Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Brilliant in Stretches, But Asleep In Others – Player Ratings & Analysis From Arsenal vs. Manchester City

When Manchester City began to take control of the possession early in the second half up a goal, it wasn’t looking good for Arsenal. But our boys fought brilliantly to get back into the match, and scored two sensational goals. However, a goal from City tied it late, and they nearly won it three times in the final minutes. It all amounted to a 2-2 draw, but it was a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing match.

After not creating many chances for much of the game, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez stepped up their already strong play and created two fantastic goals when Arsenal desperately needed it. Wilshere’s goal came arguably against the run of play, as he cleverly chipped Joe Hart. Then he headed toward Sanchez for the second. Sanchez volleyed it brilliantly past Hart. Suddenly Arsenal were ahead against the champions deep in the second half.

City then equalized on a Martin Demichelis header from a corner. It was agonizingly simple for the Argentine, who found some space in front of the zonal marking system. Arsenal worked so hard to get in front, so this was a demoralizing goal to let in. The Gunners must be stronger defensively, as silly goals like that one will cost a lot of points over the course of a season. That City had three more chances to win the game – hitting each post and having a goal disallowed for offside – was hardly a surprise. After all that, you might want to check the hearts of all Arsenal matches. That was scary.

Arsenal were brilliant for much of the first half. Everyone looked lively. Alexis Sanchez was showing off his skill, and they were picking out each other’s runs. The only thing lacking was the definitive final ball. Danny Welbeck was getting himself in great positions, and aptly run onto a loose back pass. It looked for all the world that the new arrival had chipped Arsenal into the lead, but alas, the ball rebounded off the post. Painfully unlucky.

The goal from Sergio Agüero on the counter attack was inevitable. Arsenal were committing too many men forward, and City had to make one pass to get in 70 yards of space. Jesus Navas and Agüero will pick apart a poorly organized defense on the counter any day of the week. Flamini needed to do better with his tackle, and where was Nacho Monreal? Arsenal can’t be giving up goals on the counter at home if they want to be challenging for the title.

There are two major difference between Manchester City and Arsenal right now. The first is the defensive midfield position. When Arsenal commit men forward, Mathieu Flamini can’t control counter attacks. And suddenly City are in on goal. Fernandinho is always there for City, never afraid to tackle or give a foul. He covers the entire field, where Flamini simply can’t.

The other major difference is the ruthlessness to the attack. Arsenal were terrific going forward in the first half, but they weren’t creating many real chances. But when City attacked, they were getting shots off, and finding space in the box. Some of that is down to poor defensive marking from the Gunners, but it also highlights that City play a more direct style in the final third. Sometimes, Arsenal could do with a shot on goal.

I hate when people say Arsenal are guilty of trying to score the perfect goal. The problem isn’t that. Rather, it’s simply a hesitation to pull the trigger. They have been trained by Arsene Wenger to be unselfish, and to look to pass first. That manifests itself in hesitancy around goal. Even Alexis Sanchez was guilty of this early in the second half. Hopefully this is something that will change this year.

I guess Arsenal will be happy with the draw, but it could have been a big win. The final minutes showed how disorganized Arsenal’s defense is right now, and that needs to be rectified. But there were long periods of time today when Arsenal were brilliant.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Danny Welbeck – 7/10 – Welbeck came extraordinarily close to scoring the dream debut goal, but overall, he did very well in his first Arsenal appearance. His work rate stood out today, and he was all over the place in the final third, mixing things up well. He looks to be an immediate fit.

Alexis Sanchez – 8.5/10 – Sanchez was by far the best Arsenal player today, and he scored a magnificent goal on the volley to put Arsenal in the lead. He was incredibly lively on the ball, and made a lot of fantastic funs. His combination of skill and power on the ball was really impressive today. He also is willing to track back, which I appreciate. My only criticism is that his set pieces weren’t very good. But on the whole, Sanchez was superb.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Ramsey was a little quiet again, but he made the layoff to Jack Wilshere for the tying goal. He had his moments, and picked out a couple of passes in the final third, but he isn’t making those same driving runs into the box that he was making last year. I would like to see Ramsey moved deeper, restoring him to the role he player a year ago. As a number 10, I’m not sold.

