The blockbuster match up of the opening weekend of the Premier League is champions Manchester City coming to the Emirates Stadium to face Arsenal.
Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City broke a number of records last season on their way to 100 points and now face the task of trying to top one of the best seasons of all time. Arsenal limped to their worst finish since 1994-95 and saw their legendary coach Arsene Wenger retire.
Manchester City Drop Attackers into Midfield
The backbone of Manchester City’s title team were Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva; both of whom in most systems would line up as attacking midfielders but in Pep Guardiola’s system were used as more traditional midfielders but with the freedom to attack. Having both start from deep allowed Manchester City to add another attacker to the starting XI while still having numerical superiority in midfield.
This also unlocked De Bruyne and Silva to post some of the best attacking numbers in the league even from a deeper starting position, coming up the second and seventh most highly rated by the Twelve model.
There are a number of questions about this set up going into the season. The biggest question revolves around Fernandinho and if he will continue to be able to carry the defensive load in the midfield allowing for De Bruyne and Silva the freedom to attack. At 33 he is coming to the end of his prime and it is a real concern where Manchester City are still in the market for a potential replacement.
The second big question, and one that is especially important for this match up against Arsenal is will De Bruyne play against Arsenal? He and Raheem Sterling returned to training on Monday, but with just a week of training after a long summer at the World Cup it might not be worth it to risk injury and cohesion for Manchester City.
If the Community Shield is any sort of evidence, even without both of those stars from the World Cup Manchester City look ready to continue where they left off last season.
A new look Arsenal?
For the first time in a long time things are feeling new and exciting at Arsenal. Unai Emery has come in and has looked to shake up some of the tactical underpinnings of the Arsene Wenger era with a much more structured tactical game with increased focus on pressing.
One of the biggest changes that has been apparent from the start of pre-season is that the buildup under Emery is much more focused on the midfielders dropping deep and splitting the center backs instead of looking for the center backs to play penetrating passes to midfielders who have pushed up.
There has also been much more restraint of over committing players going forward. Arsenal will still rely on their full backs to provide width but they have had fewer occasions when both full backs have been ahead of the ball with one of the midfielders dropping into the abandoned space. This seems pretty basic but this was one of the biggest frustrations and meant the Arsenal center backs were defending massive amounts of open space.
With hopefully a more secure base to build on with a bigger focus on the structural defensive issues, Arsenal hope to be driven back to the top four with a potent attack.
Fitting all of the attacking players into the lineup is going to be a tough challenge for Emery. In pre-season he has primarily used a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, and when they have lined up together it has been Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang who has been pushed out to the wide left with Alexandre Lacazette as the main striker.
There is also where to play Mesut Özil in this system. Özil prefers to play as a number 10 but Emery has leaned towards playing a midfield three forcing Özil to the right wing and sacrificing Henrikh Mkhitaryan to the bench. Against Manchester City balancing the needs for a robust midfield against fielding Arsenal’s best attackers will be put to the test.
Even with a squad missing key players from the World Cup, Manchester City have a very large talent edge in this match. I think Emery will have some interesting tactical wrinkles to throw at Guardiola but that ultimately talent will win out.
Prediction: Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City