It’s back! The 2018-19 Premier League season kicks off today, with Manchester United taking on Leicester City at Old Trafford. The pick of this weekend’s matches, however, should be the Sunday afternoon fixture: Arsenal vs Manchester City. How will new Gunners boss Unai Emery get on against Pep Guardiola’s record-breaking champions?
It’s very early days in the Emery era, but Arsenal already look more organised defensively. The Back Four was pretty consistent in preseason: Hector Bellerín on the right, Sead Kolašinac on the left, with Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos in the middle. Although the 5-1 thrashing of PSG was largely meaningless, it was still a confidence boost, especially for striker Alexandre Lacazette.
Manchester City, meanwhile, show no signs of slowing down. In last week’s FA Community Shield, they looked a class above Chelsea, even without Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva. Arsenal at the Emirates, however, should prove a tougher test for City. It’s now nearly 10 years since a team won back-to-back Premier League titles.
Of the Premier League top six, Arsenal had the most settled preseason. The likes of Lacazette, Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang all stayed in London, while only England’s Danny Welbeck made it past the Round of 16 in Russia. The squad looks fit and fresh, with only Kolašinac, Laurent Koscielny, and potentially Aaron Ramsey, out of action.
For Manchester City, the major fitness issue isn’t injuries so much as World Cup fatigue. 11 of their players were involved in the quarter-finals, and 7 in the semis. Luckily, Guardiola’s squad is more than strong enough to cope. If De Bruyne and David Silva aren’t ready for Arsenal vs Manchester City, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva aren’t bad back-ups to have.
Arsenal got their business done early this summer, and the signs are promising. Sokratis and Stephan Lichtsteiner have brought steel and experience to the backline, while terrier Lucas Torreira has brought bite to the midfield. Fellow midfielder Mattéo Guendouzi is a top talent for the future, and goalkeeper Bernd Leno will give Petr Čech some stiff competition.
In comparison, Manchester City had a very quiet transfer window. Their only major signing was Leicester City’s Riyad Mahrez for £60million. It’ll be interesting to see how much game-time the Algerian winger gets this season, but he’s set to start against Arsenal ahead of Raheem Sterling.
Player to Watch: Mesut Özil
Arsenal vs Manchester City may well turn out to be a case of frail defence vs awesome attack. Can Sokratis and Mustafi cope with Leroy Sané and Sergio Agüero? Few can. If, however, the Gunners get a grip on the game, Özil could come into his own. After all, Germany’s World Cup scapegoat has a real point to prove this season.