- Arsenal host Man City in an early test of their title credentials on Sunday
- City have won the last 12 meetings but everything could be different this time
- Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s all kicking off!’ Listen to the latest episode of.
When Arsenal beat Manchester City with a late smash and grab in August’s Community Shield, we dared to believe that Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering team might have lost some of its lustre.
Guardiola’s biggest challenge after winning the treble was always going to be raising his players for another exhausting assault on all trophies.
Having invested heavily in new players, Arsenal, who had edged City close in the race for the Premier League title last season, looked best placed to challenge City again.
Their penalty shoot-out win at Wembley after Leonardo Trossard’s 101st-minute equalizer gave everyone in the chasing group optimism.
But City took an early lead in the Championship by winning their first six league games and it looked to be somewhat of the same. There was even talk of him winning every game.
That hypothetical was crushed last weekend when City were surprisingly beaten 2-1 at Wolves as Guardiola watched from the Molineux stands during a one-match suspension.
Although City bounced back in midweek with a 3-1 win over RB Leipzig in the Champions League, there is a real sense that Arsenal could get the better of them at the Emirates on Sunday afternoon.
Many believe this is what they need in the Premier League this season. Cities have such a quality and such an awe factor about them that they can carry the entertainment factor with them.
But the starts made by not only Arsenal but also Tottenham and Liverpool suggest that this may not necessarily be the case.
If Arsenal can hand City a rare second consecutive defeat in the league, we will all prepare for the international fortnight with the true belief that we will be in for an exciting title race.
This would have been a significant psychological blow for the Gunners – before that shoot-out win in the Community Shield, they had lost eight consecutive meetings with City, having conceded 21 times.
The situation is even worse in the Premier League – Arsenal have lost their last 12 meetings with City, scoring only five times and conceding 33 times.
As for putative title rivals, City’s 3-1 and 4-1 wins last season made a mockery of Arsenal’s credentials.
A major source of optimism for Arsenal is the absence of Rodri, who serves the third and final match of his suspension for a tackle on Nottingham Forest’s Morgan Gibbs-White by the throat.
For all of City’s stars, they remain heavily reliant on the Spaniard and his absence was certainly a factor at Wolves last weekend.
According to Opta, City’s loss percentage increased from 13.2 when Rodri is playing to 33 when he is not. His win percentage has dropped from 74.3 to 60 with him.
Rodri doesn’t miss too many matches but when he does it becomes a problem for City. To put it this way, Declan Rice, Thomas Partey and Martin Odegaard will be happy Rodri is missing.
Of course, the city has options. Rico Lewis will likely step into midfield alongside Mateo Kovacic, who did so against Leipzig, but it’s not quite the same.
Another plus for Arsenal is the absence of a real rival – Kevin De Bruyne.
In all meetings, the Belgian star has scored eight goals and five assists in 20 appearances with the Gunners, but he was a real menace last season.
At the Emirates, he scored the opener and set up Erling Haaland for the third. At the Etihad, he netted twice and provided a free-kick from which John Stones headed home a header just before half-time.
De Bruyne thrives in big moments like this easily and Arsenal will be grateful he is out with a hamstring injury.
The bad news is that City always have a good Plan B and recently we have seen Julian Alvarez making quite an impact, creating shots and linking up with Haaland.
21-year-old Jeremy Doku has also been on his home turf for City Blue, scoring and assisting in Germany on Wednesday night.
Of course, Arsenal will need several City players for the off-day, but the absence of Rodri and De Bruyne undoubtedly gives them a big opportunity.
This is affected by the injury Bukayo Saka suffered against Lens in midweek. It remains to be seen whether he will be able to play any role on Sunday and his absence will be a big blow.
The first player to register five goals and five assists in Europe’s top five leagues this season, Saka poses so much threat.
If Saka can’t do that then Fabio Vieira could be pressed into action on the right and wouldn’t really be the same threat.
Games can be won and lost in those straightforward moments and few are better than Saka at taking on defenders. Vieira, being more organized, would not tolerate that danger.
Odegaard and Gabriel Jesus will have to punch holes in City’s strong defensive line.
At Wolves, City’s body language was somewhat lacking. They occasionally have a game they don’t see themselves in.
Arsenal will be hoping their quality will see them through to second, giving them hope of an exciting season.
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