Manchester City welcome Arsenal to the Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening as Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta prepare to face-off once again. The Blues will be undoubtedly eager to kick-start their league campaign, given the eight point gap that has emerged between themselves and current leaders Everton.
A lacklustre start which has been full of frustrations and marred with injury saw Guardiola’s side take just four points from their opening three league games with a 5-2 loss to Leicester and 1-1 draw to Leeds last time out, leaving City in desperate need of a win.
For Arsenal, Mikel Arteta was outdone by his master the last time he brought his Arsenal side to the Etihad, with a 3-0 thumping in what was both of the sides' first game’s back from the Covid-19 induced break. However, the former Manchester City assistant coach sought revenge a matter of weeks later, knocking his former employees out of the FA Cup at the semi-final stage on his way to securing his first piece of silverware in management.
Unlike Arsenal, who signed Thomas Partey on deadline day from Atletico Madrid, Manchester City chose not to further add to their squad. Despite the mounting injury list and players returning from international duty as late as Thursday, Pep Guardiola should have enough to put out a strong side that has the ability to beat to Arteta’s Arsenal side.
Here's how we think Manchester City may line-up this weekend…
The biggest shock in terms of team news will be the absence of Kevin De Bruyne who Pep Guardiola said will be out of the “next games” following an injury during Belgium’s loss to England. Gabriel Jesus will also be unavailable for selection, although the Brazilian did return to the City Football Academy earlier in the week.
Ilkay Gundogan will be back for the Blues following a prolonged absence due to Covid-19, and Portuguese pairing Bernardo Silva and Joao Cancelo are also back fit. Likewise is Raheem Sterling, who withdrew from England duty with a minor hamstring problem.
Despite conceding seven goals in his opening three matches - and the mistake that led to Leeds’ equaliser in the last match - Ederson has also made a series of outstanding saves in recent weeks and was very much the reason Manchester City managed to cling on for a point at Elland Road. The Brazilian will undoubtably make his 148th City appearance and start between the sticks against Arsenal.
Defensively, Kyle Walker will keep his place on the right flank and he will line up alongside Ruben Dias, who one expects to make his home debut for the Blues. Aymeric Laporte will make up the centre-back pairing as we prepare to see the latter and Dias go up against a strong Arsenal attack.
The player who plays at left-back is probably the biggest defensive dilemma Guardiola will face this weekend. Pre-match he said, “It depends on the game, the performance of each player, the physical condition,” when asked about the left-back situation and I personally think Joao Cancelo will get the nod over Benjamin Mendy and Nathan Ake. Cancelo thrived on the left of the defence towards the end of last season and should provide more defensive cover than the continually unreliable Mendy.
With Kevin De Bruyne sidelined, Manchester City’s midfield has ultimately lost it’s best and most in-form player, with whoever plays in the number eight role having big boots to fill. The Blues’ midfield has lacked fluidity and been rather disjointed in recent weeks, which why I suspect to see a midfield of Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden.
Gundogan, who is yet to feature for Manchester City this season, will play in the CDM role usually taken up by Rodri or Fernandinho, while one expects Bernardo Silva to be given the responsibilities usually handed to De Bruyne - a position Bernardo excelled at against Manchester United in the League cup last season. Phil Foden should be raring to go given he was one of a number of players not called up to their respective international sides.
Raheem Sterling is another Manchester City player who didn’t take part in the recent internationals due to an injury. The Englishman will likely lead the line for City, though I expect Sergio Agüero to make an appearance during the 90 minutes. Either side of Sterling will be Riyad Mahrez and Ferran Torres, with the latter providing a glimpse of his talents in the League cup win against Burnley.
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