Manchester City Preview: A Brand New Optimism. Ish.

When you reach a certain point in your life, the opening day of the season becomes a blur. No, I haven’t forgotten that 1988 day when we thrashed Wimbledon 5 – 1.

On and off the pitch, it was a day of extremes. Meeting the late great Bobby Moore followed by the immediate low of Terry Gibson. And he was low; extremely short. Wandering unchallenged through the dressing room area at Plough Lane; football in a different era.

Today is a new era. Welcome to Arsenal, Unai Emery. The first opening day of the season in 21 years. A 1 – 1 draw at Leeds was Arsène’s maiden August adventure for the club, the precursor to better things. We won’t reach those heights this season, or at least I don’t think we will, but it will be different.

It will, Unai, won’t it?

Tell me you won’t tolerate the pathetic capitulations we endured against Manchester City last season?

The start is as tough as could be inflicted on any manager at a new club, let alone one new to the English game. Meticulous preparation won Emery the job at Arsenal and is the hallmark of his career. He’ll be ready for the onslaught; will the players?

City won’t know what to expect. None of the friendlies gave much away. They kept us guessing, but did watching scouts pick out more? Probably. No more pass to retain possession so the opposition can’t score; now it’s dynamic, counter-attacking football, utilising pace and guile. I hope.

Direct, they call it. You can tell the person’s age when they say that. Anyone old enough to watch football in the 80s and 90s when Charles Hughes held sway shudders when they describe football that way. But tika-taka lite is dead, ready for the binmen to collect it.

Heel, Achilles, Heel

It’s widely accepted Ainsley Maitland-Niles is the stand-in left-back and what he loses in experience, he recovers in pace. Which he’ll need against City’s attack in what will be a busy afternoon.

Our Achilles heel is the centre of the defence. We lack a commanding centre-back but acquired a defensive barrier in Lucas Torreira. How much difference that makes is one of the key aspects of the afternoon?

The Uruguayan impressed in the destructive role during the World Cup and eases the pressure on Xhaka. Yes, the Swiss has to defend but he’s not the sole barrier between the attacking hordes and a creaking defence, allowing his natural game to come to the fore.

And free up Ramsey. I would expect Aubameyang to play as a sole striker today with Mkhitaryan on the left, offering some protection for AMN with Ramsey on the other flank providing the same for Bellerin. Both full-backs were left exposed during pre-season with the Spaniard copping flak for the midfield’s failings. It can’t happen this afternoon; the team needs to press as one unit for it to be effective.

Cech seems likely to lead the side, if divination by press conference works. The notion of five captains in the side certainly fuelled that speculation. Emery’s preferred passing out from the back and use of a ‘sweeper keeper’ behind a high defensive line, puts pressure on Cech. His distribution is hit or miss; too much of the latter previously, but with a new goalkeeping coach,  it’s an area where you expect improvement.

To some, his inclusion raises questions over Leno. Why spend £26m on a player and then not use him? Perhaps with a new central defensive pairing, Emery wants some stability behind them for this match. And next weekend.

Eleven Plus Eleven

Up front, the combination of Aubameyang with Mkhitaryan raises hopes of a rekindled understanding from days gone by. Does Özil feel he has a point to prove to the critics over the summer? The motivation for a season comes in all shapes and forms.

It leaves the line-up:

Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis, Maitland-Niles; Torreira, Xhaka; Ramsey, Özil, Mkhitaryan; Aubameyang

And while our weaknesses are exposed and analysed, City’s are glossed over. Defending champions and a goalscoring machine, the centre of their defence is vulnerable; you’ve just got to get the ball in the first place to do the damage.

We’re going to spend a lot of the afternoon chasing shadows but that doesn’t mean we can’t get a good result today. We’re not favourites by any means but it doesn’t stop us winning. If we go in with an attitude which reeks of defeat, we will lose.

And given this is the first game of the season, surely we should wait at least 90 minutes before weary cynicism kicks in?

Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it.

’til Tomorrow.

143 thoughts on “Manchester City Preview: A Brand New Optimism. Ish.

  1. Not surprising we lost today. Not one of our players would get into City’s first 11, not sure any would get onto their bench.

    Lots of work still do be done and it’s going to be a difficult game again next week. Do we then go to Cardiff away? Tough first three games.

    I don’t think Emery knows his best 11 yet but Torreira needs to start as does Lacazette and Leno.