Mesut Özil – 6/10 – The commentators harped on Özil’s poor play today, but I actually thought he was involved in a lot of Arsenal’s best moves. He wasn’t particularly good today by any means, but everybody needs to get off the “let’s pick on Özil” train. He definitely looked shy on the ball in the second half, but I thought much of the criticism today was overblown. Needless to say, he needs a goal to quiet the mobs.

Jack Wilshere – 8.5/10 – Wilshere scored a stunning goal to tie the game, brilliantly chipping Joe Hart after a couple of pristine touches next to goal. It was a goal worthy of the occasion. And his header towards Sanchez for the assist was timely. It was telling that Wilshere was involved on both goals, as he was particularly lively in the second half. His tackling was good as well.

Mathieu Flamini – 5.5/10 – Flamini was caught on his front foot too many times today. He needed to stay back to halt all counters and he didn’t do that. He might have been unlucky that his tackle deflected to Jesus Navas for the first goal, but the simple fact is that Flamini didn’t do his job. He did very little to halt City’s attack all day.

Nacho Monreal – 7/10 – Monreal was nowhere to be seen on the City goal, but for the majority of the match, he was solid on the left. He was stronger in the air than he normally is, and bombed down the left on a few occasions. I was impressed by Monreal today.

Laurent Koscielny – 6.5/10 – Koscielny had an up and down day, making a couple of key tackles and clearances up the field, but also falling asleep once or twice. He and Mertesacker haven’t looked as strong a pairing this year, and that is a bit worrying.

Per Mertesacker – 5.5/10 – Mertesacker’s lack of pace was evident today, as City badly exposed him. He lost his men in the box, and wasn’t able to stay with the pacey forwards. He had no chance with Edin Dzeko in stoppage time, and was fortunate a few more times too. He needs to be better.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6.5/10 – Debuchy was good on the right today. He didn’t get forward too often, but he did his job defensively. I liked seeing the fight he showed when he tackled James Milner after Milner had taken him out a minute before. The injury Debuchy suffered at the end of the match looks to be significant, which would be a real shame.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7.5/10 – Szczesny made a couple of key saves that kept Arsenal in the match when they were down a goal. He also made a save in stoppage time that saved Arsenal from an embarrassing defeat. He stepped up today when he needed to. He didn’t have much of a chance on the two goals.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (79th) – 6/10 – The Arsenal player of the month for August had one timely header, but he didn’t get to Alexandr Kolarov in time a few minutes later, and Kolarov hit the post. From the looks of the Debuchy injury, Chambers will be the right back for the foreseeable future.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (88th) – N/A – The late substitute made no impact.

Mikel Arteta (95th) – N/A – Good to see him step on the step. Literally didn’t see anything else.

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Sports Saturday – Arsenal and Arkansas

It feels like I haven’t written anything about sports in forever. The lack of content has been a simple matter of time. Getting back to school has kept me thoroughly busy. And while I’ve actively sought time when I could write for my blog, the problem has been that I just haven’t had time to watch much sports. Every night I’ve got some sort of commitment at 7 or 8, and I get back to my room and find all games I want to watch are over. Last night for example, I wanted to catch some of the Steelers-Ravens game, but I only saw the very first series and the very last series. I’ve even been too busy to go to my school’s sports games.

I can’t imagine how I would have been able to watch the Red Sox this year were they in the pennant race. A year ago, I made time every night to watch the games. But I don’t think that would have been possible this go around. My courseload this semester revolves around hundreds of pages of reading each week, and I’m not able to watch sports and read at the same time – or at least not effectively.

The two sports that work with my schedule are soccer and college football.  I can always wake up early on the weekends, and at college, nothing much happens before noon anyway. And Saturdays are usually flexible enough that I can devote a few hours to watching the Arkansas game. However busy I am, I think I need to spend at least a few hours watching sports each week to keep me sane, and Saturday has been that time for me. Then on Sunday, I’m back hitting the library, maybe catching a little of the Patriots.

