Manchester City dropped 14 points last season. They lost two matches and drew four. I knew they were amazing last year but I hadn’t really thought about that run. Arsenal’s Invincibles season they had 12 draws aka dropped 24 points. I’ve included a quick graphic of ManCity’s roster below. The text below the image links back to their Wikipedia page.
When you look over ManCity’s roster there are a few things that stick out immediately. First for me is the talent. They are stacked everywhere. They have multiple starting-caliber players everywhere. I’ll hear an argument for Fernandinho being older with no clear replacement. The tale of finding a replacement 6 is long and storied. The next thing that I see is the experience. They have bags of caps. Seven guys on the roster with over 100 appearances for the club. They have multiple scary goal threats. They only have a handful of guys who run out of contract at the end of the current season. Three that I see. One is a youth player so his deal will essentially just roll-over. One is Kompany and I’m sure they’ll let him play on one-year deals till he wants to retire or they will allow him to sign a big money deal elsewhere at the end of the season. The City Football Group owns several other clubs throughout the world so if they wanted to let Vincent go elsewhere they could or he could go to a deep-pocketed club for one last pay-check. The other on the final year is Mangala and he hasn’t really lived up to the hype or the transfer fee. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if he walks. There is always hope he could find his game and renew. No one can pay him more than City so there is that too. The last thing that sticks out to me is the transfer fees. These are just the reported fees on freaking Wikipedia. Only nine people on this roster have come to the team for less than £10m, yeah you read that correctly £10m. One of those was Komany who transferred to the team in 2008 when fees weren’t quite to the current level. Four (Denayer, Diaz, Foden, and Grimshaw) are academy graduates. One came on a free (Gomes) and is a youth player. Two were acquired at the end of their respective youth contracts (Sandler and Zinchenko). The ninth player acquired for less than £10m is Fabian Delph who came to City from Aston Villa. Villa was in the midst of major financial turmoil and Delph wanted out. That’s a talented, experienced, dangerous and spendy roster. The depth on this club would start at most clubs in the Premier League.
I played soccer when I was younger stopped in my middle school years and came back to it via a good friend in college. When I was getting back into soccer in 2002 my teams where Arsenal, Manchester City (my non-big 4 club) and DC United. (Side note if you haven’t seen Rooney’s play from last night get on it.) I’ve had a soft spot in my heart for City for years. I used to get tapes of Claudio Renya bossing for City sent to me from my now father-in-law then girl-friends Dad when I was in college. Haven’t been a huge fan of the City Football Group coming in and spending boatloads of money but that’s soccer and we all need to accept it. Me not getting too worked up by a loss to City is because I see their roster, their manager, the cycle they are currently in mid-crest of and the infrastructure the team has put in place behind the first-team. They are good, scary good and it should be exciting to watch them run through the Premier League this year. I hope they can hold their own in Europe too.
Last year in the same fixture Arsenal lost 3-0 at home to City. When the City machine was humming. This year going into this fixture I wasn’t expecting much to be honest. I wanted to see a draw. I assumed Arsenal would still be feeling out their balance under a new manager and City would be starting to prime the pump on defending their title. What I expected is essentially what happened.
I haven’t done a right and proper preview for Arsenal yet this year. I should just so I can get my thoughts out of my head and really focus on the roster. There is legit talent on this roster. There are holes, clearly and areas where reinforcements are needed. I was glad to see a few key pieces picked up over the summer and I’m also glad to see that Emery hasn’t done a wholesale changeover. This way Emery should be able to feel out of the squad completely and start making moves in the subsequent transfer windows. When I saw the lineups I was surprised and excited to see new faces. Left-back was going to be a worry with the current injury situation. The reports out over the weekend that Welbeck has been training at left-back turned out to be a smoke-screen that I’m guessing Pep didn’t bite on anyway.
The match wasn’t nearly and clean and crisp as one would hope for two teams vying for the top end of the table. City makes sense to me because its a long season and they don’t want to grind down guys that played deeper into the World Cup. Arsenal also made sense due to the number of new faces. As I’m not really focused on City here is where I stop breaking down their game closely. I’ll mention some things but mainly I’m focused on Arsenal herein.
