Premier League champions, Manchester City will begin the defence of their title as Pep Guardiola and his men storm the Emirate Stadium on Sunday against rivals, Arsenal in what is no doubt the biggest fixture of the weekend
The Gunners will enter a new era at the Emirates when Unai Emery takes charge of his first competitive match, following 22 years of Arsene Wenger’s reign, but they will be under huge pressure from the start as the visitors are the reigning Premier League champions, who have already shown they are on form by beating Chelsea 2-0 in the Community Shield last week.
Emery has plenty of decisions to make over his team selection as he looks to avoid defeat to Guardiola’s record breakers.
The Spaniard has fielded both 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations regularly in his career, and we expect him to go with the latter at Arsenal in a bid to get the best out of playmaker Mesut Ozil.
“Laurent Koscielny is ruled out for several months, so Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos are set to be the centre-back pairing,” he said.
Meanwhile, City’s Captain, Vincent Kompany has warned Manchester that the Premier League champions won’t rest on their laurels as they aim to follow their record-breaking season with another title triumph.
Guardiola’s side swept to the title last term with a record 100 points, amassing more wins and scoring more goals than any previous champion in the Premier League era.
Inspired by Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, Raheem Sterling and David Silva, City’s eye-catching style earned comparisons with the finest teams in English football history.
But no team has successfully defended the Premier League title since Manchester United in 2008 and 2009, while City were unable to maintain the standards of their 2012 and 2014 title wins in the campaigns that followed.
City captain Kompany admits his team lacked urgency and desire in those failed title defences under Roberto Mancini and Manuel Pellegrini, but the Belgian has sensed a far more focused approach from Guardiola’s group.
“Before saying anything or doing anything, you want to observe and see if you see the same mistakes which we’ve done previously,” Kompany said.
“I’ve got to be honest, there was a feeling when we’ve won the league previously, you came back into the training sessions and everybody was a little bit less intense, a little bit more smiles and happiness, but a little bit less committed.
“Teams that actually wanted it more could hurt us. I came into training this time and it’s completely different,” he added.
With Guardiola saying he is still “starving” for more success, there appears to be little chance of a City letdown.
They have already made a positive impression ahead of the new campaign by winning the Community Shield with an emphatic 2-0 victory over Chelsea at Wembley on Sunday.
That was the perfect preparation for Sunday’s Premier League opener at Arsenal and Kompany added: “Number one, we realise this is precious and we want to hold on to it.
“Number two, we went into the game with Chelsea – we lost two Community Shields before – and this was a strong Chelsea team. We played really well against them and that, for me, is a great sign.”
City were so strong the last term that Guardiola has needed to make only one major close-season signing – landing Algeria winger Riyad Mahrez from Leicester in a £60 million deal.
And City defender Kyle Walker epitomised the squad’s hunger for more silverware by cutting short his post-World Cup holiday to return to training ahead of the Community Shield.
Walker had just two weeks off following England’s run to the World Cup semifinals, but he said: “I had the option if I wanted to come back later I could, but I wanted to be involved.
“I left Manchester City at the end of last season in a good place and I wanted to pick up where we left off. I’m not resting on this. It is a short career. I want to win as much as I can win.”
Guardiola doesn’t expect City to beat their points record this season, but with a first Champions League crown also in their sights, the Spaniard is determined to keep driving his players towards greater heights.
“People say, ‘Can you improve on 100 points?’ – I say no. We are not here to do that,” Guardiola said.
“But individually the players can improve. Of course, we can improve. If I felt we could not improve the team I would call my chairman and say, ‘OK, I leave’.
“We believe we can do better, dominate more and we will try to do it. Is it going to happen? I don’t know but we believe we can do it.”