Unai Emery and Arsenal fans given reality check by Manchester City
The London side's new manager was shown the size of the task facing him as his team was outplayed by the Premier League champions
Arsenal fans began streaming out of the Emirates Stadium long before the final whistle of their opening Premier League game of the season against Manchester City.
“What a waste of £71 (Dh332),” shouted a woman by the J turnstile block.
“Totally agree, they all have to go,” a man bellowed in accord as he went past her. “We need new ownership here.” There was a strong consensus.
Heading for the London Underground, another fan told his friend that new players were needed now.
“Unlikely, we can’t bring anyone in until January,” came the reply. “We’re stuck with what we’ve got.”
If those reactions seemed a little knee-jerk after the first match in 22 years when Arsene Wenger was not Arsenal’s manager, the tone was calmer inside the stadium.
Manchester City were England’s runaway champions last season and there’s little to suggest they will not be England’s pre-eminent force again this term.
City, with 100 points in 2017-18, played like champions and were ahead after 14 minutes as Raheem Sterling, the best player on the pitch, scored after picking up the ball on the edge of the box, pushing past two players and striking the ball home from 18 yards.
On a heavily overcast afternoon where the floodlights were needed during the first half, Bernardo Silva got the second after 64 minutes following a beautiful passing movement between Sterling and the equally outstanding Benjamin Mendy, who had also played a part in the first goal.
“One Arsene Wenger,” teased the travelling City fans. “Champions of England, we know what we are.”
“Arsene Wenger, he’s won more trophies than you,” replied the home fans.
Arsenal were second best throughout – and little surprise since they finished 37 points behind City last season in sixth place.
Unai Emery’s side looked persistently uncomfortable when passing the ball out from Peter Cech, 36, at the back.
In one calamitous moment, Cech, who kept his place despite the signing of a new goalkeeper, Bernd Leno, almost scored an own goal, though he did make several saves from Sterling, Riyad Mahrez, Aymeric Laporte and Sergio Aguero to keep his side in the game for so long.
Ahead of the defenders, 19-year-old debutant Matteo Guendouzi struggled. The French midfielder was at Lorient in Ligue 1 last season but although he impressed pre-season for Arsenal and was full of effort, he was often overrun and outclassed by Fernandinho and Ilkay Gundogan.
Arsenal’s system under Emery demands pressing, but they could not land a punch on City and were weak when they had chances in front of goal, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and substitute Alexandre Lacazette shooting well wide in both halves.
Aaron Ramsey started as a forward and Mesut Ozil played in a deeper role than normal, yet was barely noticeable.
The same could be said of the talented Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Granit Xhaka. Arsenal’s substitutes, new signings Lucas Torreira and Stephan Lichtsteiner could be satisfied with their cameos in a team which lacked cohesion and balance.
Arsenal were missing players and their fortunes were not helped when their third choice full-back Ainsley Maitland-Niles went off after 30 minutes after a clash with Kyle Walker.
The London side made significant changes in the close season, but they will take time to bed in under their new manager.
At least Emery will be on more familiar ground when Arsenal’s Europa League campaign begins, since he led Sevilla to successive triumphs in the competition.
City manager Pep Guardiola says his side will get even better after playing together for two seasons. He gave Mahrez a debut and brought on Kevin de Bruyne, Gabriel Jesus and Leroy Sane when they were winning to underline their strength. Central defender John Stones was excellent.
Emery may have appeared on the front of the matchday programme, but there was no welcome introduction for him, no songs from fans.
On the bright side, Arsenal are not expected to win the league and at least he will not have to play an opponent as accomplished as Manchester City every week, although Chelsea next Sunday will also be a tough test of the club's new era.
Updated: August 13, 2018 04:43 PM