So sitting here now on Friday afternoon with my first real free time in a while, I finally have time to write. And I have to say, it feels really good. I do want to have more content as we go forward, but it all dependent on whether my schedule clears up at all. But now, I want to get to writing about sports.

Tomorrow is a big day for my teams. At 7:45 am, I’ll arise for the Arsenal-Manchester City game at The Emirates. A year ago, I made the short trip across the pond for this match, so needless to say, I won’t be sleeping in. And a few hours later, Arkansas plays old Southwest Conference rival Texas Tech on ABC. I might even try to watch a little bit of College Gameday to get myself reacquainted with the sports world. I feel like I’ve been living under a rock. And of course I’ll have to watch some of the Georgia-South Carolina game if only to hear the best music there is – the SEC on CBS theme gets me fired up like nothing else. I’m getting excited while listening to it right now.

I’ll start with the Arsenal match. This is a big one. I think Arsenal are facing Machester City at the right time. They won’t have had much time to fix what wrong against Stoke City, and they haven’t yet hit their goalscoring stride that will surely come soon. I’m not particularly afraid of their attack at the moment, and don’t think they’ll be putting six past Wojciech Szczesny.

However, that’s not to say I think this match will be much like the 3-0 result in the FA Community Shield. Arsenal themselves are not in a great place, but I think the international break should have settled some nerves that might have arisen after the poor performance against Leicester City. Danny Welbeck’s arrival also has improved morale, both in the locker room and in the stands, and supporters will be fully behind the team.

I’d like to see Welbeck start up top, even with only two days of training under his belt. He has played with enough of these guys in the England setup that he should settle quickly. Going with Yaya Sanogo could inject some doubt into the minds of the players, and that isn’t what you want to do when you’re playing the champions. Even if Welbeck only goes 60 minutes, his presence alone should boost the confidence of those around him.

The lineup I’d like to see is as follows: Welbeck, Santi Cazorla, Mesut Özil, Alexis Sanchez, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta, Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Per Mertesacker, Mathieu Debuchy and Szczesny. One other player I want to see involved is Tomas Rosicky. He’s played a bit part in the campaign thus far, and I think he’s one who could get the engine going. Should the attack look stagnant, Rosicky would be the first man I’d bring on.

I think Wilshere should play in place of Aaron Ramsey, as it’s not worth risking his health so early in the year. Wilshere might have some problems with Yaya Toure, but the Ivorian hasn’t been at his best this year. However, Wilshere will need to stay disciplined to help out Arteta, who might not be back to 100% himself.

My prediction for the game is 2-1 Arsenal, which would be a huge confidence boost. The Gunners badly need a win over top opposition, and I think today is the day they do it. Expect a strong performance from the attacking midfielders, who will begin to form an understanding in the final third. It should be a fascinating encounter. But regardless of how it goes, after the endless international break, I’ll be excited enough to see the Premier League back in action.

Now to some thoughts on the Arkansas game. I don’t know a whole lot about Texas Tech, as I’ve yet to watch them play. However, I believe the Hogs are talented enough to hold the fate of this game in their own hands. I have watched most of the previous two games, and generally I have been impressed. Say what you want about Nicholls State, but Arkansas’s offensive execution a week ago was amazing.

My favorite part about this Razorback team is the offensive line. They look like a Bret Bielema team should look. After years of watching Ryan Mallett and Tyler Wilson harassed every time they dropped back to pass, it’s fun seeing the big boys push around defenders at will. Most of the success the Hogs have had running the ball this year has been down to the massive holes that the line has opened up. Give Alex Collins a little space, and he’ll do the rest.

Even though quarterback Brandon Allen has been better – that term is relative given that he only had to throw 5 times last weekend – I do not trust him with ball. He has thrown far too many costly pick-6’s. As such, I don’t want to see a balance of passing and rushing. I want to see the running backs opening up the pass. If Allen is only throwing on play-action every now and then, we will all be better off. When he tries to do too much, he messes up in a big way. He can’t do that today.

The defense will have their hands full, but they look improved from a year ago. Texas Tech will pose a nice test before the Razorbacks head back into SEC play. I liked what I saw from a bunch of the freshmen that took the field last weekend, so it will be interesting to see how much Bielema plays them with the improved competition.

