Arsène Wenger wants his Arsenal side to show they have learned from last season’s horror shows against the Premier League’s big guns when Manchester City visit the Emirates Stadium on Saturday. Arsenal lost heavily against City, Liverpool, Chelsea, and Everton last season to emphatically derail their challenge for the Premier League title. While all those defeats came away from home, Wenger believes even hosting the title holders gives Arsenal an early chance to show that they have grown.
“It’s an opportunity to show that we have improved, because the year before it was completely the opposite and last year it was like that,” he said in his pre-match press conference. “We have now the opportunity to show that we have grown as a team. That we are more mature and were ready for a fight. It gives us credibility and confidence to do well. The Premier League this year is very, very important for us and of course a game against Manchester City at home become then a very important game.”
While Wenger stated that the result would not be overly important mathematically, both teams’ early results mean further dropped points would deal a significant blow. Arsenal could take some belief from their fight back, if not their overall performance, in a 2-2 draw with Everton, but there was very little positive to glean from being held 1-1 by newly promoted Leicester City before the international break. It was a match where Arsenal’s lack of firepower following a long-term injury to Olivier Giroud was all too evident. And Wenger moved to address the deficiency with a deadline-day move for Danny Welbeck from Manchester United. On the back of two goals for England during the week, Welbeck is in contention to make his debut on Saturday.
In contrast, after missing out on signing Radamel Falcao, City’s only deadline-day activity was to loan striker Alvaro Negredo to Valencia. It was a move that may well have left manager Manuel Pellegrini with fewer strikers than he would consider ideal. And the somewhat precarious nature of their situation has been shown with an injury to Stevan Jovetic. After a fine start to the season, the Montenegrin has picked up a hamstring injury while on international duty, though Pellegrini is hopeful that he will be fit to take on Chelsea at home next weekend. Adding to Pellegrini’s concerns is that midfielder Fernando has also suffered an injury and could miss two weeks.
Fernando picked up an initial knock against Stoke City last time out, when Manchester City suffered a rare and stunning loss at home. With Chelsea to come next week after a trip to Bayern Munich in the Champions League on Wednesday, a victory against Arsenal is all the more important.
“We have a number of tough games coming up so it will be a big week for us and therefore we need to win the first of them against Arsenal -- especially having lost our last game at home to Stoke,” Fernandinho, who is likely to come into the team in place of Fernando, said, reports Manchester City’s official website. “Our target is to come back with three points and we’ll be doing everything we can to make sure we do.”
Prediction: While Arsenal won 3-0 in the Community Shield last month, it was a result of little significance with City well below full strength and displaying little intensity. Having neglected to sign a commanding midfielder, Arsenal have failed to address the major deficiency in personnel that led them to be torn apart against City and others last season. As much at fault, though, was Wenger’s laissez-faire tactical approach. If Arsenal again charge forward and leave the base of their midfield vacant, City could certainly take advantage, particularly if Yaya Toure is at the top of his game. But City will also lose balance in their midfield with the absence of the natural holder Fernando.
It may be, though, that this ultimately proves a game from which few conclusions can be drawn. The early kick off time coming off an international break that has left both teams weakened by injuries -- Aaron Ramsey is likely to be out for Arsenal -- coupled with important Champions League fixtures upcoming in midweek could mean a draw will be enough to appease both managers.
Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City
Kickoff time: 7.45 a.m. EDT
TV channel: NBCSN
Live stream: NBC Sports Live Extra