THE BIG GAME: ARSENAL VS MANCHESTER CITY

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Arsenal and Manchester City kick off their Premier League seasons with a Super Sunday clash. For new boss Unai Emery, it is a daunting visit from the defending champions Manchester City. An intriguing tactical battle between Emery and Pep Guardiola promises to follow.

Hrishikesh Anand (Arsenal) and Zachary Wu (Manchester City) lay down the rule on their respective teams.

Firstly, how did your club’s pre-season go?

Hrishikesh Anand: Arsenal had the luxury of having most of their stars available during their pre-season tour to Singapore and Europe. The likes of Lacazette and Bellerin weren’t called up for the World Cup while Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Ramsey play for countries that didn’t qualify. This enabled new boss Emery to have over a month with most of his side, trying to implement his tactical philosophies. Mesut Ozil arrived a bit later following Germany’s early World Cup exit but was able to make the trip to Singapore as well. The only absentees for the majority of pre-season were Xhaka and new signings Lichtsteiner and Torreira. Arsenal concluded their friendlies without having lost a game in 90 minutes – not really an effective indicator of the quality and cohesion of the side but a positive nonetheless.

Zachary Wu: With so many internationals on holiday after the WC, many youths played the pre-season. Many of them would have little to no impact on the upcoming season, being inexperienced and not suited to Pep’s system. However, a duo has definitely caught mine (and Pep’s eye). Foden and Brahim Diaz should get more minutes with the first team this season. The duo played well in the Shield, Foden getting the ball forward effectively and getting an assist while Diaz showed no fear taking on defenders. Pep values Foden pretty highly, considering the fact that he did not sign another midfielder after Jorginho rejected us. Foden’s press resistance and ability to play under pressure are values Pep values highly as they’re integral to his system.

What XI would you like to see take the field?

HA: It’s difficult to predict what starting XI Emery will go for in his first competitive game in charge. Pre-season did not really provide a clear idea about the entire side but certain players seem assured to start against City. There are also a few fitness concerns for the side. Ramsey missed a few training sessions with a calf problem and Kolasinac has been ruled out for two months. Xhaka, Torreira and Lichtsteiner only began training with the side last week while Monreal has a slight niggle as well.

Arsenal’s defense is genuinely worrying to say the least but in attack the Gunners boast a quartet of world class players in Aubameyang, Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Lacazette. A clean sheet seems highly unlikely but the top-heavy line-up has the potential to outscore most opponents. I’d prefer a XI of:

Leno; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles; Xhaka, Torreira, Ramsey;  Mkhitaryan, Ozil, Aubameyang

ZW: Of course, my preferred XI is to get the WC players back in action but it might just come too soon for them. The lineup could be very similar to the Community Shield lineup, with perhaps Gundogan replacing Foden. The starting XI will most likely be:

Ederson; Walker, Stones, Laporte, Mendy; Gundogan, Fernandinho; Mahrez, Bernardo Silva, Sane; Aguero

Going into the season, what is the likely impact of your club’s transfer(s)?

HA: Arsenal have had a very busy transfer window. The signing of Torreira is a particularly smart move by Emery. The young Uruguayan will bring bite and physicality to the midfield, while maintaining positional discipline. Bernd Leno was signed from Bayer Leverkusen and looks likely to replace the ageing Petr Cech. The German is a good stopper and comfortable with the ball at his feet, something Cech frequently struggled with. Lichtsteiner was signed to provide cover for Bellerin and lend his experience to the side. Matteo Guendouzi was very impressive in pre-season but its unlikely he starts before acclimatising to English football. Sokratis arriving from Dortmund was an odd signing after he had a sub-par season with Dortmund last year. But given the lack of experience in the defensive department, he’ll most likely start at the back for Emery’s side.

ZW: With Mahrez incoming, Bernardo Sliva could take on a more central role, like how he played in the No 10 role during the Community Shield, having been used almost exclusively in wide positions last season. Mahrez isn’t going to change how we play though, as Guardiola has his philosophy and blueprint on how he intends to play. Mahrez will add quality to 1 vs 1 situations and greater depth to our squad, allowing for rotation.

In your opinion, which tactical choice is likely to impact the game?

HA: Arsenal’s midfield setup is the most crucial aspect of the game if they want to avoid being overrun by the defending champions. City have world class options in midfield even without De Bruyne and Arsenal need to be completely focused on shielding the defense and closing down their opponents before the likes of Bernardo Silva and David Silva can work their magic. It’s still unclear if Xhaka and Torreira are fit enough to start but if they are, both should be in the starting eleven. Ramsey should start if fit as well, just to offer an industrious presence behind the silky Ozil. Arsenal should look to be more proactive in their pressing and crowd the midfield to prevent City from finding space. The Achilles’ heel under Wenger was the languid and timid approach to big games, a key psychological aspect that Emery should look to correct as early as possible.

ZW: Guardiola will be deliberating on how to set up in possession, whether to stick to the half back system that brought so much success last season, or the lopsided build-up system used in the Shield. Walker had tucked in to play as a third centre-back while Mendy pushed ahead in a 3-2-4-1 formation. With Emery most likely setting up in a 4-4-2/4-5-1 deep block, it will be crucial to manipulate the space behind the attackers and then attack the centre midfielders, overloading them. Another route would be out wide, where our wingers can take advantage of their qualitative superiority in 1 vs 1 scenarios to meet their man and get all sorts of crosses into the box.

Which player would you take from the opposition?

HA: Kevin De Bruyne has arguably been the best attacking midfielder in the world over the past two seasons and I’d love to have him in Arsenal’s midfield.

ZW: I would taka Xhaka. He’s a player that can play incisive passes from deep while under pressure, something Fernandinho is lacking.

Lastly, what are your predictions for the game?

HA: This marquee game should be full of goals so here’s predicting a 2-2 draw.

ZW: City to win, but not being in top form, will edge it out just slightly.

BY HRISHIKESH ANAND AND ZACHARY WU