Were this game in Fayetteville, I would have Arkansas by two touchdowns, but given that the game is at Texas Tech, I think it will come down to the fourth quarter. It will be up to Brandon Allen not to make mistakes. Should he keep the ball safe, I predict Arkansas will take the game in the end. This will be the afternoon that the running back trio announces themselves to the country.

Enjoy the action tomorrow, and check back for post-game coverage. I’ll make sure to find the time.

 

 


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Arsenal Roundup – Man City, Arteta, Vermaelen and More

With the triumph in the FA Community Shield against Manchester City yesterday (see player ratings from the match here) and with the Premier League season kicking off in under a week, there is an abundance of Arsenal news to discuss this morning.

Let’s start with yesterday. And what an awesome day it was. Anybody and everybody wants to point out that the FA Community Shield is only a preseason match, or that Manchester City wasn’t really trying. While both of those things might be true on some level, it was still meaningful that Arsenal won another trophy so convincingly. My favorite quote I’ve read comes from Arsene Wenger, who said, “If you lose it, they say you lost a trophy. If you win it, they say it’s only the Community Shield.”

But even if you don’t believe the trophy is meaningful in and of itself, consider this victory as important in other ways. For me, beating another top-4 side at the start of the season should boost Arsenal’s confidence levels tremendously. A year ago, when playing top opposition, Wenger’s men often played on the back foot, looking at times like they lacked belief. But yesterday’s result will bring that belief back into the squad. No team can win a title without believing. And no team will believe until it can beat the top sides. And Arsenal ran a top side off the field yesterday. It can only be a good thing.

On an individual level, lifting a trophy of any sort is good for morale in the dressing room. Winning not only will keep players around and attract new ones, but it will inspire those on the fringes of the team. Trophies boost the spirits of the entire squad, not just those on the field. And from yesterday’s game, a lot of players can be happy with how they played. The new boys especially should be pleased with how they fit directly into the team. That Calum Chambers was voted man of the match by the fans is a deserving welcome that should hopefully inspire him to continue on the way to great things.

And who doesn’t feel better about the team after yesterday? Chambers definitely looked like a player capable of playing center back, and playing it quite well at that. Even Nacho Monreal played well at that position in the second half. And in the midfield, Mikel Arteta’s performance should do a lot to alleviate any worries about the defensive midfield position. Going up against the power of the City midfield, Arteta held his ground, and distributed the ball as accurately as ever going forward. He may not be a flashy international, but he does the little things right. I wouldn’t be surprised if Wenger leaves that position alone in the transfer market the rest of the way.

The biggest indication that Wenger has no desire to spend big on William Carvalho or Sami Khedira was given yesterday when Arteta was officially appointed Arsenal’s next captain after the match. Had Arteta not been a big part of Wenger’s plans going forward, he would not have made that choice. I’m sure nearly every Arsenal fan will have wanted a splashier choice for the captainship, be it Per Mertesacker or Aaron Ramsey, but none of us should be surprised at Arteta’s appointment. He is a thorough professional and a good leader on the field. He won’t be burdened by the job, and unlike many others, he doesn’t play internationally, meaning he spends more time around the club than almost anyone else. Arteta won’t be captain forever. But he’ll do the job admirably.

At vice captain, Mertesacker was the obvious choice. A year ago, he wore the band often, and I think that will happen again this year. He is a fantastic leader, and has the respect of everyone in the dressing room. Areteta has a terrific right hand man in Mertesacker.

I’ve yet to address the confirmed departure of Thomas Vermaelen. The now former Arsenal captain left this weekend for Barcelona on a £15m deal. This move was a long time coming, and it should satisfy all involved. Vermaelen gets a fresh start on his career and a chance to reestablish himself as a top class defender. Arsenal gets their wish of moving him abroad, and for a substantial fee at that. And Barcelona gets an experienced center back capable of playing their style.

There are no hard feelings on this one. Unlike the other high profile departures in recent years, Vermaelen stuck around even when it wasn’t in his best interest. He doesn’t leave for Barcelona seeking more money or more trophies. He goes seeking playing time. And we can’t fault him for that after he spent more than a full year quietly accepting his role behind Mertesacker and Koscielny. It can’t have been easy to have had to give pre-game captain’s notes every week knowing he wasn’t going to play, but Vermaelen was extremely professional throughout.