  2. We need to play Laca and Auba together. And preferably both centrally. I don’t think Auba does well in build up so he has to play forward to get on the end of balls in the box.

    Cech made some good saves. Leno might not stop Aguero for example, but will help organize us playing out from the back. But I don’t trust Xhaka on the ball when pressed so I wouldn’t start Xhaka except when we expect to dominate possession more easily.

  3. C,

    True. Personally I thought as the game progressed we looked better and pressed city better than we have before. On another day, a sharper ozil and Laca could have scored but they didn’t. Already hating the press coverage of it… Saying how Chelsea,. Man u and Tottenham got results….sarri has changed nothing as he’s got a settled squad, we didn’t. Spurs were bailed out by Ali etc. The media just love to stir. I’m behind Emry, I hope the board is as well as over the next few season we will need investment and I hope it doesn’t go down the route of Liverpool where they went through 3/4 or buying average players.

  4. I sure hope Unai learned a few things today.

    You cannot play against a team like City with Xhaka, Ramsey, and Guendouzi in midfield then have Ozil and Micki as well.

    He should have started the game with a more defensively sound Midfield to protect the back four better.


    Very Early to debate Emery on one game against the Champions of last season and the team tipped to win it again this year,

    I think it will be Man City and Liverpool chasing the title if Liverpool can mange to go the distance.


    We are taking our first steps on the road to recovery from a 20+ years of decaying Wenger philosophy……We need to give the Manager and the players time to work on the new philosophy.


    We have another tough game next week and it won’t be any easier.

    It will be interesting to see if Emery learns from his mistakes? Or Wenger’s Ghost still roam the halls of the Emirates…..


  5. C:
    Lacazette and Torriera need to come on but we are def in this match

    Clearly C wasn’t watching the same game as the rest of us! We were never in it. Shitty were on cruise control the whole game

  6. Clearly it’s going to take time, so I doubt that anyone will be expecting miracles just yet. Over the next dozen or so matches we will see which players can make the transition and which aren’t up to the task. As such the focus has to be on the players making the grade, and therefore there will be lots of comments about individual players which is fine, it doesn’t imply criticism of the manager.

    One thing that immediately sprang to mind after the first round of matches was how very little has changed. The majority of clubs seemed to carry on the same way they left off last season. I agree that Emery will take a few games to settle into finding his best side and formation so it makes sense that we should expect a stronger second half of the campaign. If we’re in touching distance of the top four at Christmas I’d expect us to claim a CL slot. City and Liverpool will claim two of them but the other two are still up for grabs.

  7. So what should Unai have learnt? Well Guendouzi, energetic, not world class, but bags of confidence and enthusiasm. Certainly one for the future. AMN is NOT a left back and lacks the physicality to deal with Kyle Walker. Which means he would lack the physicality to play in his preferred position of centre mid. Ozil and Miki aren’t winger’s and Unai lacks the players to play a high press. With regards to Ozil who let’s not forget is on £300,000 plus a week. Wouldn’t get in the Man City squad. Would I take Bernardo Silva over Ozil? Yes I would and I’d still have change. We are still tainted by the Wenger era. Let’s see if Unai has the cojones to read them the riot act and to drop Ozil and Xhaka. Because if those two start against the Chavs we will be on the back end of another poor result.

  8. HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    I think we had some good spells at 1-0 where we were getting more possession and creating some opportunities in their half. Laca helped. If Torreira has been on earlier, I din’t Think we would have conceded so many chances. But City are a settled side of superior quality and we are in transition.

  9. HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    Sir, I wonder how you could say we were not in it.

    I guess it’s a question of how you see the cup: half full or half empty. We were in the game and it was our lack of defending from the midfield which cost us this match.

    If Emery comes to terms with the reality which we all can see having watched these players, then he would select his team better. Cech could have pushed or attempted to push the ball out for the first goal, but he saw the ball too late. How many teams broke down Man City down as we did today last season except Liverpool?

    We are almost there in my opinion. There was no gulf of class, just a little misunderstanding which I hope the coach realizes and adapts to using the best choice players in his squad. Guendozi is good at providing passing options and we rarely looked poor after both he and Torreira were paired.

  10. lari03,

    I mostly agree though I wouldn’t say we broke City down. They were clearly better and not having to defend desperately—nothing like what Pool did to them. We created some decent chances in the 2nd half but overall didn’t really test Ederson. We were much better at 1-0 with Laca on and I think Torreira adds defensive bite and more energy with nearly as good passing. That’s my one conclusion—Torreira over Xhaka. But I would have said that even before the match…

  11. LSG,

    Quite frankly I think a lot of people see what they want to see.

