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So close and yet so far. Arsenal finished second in the Premier League last season, just five points adrift of top spot. It was only the second time they had finished in the top two since 2004/05.
In many ways it was a fantastic campaign for the Gunners. The expectation before a ball had been kicked was that they would struggle to finish in the top two. Arsenal upset the odds in challenging for the title.
But the fact they fell just short was painful. Arsenal led the way for most of the season. They occupied first place at the end of 30 of their matches throughout the season. The best online sportsbooks made them favorites to win the title for a while.
Unfortunately for Mikel Arteta and his players. Arsenal suffered a late-season dip in form. This allowed them to be overtaken by a relentless Manchester City side that took full advantage of Arsenal’s return of 13 points from the last 27 available.
The question now is whether Arsenal have learned from their shortcomings last term. To be clear, there were more positives than negatives for Arteta to take from 2022/23. But to clear that final hurdle, Arsenal have more work to do.
They have made a solid, if not spectacular, start to the new campaign. Arsenal head into the weekend in third place having won five and drawn two of their seven games up to now. They are a point behind Manchester City but are one of only two teams (along with Tottenham Hotspur) protecting an unbeaten record.
The Gunners did lose 2-1 to Lens in the Champions League on Tuesday, though. Arteta will hope his players are able to put that setback behind them as they prepare to welcome City to the Emirates Stadium.
Manchester City were victorious in midweek, as goals from Phil Foden, Julian Alvarez, and Jeremy Doku saw them run out 3-1 winners against RB Leipzig away from home.
That was their toughest assignment of the Champions League group stage on paper, so Guardiola will be delighted that his team got the job done in a professional manner.
City needed that win too. Had they been defeated at the Red Bull Arena, it would have been their third loss on the bounce in all competitions for the first time since April 2018.
Indeed, before beating Leipzig they were knocked out of the EFL Cup by Newcastle United, after which Wolverhampton Wanderers registered a 2-1 triumph over the champions in the Premier League.
Those back-to-back defeats raised fears over a perceived lack of squad depth at the Etihad Stadium. Kevin De Bruyne is out injured until December, while Riyad Mahrez and Ilkay Gundogan departed over the summer. City’s squad is thinner than most of their rivals.
Still, there is no doubt that they remain the team to beat in English soccer. City won a treble of Premier League, Champions League, and FA Cup last season, and they are currently top of the table once more.
For all the concerns over squad depth, City are still capable of putting out a starting XI packed full of talent in virtually every area.
Even when they are not at their very best, Guardiola’s team are a match for any opponent in the world. Arteta, a former assistant coach at the Etihad, knows that better than most.
This promises to be a fascinating match before the Premier League pauses for the October international break when the USMNT will be among the teams in action.
Arsenal beat Manchester City on penalties in the Community Shield in August, but Guardiola’s side have long had a poor record in that game, which is in effect a glorified friendly.
More pertinently, City beat Arsenal three times last term - twice in the Premier League and once in the FA Cup. Had the outcome been reversed in those two league matches, Arsenal would have won the title.
City will not be at full strength on Sunday. As well as the injured De Bruyne, Rodri is suspended after a red card against Nottingham Forest last month. That is a huge blow given his importance to the team.
Even so, City deserve to be favorites. They have had the edge over Arsenal in recent times and know what it takes to come out on top in matches like this. Moreover, the Gunners are not as consistent at home as you might expect.
We recommend backing Guardiola’s men to depart the Emirates Stadium with all three points on Sunday.
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Greg Lea is a freelance soccer journalist from London. He is the former editor of The Set Pieces, and has contributed to the Guardian, FourFourTwo, and ESPN. A Crystal Palace fan, he is a long-time subscriber to the belief that it's the taking part that counts. Email: [email protected]More info on Greg Lea
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