Two old adversaries take each other on when Unai Emery’s Arsenal host Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City on the opening weekend of the new Premier League season at the Emirates (4pm Sunday, live on Sky Sports).
Emery’s Valencia side posed Guardiola’s Barcelona team some problems in their meetings between 2008 and 2012, particularly on home soil. While Barcelona advanced undefeated through those encounters, with five wins and three draws, that doesn’t tell the whole story.
In the first half of many of those matches, it was Valencia who were the better side. Emery is noted as a meticulous pre-match planner, and he got his initial tactics right on a number of occasions. Three times his sides led into the interval against Barcelona only for Guardiola to adjust things after the break to go on to secure two 2-2 draws and a 2-1 victory.
Those matches presented a microcosm of the strengths and weaknesses of Emery, the man entrusted with following Arsene Wenger’s 22-year reign at Arsenal’s helm. He is a detail-orientated coach who prepares thoroughly and provides his players with clear instructions, but one who also sometimes struggles to react effectively to the changing shape of a match.
He is, though, a relatively safe pair of hands for Arsenal as they transition from a model in which Wenger had the large majority of power to one where responsibility is more evenly spread. Emery has very much come in to be the head coach, leaving former Borussia Dortmund scout Sven Mislintat to oversee recruitment.
Arsenal’s summer business has been promising. Lucas Torreira offers a good mix of application and quality at the base of midfield. Bernd Leno provides very strong competition for Petr Cech between the posts and Stephan Lichtsteiner, on a free transfer, provides needed steel and experience. Sokratis Papastathopoulos is a less obvious improvement on what was previously available in the centre of defence.
In addition to the January arrivals Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, it gives Emery a squad who should be capable of playing the relatively intense, quick-transition football that has served him well in the past, particularly at Sevilla. Encounters with Man City and Chelsea in Arsenal’s first two fixtures of the season do, though, give him little time in settle in.
Man City are much more comfortable in their own skin after securing last season’s Premier League title in dominant and record-breaking fashion, and began the new campaign in a similar vein by securing a comfortable 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield. Sergio Aguero scored early into both halves as City emerged victorious in a confident display.
It was a performance that augured well for their hopes of becoming the first team in a decade to defend the Premier League trophy successfully. Much of their big spending was done last summer in a bid to overhaul an ageing squad. It is a largely settled group who will confront the task of balancing a title defence with a deeper run in the Champions League.
Riyad Mahrez is the only big name signing and adds to the attacking options at Guardiola’s disposal, but the large majority of improvement is likely to come from within the existing squad – one of the youngest in the Premier League.
Bernando Silva looked very sharp in the Community Shield and could be a more decisive presence this season. Benjamin Mendy will provide greater attacking thrust from left-back after missing most of the previous campaign through injury. Young midfielder Phil Foden impressed against Chelsea and could have an increased role if City elect not to loan him out.
In short, Man City are looking very strong ahead of the new season. Even if they fail to hit exactly the same heights in the league, they had enough of a margin over the chasing pack last time out to suggest that their status as the odds-on favourites for the Premier League title title with the big bookies is well-deserved.
Guardiola’s side will fancy their chances of ruining Emery’s debut on Sunday. Even if Arsenal have the better initial game plan, Guardiola has a wealth of options to change things and eventually get the better of his Spanish compatriot. Man City won 3-0 in last season’s equivalent fixture, and while their winning margin is unlikely to be as significant this time around, they can still be expected to begin their title defence by taking all three points.
Our Preview’s Man City vs. Arsenal Betting Tips Verdict
- Bet on Manchester City to win @ 19/20 with Betfair.