Man City vs. Arsenal
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Kick off: 5:30PM
Two old colleagues renew acquaintances again this afternoon when Mikel Arteta takes his Arsenal side to the Etihad Stadium to face Manchester City and former mentor Pep Guardiola.
It has been a distinctly ordinary start to the campaign for the hosts, who go into the weekend five points and 10 places behind their visitors in the embryonic Premier League table.
There was excitement amongst Arsenal fans from the moment it looked as though Arteta would come out from under Guardiola’s wing and fly the nest, and he certainly appears to have brought much of his compatriot’s mindset and success with him from the Etihad to the Emirates.
Indeed, Arsenal have looked more like the Man City were are used to seeing than Man City themselves so far this season, and the Gunners know that victory on Saturday would leave them already eight points clear of the former champions.
Guardiola’s side have seen their air of invincibility slip and their record of one win, one draw and one defeat from three games this term makes for their worst start to a campaign since 2010-11.
City go into the weekend languishing 14th in the table and, while we are still some way away from being able to draw conclusions from the Premier League standings, they will know that another defeat this weekend would be another early nail in their title hopes.
Incredibly, Saturday will be the third matchday already this season that they have started in the bottom half of the table – as many as they had in their previous 375 outings, or almost 10 seasons, in the competition.
Things could quite easily be worse too; Man City will consider themselves relatively fortunate to have come away with a point from their last league outing before the international break as they played out an encapsulating 1-1 draw at Leeds United.
Their season-opening win at Wolverhampton Wanderers could have gone a different way had the hosts taken their chances, too.
As it is, Man City are now in danger of going three Premier League games without a win for the first time since April 2017, when incidentally the third match in that run saw them draw 2-2 with Arsenal.
The Gunners are a club City have enjoyed themselves against in recent years, particularly in the league, but Arsenal have every reason to be confident and may even look to the blueprint of how Leicester City humbled Saturday’s hosts in their only other home league game this season.
The Foxes ran out 5-2 winners on that occasion – a result which still stands out as extraordinary in a campaign which has seen more than its fair share of barmy scorelines already – to leave Man City in danger of losing their opening two home games of a league season for only the third time in their history.
That has not happened since 1953-54, but there will certainly be more people fancying an away win or draw in this match now than there would have been at the start of the season.
Much of that is down to Man City’s own form, of course, but it also owes to a bright start to the campaign from Arsenal.
If Leicester’s win is the blueprint for success at the Etihad then Arteta may have to live up to his promise to venture from the traditional ‘Arsenal way’ when needed, although his record against big teams is already better than anything Arsenal have seen in recent years.
Since Arteta took over Arsenal have beaten Manchester United, Manchester City, Chelsea and Liverpool, the latter of whom they have overcome three times including an EFL Cup triumph at Anfield earlier this month.
The next target for Arteta will be to beat one of the established ‘big six’ away from home in the league, something they have not achieved since their last win at Man City in January 2015 – a dismal run of 28 such matches.
Indeed, their away form in general has not been great – only four wins in their last 20 stretching back to the opening day of last season.
There is still plenty to improve upon, then, but Arteta does appear to have steered Arsenal back onto the right path and the overwhelming feeling around the club at the moment is one of optimism.
The big-money deadline day signing of Thomas Partey has even had some pundits tipping the Gunners for a title challenge, and victory away to Man City would only add credence to their credentials.
Arsenal go into the contest having won eight of their last 12 Premier League outings – as many victories as they had achieved in their previous 28 top-flight games.
A 2-1 triumph over Sheffield United immediately before the international break means that the Gunners have now picked up more Premier League points than any other team since losing to Brighton & Hove Albion in their second game back after lockdown.
However, their solitary defeat this season came at champions Liverpool, when there was a noticeable gulf in class, so at the very least Arteta will be hoping to run Man City much closer this time around.
Manchester City possible XI: Ederson, Walker, Dias, Laporte, Mendy, Foden, Rodri, Gundogan, Bernardo, Mahrez, Sterling.
Arsenal possible XI: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Gabriel, Tierney, Ceballos, Thomas, Saka, Willian, Lacazette, Aubameyang.