With summer preseason friendlies coming to a close this week, all eyes are beginning to focus on the start of another Barclays Premier League campaign. For Arsenal and Manchester City, the FA Cup holders and Premier League winners will contest the Community Shield at Wembley on Sunday in the preamble to what could be another momentous season in England.
Sure, the Community Shield is not so much a desideratum as it is a fine spectacle for fans, but it gives us a chance to evaluate two of England’s best clubs at present and what we can expect from them come the 16th of August. Due to World Cup layoffs, both teams have played the majority of their friendlies without their staple players, and we should anticipate the same at Wembley.
Manchester City, who have put on a commendable showing in the Guinness International Champions Cup, demonstrated why they will again be among the favorites to win the Premier League. Even without the likes of Alvaro Negredo leading the firing line, City fans can be buoyed by the auspicious partnership between Edin Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic.
Dzeko has been supplied with renewed confidence from Pellegrini and could see himself finally solidify a place in the XI with Negredo out and Sergio Aguero recovering from a World Cup final defeat.
Similarly, Jovetic is due for a run in the squad and can serve as a more-than-capable complement to Dzeko. In fact, for those of you who saw Jovetic at Fiorentina a couple of years back, his form at the moment should come as no surprise. When healthy, he is as good as anyone City have.
With Fernandinho another doubt for Pellegrini ahead of City’s opener against Newcastle, the team’s most recent signing of Fernando from Porto could see the defensive midfielder starting alongside Yaya Toure. Bolstered by the performances of Dzeko and Jovetic, Pellegrini is again left with the supporting cast of Samir Nasri, Jesus Navas and David Silva.
A note to Pellegrini here on Navas: Invest in him just like you did in Dzeko. Even when he has a wobble, he should be on the pitch more often than not. He will pay back. Pace, crossing and most importantly ability to keep width make him and City much more mobile and dangerous.
After parting ways with Joleon Lescott, and with Micah Richards’ time seemingly coming to an end in Manchester, finalizing the acquisition of Eliaquim Mangala would seal a successful, yet somewhat low-profile summer transfer window for Pellegrini’s side.
The forceful Porto defender would be a fine addition to City’s defense, which will be arguably their most contentious sector, with Kolarov and Clichy battling for the left-back position and Bacary Sagna a worthy challenger to Pablo Zabaleta.
Arsene Wenger, on the other hand, has finally been granted enough money to spend this summer and has splashed out on key reinforcements that could put the North Londoners back in contention for the Premier League title race.
Year after year, Arsenal seem to be victims of unwarranted criticism, consistently placed into the category of title contenders before falling through.
After topping the Premier League table for a record number of weeks last season, who knows what could have been if Aaron Ramsey and Theo Walcott stayed healthy. It was a season of "what-ifs" for the Gunners, but if this summer is any indication, would it be unfair to put them back into that standing?
Having secured the signings of Alexis Sanchez, Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and David Ospina, Wenger has indeed addressed some of the areas in which the squad may have been lacking.
But with less than a month before the window closes, I still notice a lack of a traditional holding midfielder. Should the club close in on William Carvalho, Arsenal would reclaim that bit of brawn and bite to their midfield that isn’t exactly endowed at the moment.
The Sami Khedira rumors have been in full flow since the World Cup ended, and while it wouldn’t hurt, even with Khedira, Arsenal still need a disciplined defensive midfielder. They need somone who will sit and protect the back four, and most importantly, cut off the supply line to the forwards being marked by center-backs Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker to take some of the pressure off them.
After seeing Arsenal put five past Benfica in the Emirates Cup, then allowing Radamel Falcao to re-open his scoring account after returning from injury the next day and falling 1-0 to Monaco, it’s difficult to say what kind of Arsenal we can expect this season.
Set pieces will still prove to be a worry, I fear, to no surprise, as will the lack of another quality center-forward. Wenger told the media following the team’s defeat to Monaco that Olivier Giroud is nowhere near ready, a somewhat startling and unsettling remark considering the start of the Premier League season is less than a fortnight away.
The Frenchman was in double figures in his second season in North London, but he still found himself on the back of criticism from the media and Arsenal supporters. Yaya Sanogo, the only other true center-forward in Wenger’s squad, is still only 20 years old, and, let’s face it, you can’t expect him to bag goals every game in the way he did against Benfica.
Morever, if Arsenal do not sign another top-level striker, I would keep Joel Campbell and send Sanogo on loan. After all, Campbell has proven himself abroad, and, in my mind, he deserves a place at Arsenal outright.
The idea of Alexis Sanchez playing through the middle is nice, but I am not in the camp of him being a jack-of-all-trades and master of none. That seems more of an excuse than anything, and there is no reason for him to feel that pressure and have to adjust to a role that is not his best. Arsenal should and could get a top-level striker.
In conclusion, until I saw Manchester City on tour in the United States, I thought that after a relatively quiet transfer market so far, they may have slipped a little behind Chelsea in terms of favorites for the Premier League title.
The depth on offer and the level of play and preparedness makes me think that City already had more than enough. A healthy Jovetic is like a new quality signing, and Fernanado is a great new signing. You already knew that, though.
Arsenal, as always, have plenty of promise. When healthy—and with Sanchez—they are capable of beating anyone. But here is the rub. More grit and a couple of key signings would wipe out the doubt. The inability to beat top teams last season lingers, yet it is a team that you simply can’t dismiss, can you?
Your turn, Mr. Wenger, you are very close. Buy proven quality and don’t rely on potential. Potential is like life and is a box of chocolates. You never know what you are going to get. Chelsea and City buy to win now. Arsenal are in the same big club category and need to win now.