast arguably the best understudy strikers in the Premier League right now. Alexandre Lacazette was the club’s record signing before Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang arrived in January and had been nothing short of prolific during his time at Lyon, while Gabriel Jesus may not be the finished article just yet but he’s easily amongst the most promising forwards in European football.
So should either team be in need of a goal in the latter stages of Sunday’s clash, their impacts from the bench could be pivotal – especially if there are tired legs, particularly in the case of City, who haven’t had the benefit of a pre-season. Both certainly have the ability to have a decisive say on the final scoreline.