    What I found interesting was which changes were made, and which were not.

  12. Man, these first two fixtures are really unfortunate. Get past Chelsea and we can settle, though I do think we can hurt them.

    A little disheartened by Xhaka starting, but cheered to see him get the hook. That sounds awful, but he seems to have gained a standing at the club that he hasn’t earned.

    In fact, I’m going to shut up about Xhak, because I abhor the abuse Iwobi gets, and wouldn’t want to be a part of something like that. But WTF man? Two years later, what is he?

  13. MikeSA,

    Do tell. Sitting Rambo after seeing the experiment of playing him as 10 and asking him to press high didn’t work was a good change. Laca does more up there. Perhaps Rambo is better making his runs from deeper in attack.

    Do you think Xhaka was effective? I don’t think he adds much in games like this and is a terrible defensive liability (along with some other players we keep on the pitch for what they offer as attackers). For a central midfielder who isn’t your main attacking midfielder/creator, that is a big problem against strong teams.

  14. Birdkamp,

    I don’t want to abuse him but I was heartened by purchasing Torreira as the most defensive midfielder so that we wouldn’t have Xhaka in positions that don’t favor him: tracking mobile attackers and having to carry the ball out of the back through the best press or nearly the best we will face all season. He’s a deep playmaker in a three man midfield when we expect to dominate possession. That was never this match, so hopefully Emery adjusts. Tbh, he does need time to figure out his best lineup.

  15. God I love you deluded Gooner’s. City were playing exhibition football i.e. they didn’t even get out of second gear to defeat us. If you believe we were in it, then you’re blind to what City had on the bench or how easily they won back possession in the final third of the pitch. The stats is all the evidence you need to see that there is a gulf between us and Shitty and top four is a huge ask, for this squad and this manager in his first season in the EPL

  16. Say what you want HNDS, your comments can’t change anything. It’s your personal opinion, don’t force others to think you’re correct because you’re not.

  17. I think we all know that our back 4 is easily the least talented of the top 6 teams. Hopefully Torriera turns out to be a good defensive mid but our other options to play with him are Xhaka, Guendouzi, Elneny and Maitland-Niles so I think we have to accept that our group of deep midfielders is arguably the least talented of any of the big 6 teams. You could argue that on paper we have a strong group of attacking midfielders but based on the last 2 1/2 years I can’t see that any of Ozil, Mkhitaryan or Ramsey would play regularly on many of the worlds big teams. The idea that a new manager would bring back the Ozil from 6 years ago or turn Ramsey into Frank Lampard is not realistic. I know a lot of people were hoping that our attack would be really strong but after PEA and perhaps Lacazette Arsene left the cupboard very bare in terms of overall team talent.

  18. We can’t play Ozil and Mkhitaryan as our wide forwards. They gives us no goal threat, no pace, very little width and very little defensive nous from 2/3 of our forward line. IMO, neither Ozil or Mkhitaryan add enough positive influence on the attacking end to justify their spots as wide forwards. I still think Ramsey is our best option at the attacking midfielder if for no other reason he adds energy and effort to our defensive pressing in the attacking end of the pitch. We have to see how Torriera works out but our defensive midfielders are not strong as a group even with him and adding Ozil or Mkhitaryan to the central midfield makes our whole midfield even more underwhelming.

  19. HenryNorrisDialSquare,

    I think you are correct in your insight that that there is a difference in Class today.

    We are all going to throw our two pennies worth in and have an opinion. It’s what the site is for.

    Emery has to be given time however hurtful some results may turn out to be. Changed was demanded and now we have it.

    I’d bet a good number of these players won’t be at the Club in 18 months.

    It’s not the easiest of starts for Emery. I wonder when he signed on the dotted line that his first 2 Games would be City and Chelsea. It’s newly promoted Cardiff and Mellor after that.

  20. Bill,

    I have to agree about the overall quality and also about playing those two as our wide forwards. We need Auba and Laca both on the pitch. Where I disagree is Ramsey as an AM/10. The pressing can be helpful against some but it didn’t really work too well v City (frankly Laca seemed better at that and can hold up the ball in attack) and he isn’t good enough on the ball to be our central creator. What makes him a goal threat are his runs from deep that don’t get tracked. He doesn’t have the burst of pace from a forward position to beat these athletic center halves one one one. For me, he has to play deeper as a CM. Emery needs to try to impose some discipline on his game or we can do without him and work on Iwobi and Mkh as deeper midfield players. What we do need is a wide forward, I think.