I really liked the Belgian. His marauding style of play was always fun to watch, and you could tell how much the games meant to him. When he scored a goal, he had an infectious smile. And his celebrations were always displays of pure joy. It was hard for me to watch him waste his career on the bench, and I’m glad he’s getting a chance elsewhere. My lasting Vermaelen memory won’t be of a defensive lapse or of him sitting on the pitch – it will be of him sprinting to the corner flag with the biggest grin on his face after scoring a 95th minute winner against Newcastle. Best of luck in Barcelona, Thomas.

Today also has brought the return of our World Cup winning trio to training. Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil were all smiles on their arrival this morning, and they while they are a ways off from being match fit, their presence at training is most welcome. It’s always nice to have winners around.

The Premier League season is so close I can feel it. While yesterday was great, it will be an even better feeling waking up on Saturday knowing there is an entire year of Arsenal ahead of us. I am full of cautious optimism right now. It is going to be a great season.

 

 

 


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Another Match, Another Trophy – Player Ratings for Arsenal’s FA Community Shield Triumph

There wasn’t nine years of waiting this time. Arsenal dominated from the opening minutes in the FA Community Shield against City, and rightfully lifted the trophy at the end of the match, winning 3-0. While it may not be the most important silverware, it is still a trophy nonetheless. This game should be yet another lift for the entire club, boosting the morale even more in a wonderful summer. When the Premier League opens next weekend, Arsenal supporters can feel rightfully confident.

I don’t have much time to write today, so I’ll save most of my analysis tomorrow morning. But I have to say it was a terrific day to be a Gooner. Arsenal look a devastating side going forward, and all day, Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey were creating chances and finding space. Manchester City were missing a lot, especially in defense, but Arsenal certainly look a side on par with the reigning Premier League champions. It could be a fun year.

Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud scored three good goals, and Arsenal were comfortably on the front foot for much of the game. With the German players arriving back on Monday, Arsenal are in a great place as the season begins.

Here are my player ratings for Arsenal’s FA Community Shield winning side.

Plater Ratings (1-10)

Yaya Sanogo – 7/10 – The young Frenchman didn’t look out of place in the starting XI in the first half, doing a little bit of everything up top. As always, his movement was quite impressive, and while his tendency to stray offside needs to change, his pace was a nuisance for Manchester City. His assist for Ramsey might have been a tad fortunate, but it was Sanogo’s run that put Arsenal in that positive position.

Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – Sanchez looks like he’s going to fit in seamlessly. Some of his ideas didn’t always work out, but whenever he got on the ball, Arsenal looked threatening. He may have only played a half, but he put in a great debut performance. You have to think as he gets more comfortable with his teammates, he’ll only get more dangerous.

Santi Cazorla – 7.5/10 – It was rather fitting that Cazorla scored the opening goal after a summer in which he’d been generally overlooked. The little Spaniard put in a great shift on the wing, as his movement and passing was excellent. His goal was superbly taken after cleverly letting the ball run across his body. Cazorla’s got a lot more to give this year, and his willingness to track back could make him an attractive option on the left wing.

Aaron Ramsey – 9/10 – Ramsey’s late first half goal was emblematic of his performance on the day. He made it look easy, scoring from only a few yards out, but so much more went into the goal. He made a run from half field to get into position to receive the ball from Sanogo, and deftly chipped the ball past the first defender before firing it into the far corner. Ramsey was everywhere on the pitch, always choosing the right runs to make and finding the right balls. It looks like it will be another banner year from the Welshman.

Jack Wilshere – 7/10 – Wilshere didn’t have a standout game, but he was quite effective in the midfield, linking up well with everyone around him. Whether it was releasing pace down the flanks, or simply keeping possession, Wilshere had a good day. Defensively, he did well in his own right, putting in a couple of decent challenges.

Mikel Arteta – 7/10 – Arteta put in an admirable shift in his usual defensive midfield role. He was composed on the ball, linking up well with his fellow midfielders, and never strayed too far out of position. Against Yaya Toure, Arteta held his ground this time out. Many don’t think he can be on the field if Arsenal want to win a title, but Arteta could well prove everyone wrong.

