After an early, largely unwanted, break for international matches, the Premier League returns with a bang on Saturday with a heavyweight contest between champions Manchester City and title hopefuls Arsenal at the Emirates Stadium. The new season may be just three matches old, but neither team will want to countenance a defeat after already dropping unwanted points.
The two sides met just a month ago when Arsenal won 3-0 at Wembley in the Community Shield with a triumph that inspired much confidence for the season ahead for Arsene Wenger’s men. But things have not gone smoothly since. Champions League qualification was nervily secured, yet points were dropped against Everton and Leicester City. A point after coming from behind against an Everton side they had been soundly beaten by last time out was certainly credible, but a failure to beat newly promoted Leicester was less so. The bigger fact is that in none of Arsenal’s five competitive matches this season have they produced a complete performance.
Arsenal’s early season suffered a real blow when key striker Olivier Giroud was ruled out for the rest of 2014 with an ankle injury. His presence was clearly missed at the King Power Stadium, increasing the pressure on Wenger to add to his striking options before the close of the transfer window. In the dying hours he responded with the £16 million signing of Danny Welbeck from Manchester United. His debut is now set to come against the local rivals of his boyhood club. With Yaya Sanogo still looking extremely raw and the side struggling with Alexis Sanchez as an unorthodox leader of the line, Welbeck currently looks the best bet.
Welbeck’s footballing intelligence and heavy contribution to the overall team performance should fit in well at the Emirates, although the question remains whether his finishing will be enough to provide Arsenal with the goals they need. He certainly gave Arsenal fans a reason for optimism on Monday, though, when scoring both of England’s goals in a 2-0 win over Switzerland.
In contrast to Arsenal, Manchester City trimmed their attacking contingent on deadline day when allowing Alvaro Negredo to go on loan to Valencia in a deal that is likely to be made permanent. And the forward options for Manuel Pellgrini could be further diminished at the Emirates with Stevan Jovetic being forced to miss Montenegro’s Euro 2016 qualifier with Moldova after suffering a hamstring injury in training. After being plagued by injuries in his first season at the Etihad, Jovetic had made a strong start to the campaign, particularly when scoring twice in a 3-1 over Liverpool. If Jovetic is ruled out on Saturday, Pellegrini will be left with Edin Dzeko and Sergio Aguero as his only fit forwards.
It is a match that City can ill afford to lose, having suffered a shock home defeat to Stoke City last time out. With Chelsea having hit the ground running and having taken maximum points from their first three games, City will be desperate not to lose further ground.
Saturday’s match may see an early return to the Emirates for Bacary Sagana, after the France international right-back ended seven years at Arsenal when joining City on a free transfer in the summer. There will also be much interest in whether there will be a first sighting of City’s biggest signing of the summer transfer window, Elliaquim Mangala. The former Porto central defender has yet to feature and Pellegrini has said that the young Frenchman will have to prove his worth to earn a place over captain Vincent Kompany or Martin Demichelis.
“He is only 23 so he can still improve a lot, which is what we were looking for,” he said last week, reports Sky Sports. “We are helping him to settle here in Manchester and after the international break he will be able to play.
“We need the three of them. Like I have said about the strikers, it’s the same with the defenders. We have so many games to play. At the moment Demichelis and Kompany are playing well but that doesn’t mean that Mangala can’t play as well. He will have his time to play, and then it will depend on his performances for the team.”
Prediction: Neither side has hit top gear this season, but must perform in what is already an important match. If City are at their best, and Yaya Toure is tuned in, then they can overpower Arsenal in the center of midfield. Arsenal will also face a challenge to keep tabs on David Silva, who can drift between the lines and really make his side tick. But on home soil and boosted by a debut for Welbeck, Arsenal could battle to secure a point as they did in the same fixture last season.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City