There couldn’t have been a harder introduction to the English Premier League [EPL] for Unai Emery than against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Manchester City.
Having taken charge of the Gunners during the transfer window, the Spaniard, who has a dismal head-to-head record against Guardiola, having never beaten his compatriot, needs his players to show that the Arsene Wenger era can be let go.
The last two matches between the Gunners and the Citizens have ended in a six-goal aggregate win for Guardiola’s City.
The champions also showed signs they are motivated to successfully defend their league crown with that comprehensive 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield. The 2-0 loss actually flattered Chelsea; it could have been by a margin of at least five goals.
01/03/18 PRL Arsenal 0 – 3 Man. City
25/02/18 LEC Arsenal 0 – 3 Man. City
05/11/17 PRL Man. City 3 – 1 Arsenal
23/04/17 FAC Arsenal 2 – 1 Man. City
02/04/17 PRL Arsenal 2 – 2 Man. City
In the last two seasons at the Emirates, Arsenal have been involved in seven-goal thrillers at the start of the EPL campaign. Last term, it was a 4-3 win over Leicester City and two seasons ago, it was a 4-3 loss to Liverpool.
Guardiola has said losing is his greatest fear and says his players must be motivated by how they got over the line in spectacular fashion last season.
“The important thing is to be there and to be ourselves. It’s not winning back to back, it’s to be ourselves,” Guardiola said in his pre-match press conference.
“People say now we have to forget what we did last season. No way. I don’t want to forget what we have done last season. I know exactly what we did to achieve that and that is where we start from.
“That’s the basic principle. Now, when I say something to them, they know exactly what we have to do.”
For Emery, the message to Arsenal supporters is that they must not be fretful. “My first message is clear – think about each match. Enjoy the challenges of each match,” he emphasised the message to his players at the pre-match press conference.
“I am looking every day and the players are smiling in training with a big collective spirit. They are working and finishing tired but with a smile also on their face.
“For me, that is the best message I can give the supporters. It’s for that [reason that] my message for Sunday is [one of] optimism.”
A draw for the Gunners would be an optimistic start.