Laying down a marker - Manchester City vs Arsenal Preview
Pep Guardiola and Manchester City this weekend will be playing host to his former assistant in Mikel Arteta and his own struggling Arsenal. Master v apprentice, champions against underachievers, this tie has been incredibly one-sided, at least in the league, for the past few seasons. And in a week in which City have simply not been off Sky Sports News with their transfers dealings, getting back to the football will be very welcome to all at the Etihad Stadium.
After a tricky visit to North London to play Spurs on opening day where the Blues lost 1-0 before destroying Norwich 5-0 without barely leaving second gear, this game is one where City will be determined to push on. Beating Norwich 5-0 isn't exactly the marker that City need to lay down and begin to demonstrate what they're capable of, whether or not a new striker is coming to Manchester.
City new boy Jack Grealish celebrates his first goal for City in his home debut against Norwich City. He was one of four separate goal-scorers in the game for City after Tim Krul gifted City an opener with an own goal.
City put in a professional performance against Norwich City with Aymeric Laporte, Gabriel Jesus, and Kyle Walker all making their first start of the season - and them all being key to the victory! Jesus and Walker linked up exceptionally on the right and Guardiola has even admitted since that both he and Jesus see the player as more of a winger, with young Spaniard Ferran Torres moving into more of a centre forward role as he is seen as the better finisher by the City boss.
The team will be looking to replicate the sort of performance they had against Norwich here and want to pile on the pressure to Arsenal, who currently sit in the relegation zone. However, despite Arteta's links to City, having been key to their success in both title wins of 17/18 and 18/19, there is little room for sentimentality here, especially so early in the season where the Blues want a fast start. They don't want to repeat the mistakes they did at the start of last season where goals were few and far between and they dropped points every other week. City are already 3 points behind some of the other challengers in Liverpool and Chelsea and will want to make those the only points dropped for a long time.
Gabriel Jesus racked up two assists v Norwich playing out wide on the right, a position where the player feels more comfortable and will be hoping to push on after a personally disappointing campaign last time out.
Aside from Kevin De Bruyne and Phil Foden, who are still recovering from the injuries that have restricted them since the Euros, City have a near fully fit squad to pick from.
Guardiola said after the game last week that "the guys who played good today are going to play the next game", in particular reference to Aymeric Laporte who scored his first goal at the Etihad. However, Jesus and Walker will surely be included in that list of players deserving of consecutive starts after top-level performances last week as well. I would expect Riyad Mahrez to be involved in this game as well, he completed a full pre-season with City and looks to be continuing his fine form from the end of the last campaign.
Predicted XI: Ederson; Walker, Dias, Laporte, Zinchenko; Rodri, Gundogan, Bernardo; Jesus, Ferran, Mahrez.
Opposition: Arsenal have endured a terrible start to the season. Losing 2-0 away to newly-promoted Brentford and then losing 2-0 to London rivals Chelsea at home with Chelsea's new signing and former City target Romelu Lukaku putting in a dominating performance against the Gunners. Without European football this season, Arsenal have to improve and the fans are simply getting fed up. They've spent £130,000,000 this summer on new signings including £50,000,000 on English central defender Ben White as well as buying a new goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale from relegated Sheffield United. They also acquired defensive midfielder Albert Sambi Lonkonga from Vincent Kompany's Anderlecht and he has played from the start in both of their league games so far. Arsenal did beat Championship leaders West Bromwich Albion 6-0 in the Carabao Cup this week, with a strong XI. Striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored a hat trick against the Baggies to open his account for the 21/22 season and he will be expected to start at the Etihad too. Martin Odegaard made his first start upon his return to Arsenal in the same game and I would expect him to join England star Bukayo Saka in the attack. Arteta has stuck with a back 4 in his three games so far this campaign and despite using a back 5 against City in previous games between the clubs, I expect he'll stick with the 4 for now - especially with the absence of Ben White through Covid.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Leno; Chambers, Holding, Mari, Tierney; Xhaka, Sambi Lokonga; Saka, Odegaard, Smith-Rowe; Aubameyang.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been Arsenal's main man since joining in 2018 and will be looking to increase his goal tally at the Etihad.
Match Officials: Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: Lee Betts and Richard West
Fourth official: Andy Madley
VAR: Darren England
Assistant VAR: Peter Kirkup Atkinson last refereed Manchester City in February where the Blues ran out 2-0 winners away to Burnley.
Manchester City v Arsenal will be broadcast on BT Sport 1 in the UK, with coverage starting at 11.30 pm BST and kick off at 12.30 pm BST.