It will be 102 days on Wednesday since Arsenal’s last competitive fixture and it will come in a very different world than the last one kicked off in.
I guess soccer will be roughly the same (expect for more subs!) but everything else will feel different... at least at first. If the Bundesliga which has been at this restart the longest show us anything is that you (at least me) can adjust pretty quick to the new situation pretty quick.
The pace of play feels slightly slower, the players aren’t quite as sharp, the automatisms aren’t quite there on the attacking moves, the fake crowd noise is actually pretty good even if it can be veer into uncanny valley at times. Overall except for the crowd stuff it feels a bit like watching the beginning of an international soccer tournament for the quality of play.
I imagine things will be fairly similar in the Premier League as things get going.
Manchester City vs Arsenal
On spreadsheets this is not an even match. Manchester City are a significantly better team than Arsenal in just about every measurable category.
On offense, Manchester City are easily one of the best teams in Europe, the layoff may mean that they are not quite to the same standard but when the standard is as high as what they were it is still mightily impressive.
They have the 4th highest non-penalty xG per match among Big 5 European League teams this season, the 2nd most shots per match, the 9th highest xG per shot, the most passes completed into the penalty area, the most total touches in the penalty area and the 2nd most through balls per match.
It boils down to that Pep Guardiola had them playing the exact kind of attacking style that squeezes teams deep and eventually cuts them open for clear cut chances.
This will likely pose a problem for Arsenal. Even though they have played better sine Mikel Arteta has taken over, the team still really struggles with allowing their opponents deep possession. For the season they rank 10th in the Premier League with nearly 8 (7.9) passes into the penalty area allowed per match, this is actually below the 8.6 that they have averaged since Arteta has managed the team.
Another potential problem is that Arsenal have not dealt well with teams that press high against them, while also being the team that has faced the 3rd most high pressures this season in the Premier League. Teams that Arsenal face have averaged nearly 10 additional high pressures against Arsenal than their typical match, which suggests that teams see this as a weakness that can exploited.
This Manchester City teams (like all Guardiola teams) uses the attacking line as the first line of defense to disrupt counter attacks and to quickly turn defense back into attack about as well as any team in Europe. Manchester City have the 4th most attacking third pressures in Europe at over 46 per match.
In the matches that Arsenal have lost this season, Arsenal’s opponents have averaged 59 high pressures per match compared to just 44.7 for the rest of the matches.
From my perspective I think that these two facets of the game will be the biggest factors in determining how the match turns out.
If Arsenal can limit the ability of Manchester City to get possesion close to Arsenal’s goal they might give themselves a decent chance (to be fair they held City to “just” 9 penalty area completions in the first match but allowed 3 quick goals so it really didn’t matter) to stay in the match. Being able to deal with the high pressure can hopefully allow Arsenal to exploit the soft underbelly of Manchester City where they allow high quality chances when teams are able to beat their press.
The big layoff could tilt things in Arsenal’s favor with perhaps the timing of intricate attacking moves being rusty and the fitness required to press not up to where it was when things stopped but that is still a big gap that would have to be filled between the teams.
I haven’t done anything on the home field advantage so this might be slightly more pessimistic than I would normally expect but it is inline with what FiveThirtyEight has with Manchester City 78% to win and the implied odds from online sportsbooks suggesting Manchester City win this about 74% of the time.