Betting Odds: Arsenal vs. Manchester City

  • Arsenal: +300
  • Manchester City: -106
  • Draw: +288
  • Over/Under: 3 (Over -111/Under -104)
  • Kick-off: Sunday, 11:00 a.m. ET

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Early season top-of-the-table clashes are odd ducks, especially in seasons after a World Cup summer. The major tournament takes up a tremendous amount of the soccer industry’s attention, not to mention its time, energy and money.

Teams at the top of the table are often missing players for most, or all, of preseason. Transfers often happen between the end of the tournament and the start of the season (although in past years the transfer window extended past opening day, making that particular problem even worse).

This opening weekend clash between Manchester City and Arsenal demonstrates just how differently two great teams have to prep for opening day.

The vast majority of Manchester City’s squad was away at the World Cup. Not only were they gone, but they all went relatively deep in the tournament. Ten of the team’s 11 projected starters advanced to the knockout rounds. Only Leroy Sane, who didn’t make the cut for Germany, stayed home.

Prominent backups Gabriel Jesus, Bernardo Silva, Fabian Delph, John Stones and Danilo were all also still there in the group stages. Manchester City will be great this season, they’re odds-on favorites to win the title. They’re also going to be slightly behind the eight ball as the season kicks off.

Arsenal, on the other hand, only had four projected starters at the World Cup. And Mesut Ozil was knocked out during the group stage. Just Nacho Monreal, Granit Xhaka, and new arrival Lucas Torreira played on teams that played more than three games (and only Torreira’s Uruguay played more than four). Arsenal will come into the season with more rest, more training time, and a better preparation schedule for the new season.

Of course, a summer’s worth of training is only part of what goes into the preparation for a season. Manchester City will benefit from having largely the same as last season and playing under Pep Guardiola for the third straight year.

They have no new starters, and the only addition of note is attacker Riyad Mahrez to add depth. City are going to do the thing that they do, which is keep the ball, rip teams to shreds, kill them, and then score on their grave. It’s how they waltzed to the title by 19 points last season.

Arsenal are, again, City’s polar opposite. Unai Emery is the team’s first new manager in a generation after Arsene Wenger finally said au revoir. Emery is a defensive-oriented coach, but he’s inheriting an almost exclusively attacking side. Arsenal’s 51 goals conceded were only the eighth-best in the Premier League. Their almost 49 expected goals conceded were seventh-best.

They tried to press other teams, their passes allowed per defensive action in their opponent’s half (a good measure of a defenses aggressiveness) was just over 9, the third-lowest in the league.

So, they pressed, they just weren’t particularly good at it. Emery will likely improve the defense by making it more conservative, even if that means taking away some of the attacking punch provided by the talented group of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Ozil and company.

The Bet

Implementing an entirely new tactical approach is a big effort. Building an entirely new defense out of the Wenger rubble is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen over one season, and City — even a City on short preparation — is about the worst opponent imaginable for that task.

City probably won’t be at their best, but they should still have more than enough to go to the Emirates and beat an Arsenal defense, that, while it might become competent, almost certainly won’t be yet. I think City (-106) is the play.