The line-up deserves some ink. The back-line will be a question all year long. As Koz deals with injuries the center back pairings will have to be more creative. Koz is coming tough injury with the achilies tear. Sadly, his best football might be behind him. Even when he returns to “full” health I’m hoping the team doesn’t play him twice a week and basically gives him ample time between matches to recover. In the center of the back-line Mustafi becomes the most important player. His health, form, and performance will be a tell-tale for the club this season. Sokratis Papastathopoulos got his first cap in this match. I didn’t hate what I saw for the most part. There were a few timing issues early. Set pieces seemed much cleaner than we’ve seen in years for the Arsenal defense. Sok mistimed a tackle for his yellow but at least he did it outside of the box. The other options at CB are Rob Holding (who I’m good with rotationally), Konstantinos Mavropanos (who I haven’t seen), Nacho (currently injured and better outside), Sead Kolasinac (currently injured and I’m not sure if he’s better outside or inside), Carl Jenkinson (who is hopefully still getting loaned for playing time) and Stephan Lichtsteiner (who is new to the club but is primarily known as an outside back). I didn’t list Hector Bellerin as a potential inside man because right now in his career he’s an outside back or a flanker. Bellerin’s pace is one of his key weapons, putting him anywhere in the lineup that doesn’t allow for him to blaze limits his potential. Would I rather see him in central defense than say Ramsey or Welbeck, yeah sure. At that point in time I’m hoping we’d just be going into the youth squad for bodies over playing midfielders out of position.
Playing midfielders out of position is what we did do with Ainsley Maitland-Niles by sliding him over Welbeck into the left-back spot. I had assumed Lichtsteiner would take the left-back spot with Nacho and Sead out injured. That’s probably what will have to happen with Ainsley getting hurt during this match. The reports seem to be that its minor and he should be back soon. While I will agree that Ainsley has more to give in terms of top-end talent to reach at this point in their careers. Lichtsteiner represents a defender who is known for having great fitness. To me when you are lining up against a team with weapons across the pitch getting another solid defender out there makes some sense. I also understand the vibe on getting Ainsley minutes regardless. It didn’t work this time. Ainsley made it 35 minutes. In that time Kyle Walker gave him a few fits, including the play Ainsley got hurt on, and Ainsley didn’t really show much in the attacking half. Mahrez most dangerous play came when he had cut inside but there was still space for Mahrez to attack because Ainsley wasn’t going to allow himself to be beat long.
Sokratis got the nod in central defense. I think the more interesting aspect was that it was a back-four and not a back three. There are so many talented midfielders on this team that I had sort of assumed that we’d see a back three with Bellerin and Ainsley/Lichtsteiner at the wingbacks. Who would lineup in the back three? The two we had and then I’m not sure. Maybe Lichtsteiner would’ve been the sensible third in the back. Bellerin seems much more comfortable in a back-four. That doesn’t really make sense to me as I see him as a threat getting forward. Maybe I see a wingback as having more flexibility than they actually do. The initial lineup sans Ainsley made sense given the options.
The midfield and forward pairing I understood too. Aubameyang got the start. If the 3-5-2 had happened then Auba and Lacazette together would’ve made some sense. In the 4-5-1 variation Arsenal lined-up, Auba was solo up-top. The real surprise was Guendouzi starting in the second holding role. Guendouzi next to Xhaka shielding the defense showed a lot of faith in the young Frenchmen. Did it really make sense to play Guendouzi against Man City on the first day of the season? For as solid as he looked he was involved in the ManCity goals but if he wasn’t they would’ve been set-pieces or completely blown assignments. If you watch the Silva goal you won’t see Guendouzi and that’s because he wasn’t sprinting back into his position. Xhaka is there to shield on the right-side and Guendouzi is late to the scene. Not saying the space Silva found to score from was clearly Guendouzi’s but if he had busted it back it might’ve been at least a more difficult goal. On the first goal, Bellerin passes Sterling off to Guendouzi and its all happening on the edge of the box and for me that’s a guy not completely confident to get stuck-in in that position on the field. This is the first match I’ve watched Guendouzi but before I had taken him more as a creative midfielder or as a box-to-box or number 8 not as an out and out 6 in the holding role. That speaks to how difficult it is to really know a player until you’ve seen them. For the initial lineup, I would have assumed Torreira would’ve been paired with Xhaka to give the spine to players with real defensive attributes. Xhaka hasn’t really lived up to the hype of his arrival but he’s shown quality and the ability to expand his game. As it was constituted I’m not sure who the water-carrier for this team is when Ramsey isn’t on the pitch. Ozil linked up with the defense but he didn’t nor does he boss the midfield. Ramsey is a competent 8 but making runs into the box is a strength of his when he’s on form. Guendouzi as the 8 would slide Torreira into the second 6 role or just take the formation from a 4-2-3-1 to more of a 4-1-1-3-1. I’m guessing that is more of the plan. I’d still prefer to see Torreira on the pitch with either Xhaka or Guendouzi in that 8 role. I don’t dislike Mkhitaryan but I am not sold on him to date. Last year I felt like he came in as a guy that was being under-utilized at ManU in that part-swap for Lexi so Wenger had to play him to show why the trade made sense. The money spent on him in transfer fees and wages to me would still feel better spent on Mahrez and possibly Mahrez was never willing to come. Mkhi just feels like a good footballer that doesn’t have that world-beater quality just a lot of great qualities. Ozil can outpass just about anyone on the planet. If Mkhi’s best quality is passing isn’t that a bit of an overlap? Wouldn’t pace on that flank change games more too? Give more interplay with Auba? Laca or Auba could start on that left flank and give a goal-scoring threat with pace. Ainsley could also slide up that high in the formation. Granted I need to give Mkhi a few more matches to see really what he is all about and I hope I’m eating crow in a month or two.