Kieran Gibbs – 6.5/10 – Gibbs had a lot of success getting forward in the first half, and combined well with Cazorla all day. He struggled a little bit with Jesus Navas on the wing, but there were no disastrous moments. At this point in his career. Gibbs will be counted on as a consistent, top of the line left back.

Laurent Koscielny – 6.5/10 – In only one half of action, Koscielny put in a decent shift, tracking City’s runners nicely. With Chambers pushed a bit forward, Koscielny was always there to clean up anything in behind. His one on one defending was also impressive. Let’s hope it wasn’t an injury that forced him off at the half.

Calum Chambers – 7.5/10 – Chambers seemed a lot more comfortable intercepting passes and stepping higher up the pitch rather than defending one on one closer to goal. He is clearly still learning the center back position, but overall, he made a bright start to his Arsenal career. He made a couple of clearances with his head, and was quite effective picking off any loose passes from City in the final third.

Mathieu Debuchy – 7/10 – Right from the start, Arsneal’s new right back was bombing forward and sending in crosses towards Sanogo. He and Sanchez seem to have formed a quick understanding. Defensively, Debuchy made an excellent block from a Samir Nasri shot in the first half. He should have done better with a header early in the second half, as he was caught a bit flat footed, but Szczesny was there to save Stevan Jovetic’s effort in the end.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – The Arsenal keeper put in an assured display at the back for the most part. He had a quiet first half, but when called upon the the second half, he was there to stop shots and claim any crosses. He was quick off his line and confident in the air. He made one questionable decision on Jovetic’s header, and didn’t reach a corner late on, but overall, Szczesny looked good. He seems inspired to play the sweeper role this year, and hopefully he didn’t concuss himself late on.

Substitutes

Olivier Giroud (46th) – 7.5/10 – A wonderfully taken, albeit slightly deflected goal highlighted a great performance from the Frenchman. Still lacking ffitness, Giroud only played the second half, but it was a successful afternoon. He held up play nicely, and showed off his strength on the ball. He should be fully fit soon.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (46th) – 5.5/10 – The winger came on at half but didn’t make much of an impact in his time on the field. Much of his work was on the defensive end, and while he let his men get by him a few times, he was usually quick enough to get back in position. He’ll be disappointed not to have gotten on the ball more.

Nacho Monreal (46th) – 6.5/10 Back at center back, Monreal was solid in the back next to Chambers. He handled the strength of City’s frontmen admirably. Who would have expected Monreal to be confidently taking the ball off Yaya Toure in the box? It was a much better performance from the converted left back.

Mathieu Flamini (67th) – 6/10 – Flamini will have wanted to start the game over Arteta, so it was notable that he started the match on the bench. And when he came on, he was pushed ahead of Arteta, showing that there is a clear pecking order at defensive midfielder right now. He got in one good position going forward, but overall, it was a pretty quiet appearance from Flamini.

Tomas Rosicky (70th) – N/A – Rosicky made a 20 minute cameo in place of Santi Cazorla, and looked confident on the ball. By that point though, Arsenal weren’t sending many men forward, so there wasn’t much for Rosicky to do.

Joel Campbell (85th) – N/A – Campbell made a late run out at Wembley, but didn’t do much more than run. He nearly got on a ball in the final third , but wasn’t quite quick enough. He’ll be happy enough just to see the field.


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FA Community Shield Preview and Prediction – Arsenal vs. Manchester City

It’s going to be a busy 24 hours for me so I thought I’d write my preview of tomorrow’s FA Community Shield match between Arsenal and Manchester City now. I’ve talked about why the match is and isn’t a big deal, but count me as one who’s incredibly excited for any kind of real games to start. The idea that Arsenal could soon be lifting another trophy makes me smile even thinking about it. Watching the Gunners take the field at Wembley again will be a delight.

