We were on a break! And now, finally, we are not. It’s a sad state of affairs that non-tournament international football has become such a chore but a Premier League hiatus so early in the season is an irritation by anyone’s standards. Thankfully, we’ve an absolute cracker of a game to thrust us back into the swing of things.
Saturday’s lunchtime kick-off sees the champions, Manchester City, travel to the Emirates to take on an Arsenal side who have suffered a stuttering start to the season. Despite a comparatively low-key transfer window, City’s is a squad still brimming with talent and although their early-season momentum was disrupted by a home defeat to Stoke, they remain formidable opponents. Arsenal, however, are yet to click into gear. They’ve collected a win and two draws from their league fixtures, and in none of those games have they looked particularly convincing.
Arsenal win – 37/20
Manchester City win – 13/10
Draw – 12/5
(All odds provided by Intertops.eu are accurate as of today and subject to change)
But early results can be deceptive; Alexis Sánchez has enjoyed a steady start to his Arsenal career and has already begun to repay his £35 million transfer fee with two important goals. One senses he will only get better and better as the season wears on. Even aside from Sánchez, Arsenal possess an abundance of attacking talent. Although they are yet to hit top form, it is unlikely the likes of Mesut Özil, Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain will stay silent for long. Add a soon-to-return Theo Walcott to the mix and Arsenal have some of the most potent attacking options in the division. Olivier Giroud is admittedly a big miss for Arsenal, and it is unlikely he will play until the New Year, but Arsène Wenger will hope new signing Danny Welbeck replaces the Frenchman’s goals and provides the Gunners with a suitable line-leader.
Welbeck, fresh from a match winning performance in Basel on Monday, is set to make his debut against the Citizens on Saturday which should provide an interesting sub-plot to the game after his £16 million deadline-day switch from boyhood club Manchester United. While not prolific in his time at Old Trafford, Welbeck is a player who can play in a number of advanced positions and, in Giroud’s absence, is expected to be given the central-striker role he was so often denied at United. His pace in behind makes him a valuable asset in that position and, if he can discover a finishing touch, he could significantly improve his goal-scoring record – especially with such an array of creative talent behind him.
However, despite all the potential for fun and games in this Arsenal side, they will have to improve quickly to be able to live with City. Manuel Pellegrini’s squad are looking as invigorated as ever as they set about the task of trying to retain their Premier League crown and, after finally bolstering their occasionally-shaky centre of defence with the capture of Eliaquim Mangala, look in the perfect position to do so. Another new defensive recruit, Bacary Sagna, will expect a frosty reception on his first return to the Emirates since leaving Arsenal on a free transfer in the summer. Those sub-plots just keep on coming don’t they?
It isn’t City’s defence that will have kept them near the top of the league come season’s end though, it is their incredible range of attacking talent, perhaps one that eclipses even Arsenal’s. David Silva, Samir Nasri (human sub-plot) and Jesús Navas are all supreme creators and will provide chances for the returning Sergio Agüero and one of either Edin Džeko or Stevan Jovetić. And then there is the tour de force that is Yaya Touré. It is likely he will never better the sensational form he enjoyed last season, but his superb vision, power and ability to control games mean he is still very much City’s driving force.
Touré will be partnered by either Fernandinho or new addition Fernando and whichever central-midfield combination Pellegrini opts for may prove too much for Arsenal. For all their creativity, the London club has failed to strengthen in the only area it desperately needed to. They lack a high-quality holding midfielder who can protect the defence; Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta are not the answers. Once again, it appears it is Wenger’s dogged assertion that no problem, however big or small, can be solved with the addition of another attacking midfielder, that could put the kibosh on Arsenal’s ultimate ambitions.
But in all honesty, Saturday’s game is very hard to read. Both teams are yet to hit their stride and while Arsenal could find themselves vulnerable in midfield, they have more than enough to cause City problems of their own. This is a huge test for two sides with title ambitions and could provide an intriguing assessment about how well equipped they both are to achieve that. Whatever happens, I’m just glad I don’t have to watch England again for a little while.
Betting Instinct tip – With two formidable attacks and questions remaining over Arsenal’s defensive solidity, more than 3.5 goals can be backed at 7/4 with AllYouBet.ag.
JACK CHATTERTON is a student and long-suffering Spurs fan, who has written for In Bed With Maradona and Sabotage Times, among others. You can read his miscellaneous and quite modest blog, or follow him on Twitter or Google+.