Weblog: The football punter

City can start their title defence with a bang

Premier League
Sky Sports Premier League/Main Event 4pm

Manchester City have already started the season in ominous fashion and the champions can begin the defence of their Premier League title by spoiling Unai Emery's big day out at the Emirates.

City outclassed Chelsea in last week's Community Shield, easing to a 2-0 win at Wembley in a result which flattered the losers, as Pep Guardiola's side took advantage of London opponents under new management.

It's pretty much the same story against Arsenal and Emery is facing a daunting opener in his first competitive encounter since replacing long-serving Gunners chief Arsene Wenger. 

In another world maybe it would have been Guardiola's assistant, Mikel Arteta, in the home dugout. The former Arsenal player was seen as the original first choice and, at least for 90 minutes, Emery may have wish his fellow Spaniard had been given the job.

Most managers have a rough record against Guardiola and Emery is the same. He has yet to beat him in ten attempts, and he has found stopping that style of football particularly difficult.

In 25 fixtures against Barcelona, Emery came out on top just twice, and one of the victories turned into humiliation as Paris St-Germain's 4-0 first-leg Champions League lead in 2017 was overturned in a 6-1 defeat at Camp Nou.

That was probably the night PSG knew Emery had little chance of leading the French club to Champions League glory and the writing was on the wall as soon as he lost in the last 16 against Real Madrid last season.

Emery tends to come up short against elite opponents - where have Arsenal fans heard that accusation against their manager before? - and they don't come much bigger than tackling a City side who finished 19 points clear of a floundering pack last season.

Arsenal should improve on their total of 63 points but they were well beaten in three games against City last season.

Sergio Aguero highlighted his sharpness with a double against Chelsea, Riyad Mahrez and Leroy Sane offer pace and trickery on the wings, while Bernardo Silva has been the man with the golden touch in pre-season. 

If they fail there is always Gabriel Jesus on the bench, plus Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling returning from their World Cup break.

It's a frightening prospect which Arsenal's defence looks ill-suited to nullify even if Emery spends more time in one of his infamous DVD sessions than Wenger studied in his career trying to repel opponents.

However, on the plus side Mesut Ozil and Pierre Emerick Aubameyang have the ability to at least make City work.

Manchester City

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Match in Focus


England v Croatia

Home WinDrawAway Win
Key stats
  • England have won four of their last five home matches
Expert verdict
This World Cup semi-final rematch is about much more than revenge for England with both teams knowing a Wembley win will take them through to next summer's Nations League knockout phase. England look to have stepped up a gear since last summer's World Cup loss to Croatia, beating Spain in Seville, and can continue their upward trajectory.