This match is an interesting one tactically, as both Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini are still without many of their key players who were at the World Cup. They also will likely want to conceal some of their more innovative ideas going into their Premier League openers next weekend. As a result, the tactics might be more experimental than normal or they could be simplified. With a similar team to what they had a year ago, I expect Manchester City to play close to the style they operated a year ago. But I think Wenger might get creative with some of his tactics.

For instance, I don’t think Olivier Giroud will start the game. He didn’t look fit last weekend, and between Yaya Sanogo and Alexis Sanchez, Wenger has two wildcards at his disposal up front that Manchester City haven’t seen before. So right from the start, I think Arsenal will look much different than they did a year ago, as either option will provide pace and creativity up front rather than hold up play and power. And with Mesut Özil out, Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey might get a shot at playing together in the midfield, which has been a rarity in recent years.

While I would like to see Sanogo start the game, I think Wenger will go with Sanchez up top, alongside Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Santi Cazorla on the wings. Afraid of what City’s sheer power can do in the midfield, I think Wenger will start Ramsey, Wilshere and Mikel Arteta in hopes that all three of them will be willing to put in serious defensive work all match. And in defense, I expect we’ll see Kieran Gibbs, Laurent Koscielny, Calum Chambers and Mathieu Debuchy in front of Wojciech Szczesny. But I wouldn’t be surprised to see Nacho Monreal in there at either left back or center back.

The key to this game for Arsenal will be keeping David Silva and Samir Nasri at bay. The two creative forces have had lengthy summer breaks and will be well prepared for this match. With Arsenal’s defense still learning how to play with one another, this duo might have their way in the final third, picking out passes for those around them. And the problem with facing City is that Yaya Toure can be such a threat from his deep lying spot in the midfield. If too much attention is focused on Silva and Nasri, Toure will get on the ball and do serious damage. Arteta will have his hands full.

This is a particularly big match for Mikel Arteta, assuming he starts in his usual defensive midfield role. There has been increasingly loud clamoring for a new defensive midfielder at Arsenal, with many suggesting that this is the one area the club needs to improve should they want to challenge for the title. Arteta has seen all of the rumors, and he’ll be eager to prove all his doubters wrong. A strong performance against one of the most physically imposing midfields in the world might very well earn Arteta another year as the starter. But should he struggle, Wenger may be left with no choice but to buy a big name in that spot.

Many eyes will be planted firmly on big money arrival Sanchez, but this match will also likely be the competitive debuts at Arsenal for Chambers and Debuchy as well. The three of them will no doubt be looking to start off on the right foot, and there will be no better way to endear themselves to the fans than an impressive debut at Wembley. A goal for Sanchez, an assist from Debuchy, or a series of tackles from Chambers tomorrow could set them on the fast track towards becoming fan favorites. They’ve already brought so much optimism to the club without even playing a game, and now they have the chance to boost morale even more. I think Sanchez will put in a man of the match performance.

I’ve thought a lot about how I want to do predictions for the coming season. For the World Cup, I did elaborate predictions, giving a lot more than just a score. It was fun to write, and while I was semi-successful with some of my more random predictions about how and when goals would be scored, it wasn’t entirely conventional. I think for Arsenal games, I will switch to a more reserved prediction style, naming only a score. I might suggest a player or two who will have good games, but I won’t predict which players will score the goals.

I have a personal philosophy that I don’t want to root for any one player above another to score goals or points on my favorite teams. I want to root for the team as a whole, not individuals. Obviously, I have favorite players, and there are certain players I like to see score than others, but I don’t want to have any conflict of interest when watching my team play. It’s why I try to avoid selecting players from my teams on any of my Fantasy Sports teams (speaking of which, make sure to join the Fantasy Premier League league I’ve formed – see the paragraph at the bottom of this link here for details). So in short, I won’t overdo my prediction sections for Arsenal games.

I expect a high-scoring games given the absence of key names defensively for both sides. Per Mertesacker and Vincent Kompany are badly needed in the middle of their teams’ defenses and both Arsenal and Manchester City will miss their experienced defender. And both teams certainly are not lacking talent in the final third even with players still gone. My final prediction is Arsenal 3 Manchester City 2. It should be a good one.

Check back after tomorrow’s match for postgame coverage and player ratings. Enjoy the first taste of real soccer we’ve had in a while.