  21. Everyone seems to have taken something a little different from this match. Really interesting situation. I suppose all we can really conclude is that a lot of things are still up in the air. I don’t suppose many of us expected to have all the answers this evening. Perhaps the most interesting question of all is how harsh Emery will be on some of the incumbent first team senior players and how quickly? I think the promising youngsters will get their opportunities and allowed a few mistakes as long as they continue to develop.

  22. Its interesting that the gulf in class is used as the barometer against Citeh when we ALL knew that there was a gulf, hell, there’s quite a gulf between Citeh and Liverpool. What is going to be more of a barometer will be against Chelsea.

    The other crazy thing is that most agree that Citeh will still win the PL, possibly by double digits so this season shouldn’t be measured against them but against Liverpool and the chasing pack, or no?

  23. Mediocrity at best. Nothing has changed from the Wenger era. Citeh looked miles apart from our players. Arsenal players seemed not ready for the season. So many average players in our squad. Midfiled was a complete joke. We have cried for a viera type of player. Nzozi would give us that presence. Not even Torreira will improve us that much. On this showing 5th place is the only realistic target we can achieve. Go in the market and buy Nzozi come January.

  24. C,

    Yeah, we aren’t even trying to compete for the title. We are going for top 4 as ever. And Chelsea won’t be a barometer because it is a top 6 team away. No one expects to win that either but we may hope to get a point.

  25. LSG:

    I have to agree about the overall quality and also about playing those two as our wide forwards. We need Auba and Laca both on the pitch. Where I disagree is Ramsey as an AM/10.The pressing can be helpful against some but it didn’t really work too well v City (frankly Laca seemed better at that and can hold up the ball in attack) and he isn’t good enough on the ball to be our central creator.What makes him a goal threat are his runs from deep that don’t get tracked.He doesn’t have the burst of pace from a forward position to beat these athletic center halves one one one.For me, he has to play deeper as a CM. Emery needs to try to impose some discipline on his game or we can do without him and work on Iwobi and Mkh as deeper midfield players.What we do need is a wide forward, I think.

    Fair enough regarding Ramsey. He certainly divides opinions for a reason. The problem for me is that I don’t think our other options at the attacking central midfield role are any better then Ramsey. Ozil has not been really effective other then an occasional game for 2 1/2 years and it’s hard for me to imagine him regaining his magic at this point. I understand your idea about Mkhitaryan as a central mid but I dont think he has played that position. He has always been a forward and I may be I am wrong but I don’t see Mkh being comparable to Cazorla. Of those 3 at least Ramsey gives us the most defensive energy in that position.

  26. What we have to hope for is somehow Emery can find a way to mold this group of players into a team that is better then the sum of its parts and that 2 of either ManU, Spurs or Chelsea melt down this season. Over the long term we need to hope that the new brain trust does a better job then Arsene and his computer did at buying players.

  27. Bill,

    I think Iwobi and Mkhi can carry the ball
    And make passes forward. What they would have to work on is positioning and receiving on the half turn. But I have seen both do this latter pretty well.

    I like Ramsey but as I said he doesn’t seem create or score when playing forward as much as he does when he comes forward as an extra man from deeper positions. That’s just my impression of his play. Maybe I’m wrong. But it is true that our whole attack looked terribly disjointed despite this supposedly being a great strength of ours, plus all these guys had a full preseason together and weren’t in the WC except Ozil briefly. That is disappointing. Laca looked the sharpest combining some with Auba.

  28. We did hold Man City to less then 60% possession although I am not so sure that is a good thing. The way to beat them is to let them have the ball but stay organized and frustrate them and then hit on the counter attack. The other positive thing is they only scored 2 so that was some improvement from last season. I thought Cech actually did well to keep the score from looking worse.

  29. Bill,

    He had several top notch saves. Leno may be better with his feet but we’ll have to see if he can keep teams out as well as Cech did.

    This really wasn’t the best match to try playing out of the back and the new press. We could have conceded more. I would have tried to be organized deeper and played with Torreira. Aubameyang is a wonderful counterattacking threat.

  30. Limestone

    Its only 1 game but I think a few of us were overly optimistic about how great our attack will be. I hope PEA to get around 20 goals and Lacazette in the mid to high teens but after that the cupboard is bare.

