Reeves: Are there any important starting XI changes that could make a difference this game?
Paul: I mean, yes? The most important starting XI change is that the coach of that starting XI is, for the first time in two decades, a different person. So while I can give you the usual laundry list of “here’s who’s new!” type stuff (Stephan Lichtsteiner (RB), Lucas Torreira (DM), Bernd Leno (GK), and Sokratis (CB), what I can’t do is tell you what kind of difference they’ll make because literally everything about Arsenal is set to be different this season. It’s entirely possible that Arsenal will take a step back from where they have been, but it’s equally possible that Unai Emery can get more out of players like Granit Xhaka and Shkodran Mustafi than Wenger did, which means that Arsenal could actually be better than they were last year.
I’m not saying Emery will magically transform Arsenal into a great team again; all I’m saying is that it’s really hard to know right now what Arsenal will look like early in the season while they find their feet under Emery.
Reeves: What’s the most important tactical difference between Unai Emery and Arsene Wenger?
Paul: The difference so far hasn’t necessarily been tactics, but preparation. One of the things Arsene Wenger was famous for was buying good players and trusting them to work stuff out on the pitch as they go, rather than giving each player a specific role in a specific formation. Which, when it worked, was brilliant; when it didn’t, though, you got the last four seasons of Arsenal’s decline. Emery is very much the opposite of that - he knows what he wants each player to do, and he is not shy about communicating it and drilling them in it so that they know what’s expected of them at all times. This is where my hope mentioned above that he can get more out of the Xhakas and Mustafis of the world comes from.
Reeves: Arsenal spent 71 million pounds on transfers this summer. Which one are the fans most excited for and which one do you think will perform the best?
Paul: For years, Arsenal fans have been clamoring for/screaming about the lack of purchase of a truly defensive midfielder. We thought the club had one in Xhaka, but he’s...inconsistent at best. So this summer, Arsenal bought Lucas Torreira, and we’re all pretty happy about it and can’t wait to see if he turns out to be what we all really want him to be. As for which one will perform the best? I have a sneaking suspicion that Petr Cech will be out of a job by October. Bernd Leno’s not the greatest keeper on the planet, but he’s a lot better than Cech at this point and I’m hoping he’ll prove that very quickly.
Reeves: For a 45+ million pound price tag, Lacazette was disappointing last year. What does he have to do this year to improve?
Paul: Finish better. Finishing is streaky, for sure, but Lacazette isn’t that far off being completely amazing; he just needs to find that little bit of ruthlessness at the business end of all Mesut Ozil’s hard work.
Reeves: Are there any academy/youth players who could feature regularly?
Paul: A couple to keep your eyes on would be Emile Smith Rowe (no hyphen), an 18 year old attacking midfielder from Croydon who has really impressed in this preseason, and Matteo Guendouzi, not an Arsenal academy product but a very promising 19 year old French midfielder. Expect to see Guendouzi a lot in Cup games and Europa League play, while Smith Rowe might actually be poised to at least make the 18 most weeks, if not start every now and again.
Reeves: City beat Arsenal 3 times last season. What things have Arsenal done and/or what can they do to not let that happen again?
Paul: Well, I mean, it’s not like City didn’t have their way on the pitch with pretty much everyone last season. As to what Arsenal can do to stop that happening? I dunno, build a moat in front of the City bench at the weekend, so the players all fall in and can’t get out?
City are dominant, and dominant teams have a tendency to dominate, especially when they’re playing teams in as much flux and transition as Arsenal right now. I am as big an Arsenal fan as you can find, but given where City are in their evolution and where Arsenal are relative to that, I’m just hoping Sunday’s scoreline is merciful.