LONDON: Unai Emery saw the reality of the task confronting him as his first Premier League match in charge of Arsenal, and the club’s first for 22 years under a manager other than Arsene Wenger, brought defeat.
Not any old defeat but a home defeat against champions Manchester City, by 2-0. Emery’s team appeared experimental in selection and tactics and short of understanding. They created few chances and their failings were underlined by comparison with one of Europe’s finest, smoothest footballing machines.
No team have defended the Premier League title since Manchester United won three in a row between 2007 and 2009. Indeed, the last three winners of the competition have all finished outside the top four the following campaign. But City have already demonstrated their potential to break with modern tradition.
Hence Emery could have wished for a less taxing start to his Premier League career than a test against the champions when he is still trying to organise in his own fashion a team containing a string of new players.
First signs of a new man at the helm for the players was on their arrival last month for pre-season training to find a new outdoor gym had been built next to the training pitches at London Colney just outside north London.
Emery wants his players to move more easily and quickly between ball-work and gym-work and back again. They have had to step up their workrate in longer training sessions and Emery has placed greater emphasis than Wenger on tactical instruction. He also spends two hours every day with the English language tutor who even accompanied the team on tour to Singapore.
Guardiola is one of the fellow coaches whom Emery most admires and City’s readiness for the title defence had been displayed in the pace and aggression evident in their 2:0 win the previous week at Wembley over FA Cup holders Chelsea in the Community Shield.
The omens for Arsenal were not good. They were beaten 3-0 at home by City twice in one week last season – first in the League Cup and then the league – and Emery, with his cv from Almería, Valencia, Sevilla and Paris Saint-Germain, had never beaten a Guardiola team.
City handed a first start to record £60m signing Riyad Mahrez while Arsenal started with Petr Cech in goal, rather than new signing Bernd Leno.
Cech was beaten inside the first 15 minutes as Raheem Sterling accelerated past Hector Bellerin and shot City ahead deservedly, with his 50th Premier League goal. Sterling thus showed once more that he can do for his club what he cannot for England: it is three years since the World Cup star has scored a goal for his country.
Bellerin had a shot well saved by Ederson as Arsenal sought to hit back and then Sergio Aguero shot into the side net as City counter-attacked. Arsenal had another lucky escape when Cech nearly curled a clearance back into his own goal. The veteran keeper made amends by saving a Riyad Mahrez free kick then deflecting Aymeric Laporte’s shot on the rebound for a corner.
Unai decided to chase the match in the second half, bringing on Alexandre Lacazette to play alongside Aubameyang. He made an instant impact but not sufficient because, within minutes, Bernardo Silva shot City further ahead and given Emery a great deal of thinking to do.