The attack is where I felt Arsenal were going to hang their hat this year. Auba, Laca, Ozil, Mkhi and Ramsey to name a few create option in the attacking third that not many teams have. Granted City does but as I covered before City dropped 14 points last year, and they are a unicorn. We can’t hold ourselves up to City today as an apples to apples we can aspire to beat them but the talent isn’t level today. When the talent isn’t level the game plan needs to make up the difference. I didn’t see the plan to put City to the sword. I didn’t see the plan to stifle them either. While I still like our attacking talent on the roster I want to see more creative means to apply the talent. We need to stretch the capabilities to reach the top four. Mere 10-goal seasons from Auba and Laca won’t cut it.
Starting off the new era against ManCity and Chelsea sucks. I don’t think we’ll see the real formation till after those fixtures. After those two fixtures the Gunners get some air and a little bit of room to develop an identity. I had hoped to see a plan from Emery to snuff out City. Play on the counter, use speed to switch the field or just suck up as much of the possession as possible. Instead I felt like the team came out at home to play their brand of football. Honestly, there is something to be said about this strategy too. When you are at home you play your game. City is a juggernaut but when you are at home you play your game. I think Emery was saying something here too. There were chances. Ramsey miss-hit a ball early that ended up just dribbling on frame. Auba had a chance when it was 1-0 and put it five yards wide of the frame. Then when it was 2-0 he had a similar look and found the same result. Chances like these will get converted as the season progresses. Not at 100% rate but they’ll become goals instead of frustrations. The plan through the midfield and the attack will have to be defined. Will this be the beautiful passing game Wenger initially brought or will it be more of a probing slower build that I saw from PSG most recently. Emery gets time and space to develop his Arsenal brand. Game one against City will not be where he is judged. Game two against Chelsea won’t be either. Chelsea are in the midst of a chaotic run. A new manager who was hired late into the summer. The first choice keeper sent out to Real only after a young unknown was brought in for insane sums. I’m looking for more tactically from Emery into match-day two than I felt I received in match-day one. Some of the tactics may have been shaped by the available players. I like Ramsey more than Mkhi so I’m biased there but taking Ramsey off for Laca felt like the wrong play. Maybe I didn’t see a knock or a few questionable plays from Ramsey. I’m not watching the entire field so I’m not sure if players are in the positions they have been coached to be within. I saw a lack of midfield presence until Torreira came on in the 70th. Torreira’s presence from the 70th on had me feeling like he’s a starter if his fitness is where it needs to be.
I didn’t see a plan B once the plan A wasn’t working. The play off the bench in the attack seems to be to just add more of the same. Iwobi and Welbeck are both fast less proven version of Laca and Auba respectively. The past few years Arsenal have had Giroud and that’s a clear plan B option. If you start Giroud putting on pace is a clear plan B. You don’t have to roster a battering ram to have a plan be. Just moving Ozil and Mkhi from the attacking wing position into a 10 role changes things too. Putting the pace on the outside is a change too. Once Emery saw that Ozil and Mkhi weren’t going to break-through I would’ve like to see a reshaping of the midfield. They both worked more centrally by the numbers but then the team lost its width and became easier to funnel.
Going forward let’s hope we have a little different focus in the midfield. There are lots of potential attacking options but we need to find our 8 and we need to see if we have depth. If we don’t have depth we need to realign the midfield. If there isn’t faith in Ramsey and Xhaka the fall back is Elneny and youth. Youth got run on Sunday but it didn’t positively change the game.
The final thought goes to the keeper. I didn’t see the horrible errors that Twitter was spotting in Cech’s day. The odd clearance in front of the goal-mouth was questionable. Doesn’t really make sense to give Leno his first start on the opening day against ManCity either. When Arsenal signed Leno for £19.2m he was brought in to push Cech. Cech is the vice-captain so with that he gets the nets to start. Cech has been a great addition for Arsenal. The last few years he has saved the club from a worse fall from grace. Until our central defense is squared up and we have the holding midfield sorted I’m fine with Cech getting burn. If Cech has some howlers then we have Leno to push him. Leno will get plenty of time in the various cup competitions. The last few years Ospina has seen plenty of caps when he wasn’t worthy of it anymore. Let’s let Leno and Cech work it out together and find the better keeper in due time. Making a switch in the first week just would’ve felt panicked.