The Premier League gets underway this weekend after an 89 day absence and much emphasis will be on the game between Arsenal and Manchester City that takes place on Sunday afternoon.
Both clubs are at different stages of their life cycles. Former Paris Saint-Germain manager Unai Emery has taken over the reins at Arsenal from club legend Arsene Wenger in what will be a completely new experience for many Gunners fans.
The signings of Stephan Lichtsteiner, Bernd Leno, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Lucas Torreira have created some optimism within the club, but the off-the-pitch antics with Stan Kroenke might cause some disruption.
Pep Guardiola, meanwhile, starts his third season at the Etihad Stadium on the back of a record-winning Premier League season with much focus being on retaining the title and improving on their underwhelming Champions League campaign from last season.
The return of Benjamin Mendy from a long-term injury will feel like a new signing, as will Aymeric Laporte who struggled to cement himself in the starting XI but with a full pre-season under his belt, he will now look to kick on. Moreover, the club-record signing of Riyad Mahrez for £60m now gives the manager even more options to choose from and further increases the gap between themselves and the fighting pack for the title.
With both clubs having different aspirations and targets this season, let’s have a look at a combined XI.
GK - Ederson
The uncertainty surrounding Arsenal’s number one means that Ederson gets his place between the sticks because he was arguably a top three goalkeeper in the league last season and you could see the drastic improvement between him and Claudio Bravo from the previous campaign.
Bernd Leno has a lot to prove to the world after being highly rated for many years and now has his chance in the world’s best league, but he is still an unknown quantity. The consistency and distribution of Ederson was a massive factor in this decision.
RB - Kyle Walker
Kyle Walker is an incredible athlete. His pace, agility and constant threat going forward is incomparable to Arsenal’s right-back options.
Hector Bellerin’s growth has somewhat stagnated and is in some cases, considered a liability in the Arsenal defence. Bellerin is constantly out of position due to his attacking nature and is poor in one-on-one situations. Although he does offer an outlet going forward, his delivery is nowhere near as consistent as Walker’s.
CB - John Stones
John Stones had a large part to play in England’s World Cup journey and although he might not have the power as a ‘typical’ centre-half requires, his footballing brain and positioning gives him an advantage. His confidence and ability on the ball means that he fits the bill in a Pep Guardiola side. Laurent Koscielny was the only Arsenal centre-back considered but his inconsistency, injury-proneness and sporadic defending at times, means that Stones was the much safer choice.
CB - Vincent Kompany
Captain, leader, legend. There was no way Vincent Kompany was being omitted from this team. Kompany is a leader of men and these are the sort of personalities you need in your XI.
The Belgian turns up in big moments when his teams need him the most and although he cannot be relied on to start 30+ league games a season, he somehow manages to come back stronger each time. His awareness of the game and his stature on the field gives him the upper hand on most attackers.
LB - Benjamin Mendy
This man will feel like a new signing to Pep Guardiola and the fans. His unorthodox movement on and off the ball gives the impression that he’s poor in defensive situations, similar to Mamadou Sakho, but he’s actually very astute one-on-one.
The size and physicality of the man gives him the edge against most wingers and this doesn’t diminish his agility or speed as he’s one of the quickest in the league. Nacho Monreal came close to Benjamin Mendy for the defensive stability that he brings to the team but the modern day fullback needs to be constantly running from box-to-box, something I believe the Frenchman does better. He is also has an incredibly positive personality and the dressing room needs people like this.
DM - Fernandinho
The Brazilian had a quiet summer in Russia but the influence he has on this Manchester City team is quite astonishing. He, without many realising, makes the team tick. Short five and ten yard square passes either side creates the space for Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva to exploit.
He also gives the likes of Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy the license to roam forward with the confidence that he will be there to protect if anything goes wrong. His defensive positioning and ruthless tackling makes him one of the best defensive midfielders in the game. In this position, no one from the Arsenal side comes close.
CM - Kevin De Bruyne
The first name on the team sheet. If it wasn’t for a freak Mohamed Salah last season, the Belgian would have taken every possible award home. His passing range and vision is unmatched throughout the league and he also produces big goals at the right time to save his side. This man is the most rounded and complete midfielder in the world. Nothing else needs to be said.
CM - David Silva
The Spaniard had a largely troubled year off the pitch last season but on the pitch, he was unstoppable. Those little through balls that everyone has been accustomed to see him do ever since he moved to England are still as effective as ever and his ability to control a game by dictating the speed he wants it played at is brilliant to watch. Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey were in the debate for this position but based on last season, I had to give it to the little magician.
RW - Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
For me, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is one of the best number nine’s in world football. His constant shadow on the defender’s shoulder causes major issues defending against him and pushing ten yards deeper is sometimes the best tactic due to his lightning pace.
Largely considered a poacher, Aubameyang is a lethal finisher and is good in the air. On the wing, he’s a very good option to have and is no stranger to this position. Raheem Sterling will feel aggrieved not to be in the team but Aubameyang’s clinical finishing in front of goal gave him the upper hand.
ST - Sergio Aguero
201 goals for Manchester City, not out. One of the all-time Premier League greats and is still performing on the biggest stages. Sergio Aguero has everything in his locker; goals, assists, quality link-up play, can hold the ball up, good work rate, threat off set pieces and in the air, one of the best penalty takers in world football. The man has everything and despite their best efforts, Gabriel Jesus and Alexandre Lacazette are a level below.
LW - Leroy Sane
It’s still one of the biggest tragedies in football history that Leroy Sane wasn’t selected by the German national squad for the World Cup off the back of an unforgettable campaign. Sane’s directness and speed is a scary thought for any defender and not many are able to nullify his threat. He can score all types of goals and some of his assists and runs from last season were breathtaking. The sky is the limit for the 22 year-old and I fully expect him to one day be battling for the Ballon d’Or.