Will Arsenal play the long game in bid to best Manchester City?

If Arsenal hope to beat Manchester City in today’s Premier League opener at the Emirates, they will have to take them into deep water.

The Gunners have been fortunate in that so few of the playing squad featured at the World Cup, or survived into the latter stages of the tournament.

City, on the other hand, saw a host of players feature in the quarter finals and beyond including Fernandinho, Ederson, Gabriel Jesus, Fabian Delph, Kyle Walker, John Stones, Benjamin Mendy, Kevin de Bruyne, Raheem Sterling, and Vincent Kompany.

Given the relative gulf between the sides in terms of quality, the Gunners will have to make the most of other advantages in order to get the desired result.

On a practical level, that will mean weathering the City storm until the second half.

As Tottenham showed on Saturday, a team stuffed with World Cup players is likely to start struggling after the 60-minute mark so it is crucial that Arsenal stay in the match until that point.

Under Arsene Wenger, the emphasis was always on attack from the outset but, as Pep Guardiola’s side showed last season, that can result in the game being put beyond doubt inside the first 45 minutes.

I expect City will push for a fast start in today’s encounter but I think, also, that Unai Emery will be a little wiser in his approach than Arsene. I don’t know that for certain but all the talk we have heard up until now has been about better organisation and tactical adroitness.

As well as little nous, the Gunners must also depend on taking their chances when they come. Too often last season, this side squandered key openings in big games and punishment for such profligacy was almost always the result in the circumstances.

The Blues will create two or three good chances of their own, that is inescapable, so fashioning and converting our own openings could be decisive.

While that may prove difficult early on, I would wager that spaces will start to open up in the second half, as City begin to tire. That is where the game could be won and lost, where our ball players will either thrive or wilt.

It is also worth pondering whether Emery might even try something a little different in his bid to best Pep. Several times in pre-season we saw Arsenal win the ball back and get the ball forward double-quick with a kick over the top. Is that the way to catch a team that presses as high as City? Was the flirtation with that system a trial run for this match and other matches against high-pressing teams like Liverpool and Tottenham? Time will tell.

To get ourselves into that position, though, we must make sure we don’t let the game get beyond us and that will mean we have to be much better in defence than we have been for a number of years.

Am I confident that will happen? Frankly, no. It would be some feat, however, were the team to be as bad or worse than they have been in recent years so there is comfort in that fact and it is well documented how long and hard Emery has been working on improving the setup of the side.

If there remains an area of obvious vulnerability with this team, it is susceptibility to pace, and particularly from wide areas. I expect City to target the two wing backs and I expect that to cause problems, particularly as Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mhikitaryan are not famed for their work heading back towards goal.

Sokratis and Shkodran Mustafi are also not famed for their pace so, again, pre-emptive action and awareness is going to be paramount.

If naught else, it will be interesting to see a new-look Gunners side in action in a seriously competitive match. It will serve as a proper yardstick of how far they have come over the summer, showing up either how much has been learned, or how old habits will take a long time to kill.

The bonus is that the Emirates will be rocking again after a period of rank stagnation and the visit of the champions is sure to give the team that little bit more motivation, a side that thrashed us in two out of three matchups last year.

All the elements are there for an excellent match and, for the first time in a long while, I am looking forward to hearing the whistle blow for the start of a truly titanic tussle.

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