Defending Premier League champions Manchester City got their title defense underway with a 2-0 defeat of Arsenal at the Emirates. In Arsenal’s first game in over two decades without Arsene Wenger at the helm, the Gunners looked sloppy in possession but created a number of chances against the Citizens. Raheem Sterling scored a deflected strike in the 14th minute that curled into the bottom corner, and Bernardo Silva doubled the lead in the second half, when he placed a cross from Benjamin Mendy into the top of the net. Arsenal carved out some opportunities as well, with Hector Bellerín nearly scoring off a volley in the first half and Alexandre Lacazette squandering several chances after the break.
City Come to Play
City didn’t start Kevin de Bruyne, Leroy Sane, or David Silva but still managed to dominate a top-6 team. Pep’s system is in such full swing that players can be placed out of position and still function at the top of their game. This ability to rotate will be very key in their Champions League and FA Cup runs as well. This is the start of City’s third year under Guardiola, while Arsenal are obviously just beginning under Unai Emery. It’s hard to remember that teams need time and match experience to fully implement the system of their manager, and City’s season two years ago demonstrates that. Arsenal are a bit unlucky, as they open their season against City and Chelsea, while City play Arsenal and then every promoted team from this season and last. Hopefully Arsenal can use this game as a lesson of what went well and what went wrong. City lost 4-0 to Everton and 4-2 to Leicester at home in Pep’s first season, so it is important to contextualize.
Unai’s Lineup Dilemma
I was shocked to see Matteo Guendouzi starting in the center of the park this match, and I didn’t expect Petr Cech to start either. While Guendouzi made some key errors, he was far and away Arsenal’s best midfielder on the day (and maybe even Arsenal’s best player), registering more touches than any other field player. He was active in the tackle, and he looked fairly comfortable in possession, despite accidentally sending Sergio Aguero free off a misplaced touch. While Guendouzi played well, Petr Cech almost scored two calamitous own goals. and the Czech looked shaky from the off. He made several important saves, but his distribution was terrible. I would hope to see Bernd Leno against Chelsea next week. Additionally, with Ainsley Maitland-Niles going down injured, Arsenal have no fit left backs, as Nacho Monreal and Sead Kolasinac are still sidelined. Stephan Lichtsteiner looked good as his replacement today despite being played out of position on the left, so there is hope yet for the Gunners.
Arsene Wenger’s Legacy
Manchester City’s traveling fans chanted about departed legend Arsene Wenger multiple times throughout the match, and every time those chants rung out Arsenal fans would chant back in full force: “Arsene Wenger, he’s won more than you!” It’s nice to see Arsenal fans remembering him fondly at this point, even during a match that was less than satisfactory.