    Regarding Ramsey as a #10. As you know I have always thought that if you attack at pace and move the ball into the danger zone before the opponent can set up then the creativity can come from anywhere and you don’t have to wait for your #10 to make the final killer pass. What we really need is someone who can push the tempo and if we did that the problems with creativity would be solved. I know that Ozil is not the player to push the tempo and in reality I am not sure that Ramsey or Mkhitaryan could do that either but may be its worth putting Mkh into that position and see what happens. Its only 1 game and there is still every reason to hope that Emery can mold this group into a team that is better then the sum of its parts and maybe something unexpected like moving Mkhitaryan to a new position could be the catalyst

    I have always thought that the only real chance Iwobe has to be an influential player is in central midfield. I think he could be good in that position but he has never played there. I would like to see him go on loan and play as an attacking midfielder for a couple seasons to see what happens.

  31. Limestone

    I have to admit that I do not really pay much attention to GK distribution so I can’t disagree with you about how much Cech is struggling. Its way to early to suggest that Leno is so much better.

    I can understand that a GK like Cech’s reflexes might slow with age and his movement slow and his ability to stop shots or dominate the penalty box might fade. However, Cech was a world class GK for many years and you don’t need great reflexes to distribute the ball so its hard for me to understand how he could have suddenly become so poor at that part of the game.

  32. I think GK distribution is similar to high level passing ability in a defensive midfielder. The best defensive midfielder is very good as playing defense and is also a good passser of the ball. However, the passing ability is much much less important then their ability to play defense effectively. Le Coq during his meteoric 1/2 season was never a very good passer of the ball but during that time he was the most effective defensive mid we have seen in this decade. Alex song and Granit Xhaka are good very good at passing the ball but their defensive liabilities far outweigh their ability to pass the ball.

    I think the same thing about GK distribution. I don’t know who is a better GK and I am not sure Emery does either. However, I would not give the edge to Leno just because of distribution. That is a secondary issue, IMO. I want the one who is better at preventing the other team from scoring and hopefully that will turn out to be Leno. I hope that makes sense.

  33. Bill,

    I suspect Cech is still better at the shot stopping and he knows how to command his box against PL teams, so I don’t have a problem starting him but I do think playing it out doesn’t help him. But Emery will have to make his decisions. I’m interested in what he decided to do. I think he has a lot left to figure out.

  34. Limestone

    I have not seen enough of Leno to really to form an opinion. I don’t think we should over analyze 1 game but most managers don’t switch GK’s around as much as outfield players and I don’t think Cech hurt his case today. I suspect Cech will hold the job for a while. It will be interesting decision for Emery because you don’t spend that much for a back up
    GK. For the long term we hope Leno is an upgrade and he wins the job fairly quickly and settles in for a long run as our GK.

  35. Perhaps Emery was showing respect to his senior players. For me Czech, Ozil, Rambo, Xhaka are not up to it. I would rather develop the young talent and play G dog and Torreira as our anchors and then either play Smithy or Miky on the whole and have Nelson out wide and Auber out wide with Laca up top.

    We don’t have any wingers so we need to use Nelson and Auber until he can convince the idiots at club we need more than 70 mil to try and change 2 decades of………..

    Wrong selection but he can now say he has given his top players a chance and I think the most culpable on that list is prob Xhaka and Czech. No way Czech can play out at the back so he will be benched soon and how can Xhaka start in front of G dog and Torreira???

    I trust Emery to get it right and figure out out MF balance is pretty poor and how to get the best out of Laca and Auber. He needs time to undo all harm Wenger was allowed to instill in the weak minds of our players.

  36. Bill,

    I think most sensible people recognised we were challenging for 4th at best this year – both because we need further player investment as well as adapting to a new manager. I don’t think it’s unreasonable that Aubameyang or lac will get a decent haul as we’re not going to play city every week. However (and this is why we won’t challenge for the title), adapting to playing out from the back and pressing as a team will mean we ship a fair few too. To improve on last year we need to stop throwing away points to “lesser” opposition, and that’s where I think our strike force will come in handy. We’re not going to turn into a devastating attacking force overnight, and any who expected that will be disappointed

  37. consolsbob,

    Yes. Despite the take over, I’ve removed the ban on myself inserting not a penny into AFC.

    The fact they’re trying on the playing side has changed my mind

  38. Damon,

    I have decided not to renew my red membership or my son’s junior gunner membership as a result, but I would go to matches if I were able.

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