The Premier League season is finally set to start after a tiring summer which featured a great World Cup and an exhausting transfer window. Undoubtedly the best fixture of the opening matches will take place at the Emirates, where Unai Emery will make his competitive debut as Arsenal manager against Pep Guardiola’s settled Manchester City side.
Missing a couple of key players due to World Cup commitments, Arsenal will feel this is a chance to get points against a side who will be strengthened greatly by the returns of key players in the coming weeks; meanwhile, City will still feel they are the favourites, particularly after an untroubling 2-0 win over Maurizio Sarri’s Chelsea in last week’s Community Shield.
Arsenal are currently missing Laurent Koscielny to a long-term injury, as well as both senior left-backs Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolašinac. Aaron Ramsey is also a fitness doubt for the Gunners.
City, on the other hand, are missing vibrant midfield duo Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva, as well as English forward Raheem Sterling, all of whom would normally be expected to play key roles in Guardiola’s system. Aymeric Laporte is as much a doubt as Ramsey after
Arsenal Starting XI
New signing Bernd Leno should make his debut alongside his manager on Sunday, ousting Premier League legend Petr Čech for the foreseeable future unless he has teething issues in a new league.
In front of him will be experienced defender Sokratis Papastathopoulos, signed from Dortmund, who should be paired by Shkodran Mustafi, who will be hoping to cement his starting place under Emery after infamously struggling under Arséne Wenger.
Hector Bellerín should start ahead of stop-gap signing Stephan Lichtsteiner at right-back. Injuries to Arsenal’s senior left-backs pave way for Ainsley Maitland-Niles to make his way into the first team, and he’ll be the man to watch for those who frequent the Emirates; coming up against City’s attack won’t be an easy task.
Lucas Torreira promises to provide the sorely-missed engine in Arsenal’s midfield, and at only 22, he’ll be expected to do it for the next decade; perhaps he can also bring the best out of Granit Xhaka who, much like Mustafi, struggled under Wenger.
Anchoring the midfield, Torreira and Xhaka will be tasked with interrupting City’s free-flowing possession game to provide service for the world class front four of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Mesut Özil, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette, the undisputed strong point of this Arsenal side and arguably the best attack in the Premier League on paper.
Manchester City Starting XI
Ederson played no role on the pitch for his nation this summer and returns to Manchester City with full trust of the manager; he is one of the best up-and-coming goalkeepers in the world and has earned Guardiola’s trust. Claudio Bravo started the Community Shield, but more likely because he’s the cup goalkeeper at the Etihad and not a fitness problem for Ederson.
Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy are the first-choice fullbacks without doubt and will start against Arsenal after playing the Shield. They will be joined by John Stones, who needs to seize his opportunity to be in the side after an up-and-down 2017/18 campaign, and Nicolas Otamendi, the most likely replacement for Laporte after Vincent Kompany’s late World Cup involvement.
Fernandinho’s importance to the Citizens is perhaps the biggest worry surrounding Guardiola’s men this season, but he is fit to start this match. In front of him, David Silva will be replaced by his namesake Bernardo, who dazzled in the Community Shield, and he was joined by Phil Foden in that match, though in this match it will likely be Ílkay Gündoğan who starts in place of de Bruyne.
Club record-signing Riyad Mahrez will relish the prospect of facing up against Maitland-Niles on his Premier League debut for his new club, and due to Sterling’s absence, his opposing flank will be occupied by Leroy Sané, who didn’t play a part in Germany’s disappointing World Cup title defence. Up top, Sergio Agüero’s brace carried City past Chelsea. Agüero has far too much quality to be replaced by Gabriel Jesus.
City’s attack will always create important chances to win the match, but their defence must be held together. Sitting in front of the defence, Fernandinho will likely be responsible for tracking the runs made by Arsenal’s frightening trio behind Lacazette.
As for Arsenal, Emery will be dependent on Özil to produce the goods for a proper attacking trio while fulfilling his defensive responsibilities. No passengers can be afforded against this calibre of opposition, and the German magician is in a side with the requisite talent to replace him if he doesn’t step up this season.
Should both sides perform to their ability in all areas of the pitch, the gap between these two outfits is not reflective of the unbelievable 46-point margin that separated them last season. Wenger’s effort to lure Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang to the Emirates could be his final blessing to the North London club.
However, it would be unfair not to give Manchester City the edge in this match; Gündoğan and Silva are spectacular backups to have in midfield, their back four is very settled, and the front three will be confident of unsettling an Arsenal back four whose quality is not quantifiable in the slightest.
Prediction: Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal