Arsenal v Man City: Are Gunners in better position to beat City and win Premier League title?
Champions Manchester City had looked imperious once more with six wins out of six, leading former Blackburn Rovers striker Chris Sutton to tell BBC Radio 5 Live, “let’s be honest, we are all expecting Man City to run away with the title again”.
He was not the only one thinking this way, but what a difference a week makes. Defeat in the Carabao Cup by Newcastle and a first loss in the league to Wolverhampton Wanderers has left Pep Guardiola’s men looking a little vulnerable.
And, while Treble winners City are still topping the table and most people’s favourites for a fourth consecutive title, Arsenal, Liverpool and Tottenham have made a start to the season that suggests it is not going to be a formality.
Before City’s visit to Emirates Stadium on Sunday (16:30 BST), former Manchester United defender Gary Neville has predicted Arsenal will win the title.
So have the Gunners, who blew an eight-point lead late in the season to finish five points behind in second place last time round, moved closer to Guardiola’s class of 2023-24?
After seven games last season, Arsenal were one point above Manchester City at the top on 18 points to City’s 17.
This season it is the other way round, with City at the top on 18 and Arsenal on 17 – although the Gunners are unbeaten this time.
From then Arsenal would go on to win 10 and draw two in their next 12 games, a run which would take them five points clear at the top – with a game in hand on City.
However, City would eventually peg them back and win the title with games to spare.
“Stay with them and get to that point where there are nine or 10 games to go again,” said former England right-back Neville on his podcast.
“Arsenal won’t run away and win the league – your first title is very rarely like that, you have to get over the line crawling.
“Last season they fell apart late on and made mistakes, but they have to get in that position again. Then we’ll see if they’ve matured. I think they will have.”
Arsenal had a smaller squad last season – with no European football to contend with – but that ended up being their downfall, as they struggled to deal with injuries, especially to centre-back William Saliba.
So this summer they bolstered their squad with West Ham midfielder Declan Rice, Chelsea’s attacking midfielder Kai Havertz, Ajax full-back Jurrien Timber and Brentford goalkeeper David Raya.
Will strikers be the difference?
Arsenal scored 88 Premier League goals last season, only behind City’s 94. But their goals were spread out, with midfielder Martin Odegaard and winger Gabriel Martinelli top scoring with 15 league goals each.
Bukayo Saka (14) and Gabriel Jesus (11) also hit double figures.
City had a more reliable goal source in Erling Haaland, who hit a Premier League record 36. But Phil Foden, with 11, and Julian Alvarez, on nine, were far behind.
This season Arsenal have 15 Premier League goals to City’s 17 – but Brighton, Aston Villa and Newcastle have scored more than either team.
“Would Arsenal be better with an Alvarez, a Haaland? Of course,” said Sutton. “Did they make progress last season? Absolutely. Did they make good signings this summer? Of course. But are signings like Rice, Havertz, Timber and Raya going to get them to topple Man City? I don’t think so.
“I do think goalscoring is a problem for Arsenal. I like [Eddie] Nketiah, but is he a world-class striker? I don’t think so. Jesus has come in for a fair bit of criticism because he is not a natural finisher.
“I do think he has made Arsenal stronger, but he is not clinical. If they want to be Premier League champions they probably need to act and get one in. But there aren’t many out there. That is the issue.”
Simon Gleave, head of analysis at Nielsen Gracenote, said: “Although six teams have scored more goals than Arsenal so far this Premier League season, Gracenote’s expected goals model says that the Gunners have the second-best attack in terms of the quality of chances created.
“Looking at these numbers compared to the same fixtures last season, Arsenal’s attack has improved significantly despite the number of goal attempts being slightly lower.
“This is because the chance of the average goal attempt being scored in these seven fixtures has increased from 9% last term to 13.5% now.
“Despite scoring 17 Premier League goals this season, and having more shots and shots on target than in last season’s opening seven matches, Manchester City’s underlying numbers suggest that their attack is not as potent as it has been during most of Pep Guardiola’s tenure.
“City have created just 10.9 expected goals, 30% less than last season’s 15.65 from the first seven matches.”
Did the Community Shield make a difference?
Arsenal have not beaten City in the Premier League since December 2015 and have lost their past 12 league encounters.
Their last such match was City’s 4-1 win at Etihad Stadium in April that knocked the wind out of Arsenal’s sails and put City in control of the title.
In August’s Community Shield, the Gunners beat City on penalties – having scored an equaliser through Leandro Trossard 11 minutes into injury time.
But former England winger Andros Townsend thinks that could prove to be a boost to City in the long term.
“I think that Community Shield defeat by Arsenal got rid of any hangover City could possibly have had,” he said on BBC Radio 5 Live.
“Every team that has won the league, there has always been a hangover the next season and Manchester City are the only side who have been able to go on 15-game winning runs to recover it.
“But I think that loss to Arsenal and the reaction of Arsenal, the celebrations, gave Pep the opportunity to refocus his squad and get them going.”
How important is this game?
Of the five players to score or assist a goal in the Gunners’ last league win over City, a 2-1 success at the Emirates four days before Christmas in 2015, only Olivier Giroud, now 37, still plays football. Arsene Wenger was still in charge then.
So can they overcome that hoodoo on Sunday?
City are without two of their first-choice midfield with Kevin de Bruyne a long-term injury absentee and Rodri suspended.
“The match is massive,” said former Aston Villa midfielder Lee Hendrie. “Are Arsenal going to go that extra yard? They will be thinking they could take all three points.
“Rodri not being available is so big, this could make the season massive. If they take three points they are in with a shout.”
Kevin Campbell, who played for Arsenal from 1988 to 1995, said: “Arsenal do need to win this game. Any designs to win that title – they have to take points off Man City.”