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Manchester City‘s Premier League title defence got off to a great start on Sunday, as the Sky Blues beat Arsenal 2-0 in their first outing of the season. Raheem Sterling and Bernardo Silva took care of the scoring at Emirates Stadium.
The Gunners fell short in their first official match under new manager Unai Emery, which was a setback given all of the other top-six teams from last season won their openers.
City controlled the action and had the better chances, scoring a goal on either side of half-time.
Here are the main talking points from Sunday’s match.
Emery’s Choices Backfire
Emery made two big decisions with his first starting XI of the Premier League season, with Petr Cech picked ahead of Bernd Leno and Matteo Guendouzi keeping Lucas Torreira on the bench.
Both decisions were understandable―Cech is a veteran of many Premier League tussles, and Guendouzi has been among the Gunners’ standouts in pre-season. Unfortunately, both were at fault for Sterling’s opener.
The latter failed to pick up the England international after Hector Bellerin pushed him inside, and Cech didn’t make a great play for the ball once it flew past him, per Miguel Delaney of The Independent:
Miguel Delaney @MiguelDelaney
Great run and finish, but he’s got past Bellerin and Guendouzi so easily and should Cech not have… stuck his arms out?
Both improved as the half wore on, but the damage had been done. With the lead, City were able to sit a little further back and play the counter, which eventually allowed Silva to double the cushion after the break.
Emery won’t receive heavy criticism for taking a risk against a dominant City side in his first match, but it should serve as a lesson for the tactician. He could afford to take chances like this at Paris Saint-Germain, but the level of competition is a lot higher in England.
Mahrez Proves a Perfect Fit for City
Kevin De Bruyne’s absence from the starting XI didn’t hamper the Sky Blues one bit, and in part, it was because Riyad Mahrez appears to have made a seamless transition. Starting on the right, he immediately proved a perfect fit for Pep Guardiola’s intricate style, drifting in and finding Kyle Walker on the overlap time and time again.
He also communicated well with Sterling, switching flanks at the right moment. Match of the Day thought he impressed:
Match of the Day @BBCMOTD
The Arsenal defence when Mahrez runs at them 🏃
It’s remarkable how quickly the former Leicester City man has adapted to his new surroundings, but he is a superb fit for City’s style. His transfer seemed like the ideal move for all parties involved before it even went through, and Sunday backed that up.
Ozil Must Be Pulled from Isolation in Arsenal Setup
Arsenal put up a reasonable fight in the first half, putting their foot next to City’s in midfield, but they were unable to create much in the attacking third, and that allowed the Sky Blues to take more risks.
The Gunners’ creative struggles were at least partly down to Mesut Ozil’s role as a pure wide man. He was forced to track back and try to keep up with Benjamin Mendy―who kept moving inside when in possession―and that task kept him from getting the ball at his feet in dangerous positions.
The result was an anonymous performance, with plenty of wasteful passes. Coral couldn’t help themselves:
Full credit to Mesut Ozil, who so far, has carried his International retirement over to club football too.
For Ozil to have success, he needs to get the ball early and away from the full-backs cutting inside to defend him. That means pushing Aaron Ramsey and Bellerin into higher positions up the pitch to keep defenders occupied and create pockets of space—something neither did against City.
Instead, Ozil was isolated, with disastrous results. He doesn’t have the legs to compensate with so little space, and getting him out of that isolation will be key.
Arsenal’s difficult start to the season will continue with a visit to local rivals Chelsea in Week 2. The Citizens will play host to Huddersfield.