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Who's better: Arsenal vs Manchester City
I posted a way too early team tiers ranking of Premier League teams and it generated some good discussion and I want to dig a little deeper into the Arsenal vs Manchester City
On twitter I like to workshop ideas that aren’t fully formed and fleshed out, a sort of rough draft of things running through my head that aren’t quite there or maybe never will be but I have a much lower (maybe too low) threshold for what is worth firing off.
One of those things was my way too early Premier League rankings.
I have sort of been thinking about this and starting to get a sense of where teams rank for me at the start of the season. It is still way too early given that the transfer market has just opened and pre-season hasn’t started yet and teams will probably change a lot in the next 5 to 8 weeks. So even with all that it doesn’t stop me from sharing my thoughts even if they aren’t fully baked.
I will get to the Arsenal vs Manchester City stuff in a bit but I will go through some of the others that I got push back on here first.
Why so high on Liverpool?
Liverpool for the full season last year came in as the 4th best team in my mind and my model. They also finished the season on a real hot streak as they got injured players back and Klopp looked to adjust his tactics.
I put a good amount of stock on that I think Klopp is a very good coach and that has shown he can get a bounce back after an injury-plagued season. I like the business so far that they have done to start to address some of the issues that they had in midfield but there is still a question about defensive midfield but with a more functional press in front of the midfield that might be less of a problem.
I still think this is a good team and putting them in the tier of teams that I think will be chasing Manchester City makes sense to me.
Should Chelsea be higher?
I think this is certainly possible. I think Chelsea might be the most highly variable team in the Premier League where if you told me the young team gelled and they finished with a low 80’s points total I wouldn’t be shocked, if you told me that they continued to struggle to find the right mix of players and finished another season in midtable I also wouldn’t be shocked.
My expectation now is that they are a much better team than last year but that they will probably still have growing pains that would put them starting between 5th and 7th among the ‘Big Seven’ teams right now. This is also something that could change a lot as the make more moves in the market to shape this team.
Is this too high on Brighton?
Yes, I do think that at the start of the season, this is way too high on Brighton. I expect that they will sell Moises Caicedo and that will be a big player to try and replace with 2/3rds of the midfield changing. Throw in the additional matches of the Europa League and they will probably take a pretty significant step back.
I also still think that they have an exciting and talented team. They looked like and performed like a very strong team for most of the season last year and I don’t want to discount that entirely. They have a couple of very good attackers in Kaoru Mitoma and Evan Ferguson and still have a very good coach.
They will probably drop down the ratings as the season approaches but right now I am still pretty high on them.
Is this too low on Spurs?
The Gap between Arsenal and Manchester City
I think some of the reason that people think the gap should be closer between Arsenal and Manchester City is that the teams finished just 5 points apart and Arsenal led for a very long time with Manchester only cathing and surpassing them in the final stretch of the season.
I think this undercounts just how far apart the two teams actually were.
Looking at my trusty weighted xG/goals chart I think it really helps put into perspective the differences. Arsenal are the second-best team but they are closer to Newcastle, Liverpool, and Brighton than they are to Manchester City. Adding in a weighting to favor more recent matches really hammers home this gap that opened up as the season progressed between Arsenal and Manchester City.
I am weighing this pretty heavily because it felt like it took Pep Guardiola the first half to two-thirds of the season to figure out the best way to integrate Erling Haaland to the team and evolve into this new four center back team. Once they did that they looked like a pretty unbeatable juggernaut when the game actually mattered for them.
I am willing to discount this a bit for Arsenal due to injuries and lack of depth but I think that still puts Arsenal in the pack behind chasing City. This Arsenal team had a period of most everything bouncing their way and then stretch where it didn’t. Overall this was probably still a very right-tailed outcome for Arsenal and a left of center outcome for Manchester City and while it is possible that could happen again, I think we should default to thinking that gap is pretty large.
Manchester City are going to have some outgoings to deal with and an injury to Kevin De Bruyne but I still think that the track record of Guardiola and the recruitment team gets the benefit of the doubt to have them start as very clear favorites next season.
Goalkeeper: Ederson >> Aaron Ramsdale
I am going through the deep dive on Ramsdale and I think that he is pretty overrated by Arsenal fans. This isn’t to say that he’s bad or anything but I think he’s a good fit as a modern goalkeeper who is young with room to grow but he’s closer to average than elite.
Ederson isn’t a great shot stopper but he is one of the best passers and that puts him with the edge here.
Right back: Ben White > Kyle Walker (?), John Stones > Ben White
This and the other ones are hard to rate right now, given that City play a very different way with four center backs compared to Arsenal (although they are seemingly adding the ability to play something like it).
I think at the current state White is better than Walker for most situations. I think Stones as the starting right back who moves into midfield is better at doing the inverting role but I am not positive the gap is huge on either of these.
Right Center Back: William Saliba > Manuel Akanji/John Stones
All caveats about positions and everything still in place I think Saliba is better here if he’s healthy than Akanji or Stones.
Left Center Back: Rúben Dias > Gabriel
I think Gabriel has closed the gap on this quite a bit over the last 18 months but Dias is still the player I think I would take over him.
Left Back: Oleksandr Zinchenko > Nathan Aké
This is another spot where the comparison is hard because they play in different ways. I could even see where you pick Aké over Zinchenko (that is what City did after all selling him to Arsenal) if you want the better defender and can get ball progression from other positions. So I pick Zinchenko over Aké but I don’t think the gap is big here.
Back four unit overall: I think City’s back four unit is better overall than Arsenal’s. It has a bit higher quality depth with Walker, Rico Lewis, and Aymeric Laporte (plus maybe an additional singing of Josko Gvardiol who I will admit I don’t know enough about to properly rate) looking better than Timber, Holding, Tomiyasu, and Kiwior. Add in a better goalkeeper and I think you take City over Arsenal every time even if there Arsenal have started to build a very good unit overall.
Defensive Midfield: Rodri >> Rice, Rodri > Partey
Rodri is probably the best DM in the world right now and is perfect for what Pep wants to do with his team. At his best Partey can look close to his equal but he falls down with not being able to be depended on to play a full season’s worth of matches, let alone the addition of important European fixtures.
Rice is an exciting player but it might take him some time to adjust to the role so I would put him behind Rodri right now but we will have to wait and see how this looks 6+ months from now.
Right Advanced Midfield: Kevin De Bruyne > Martin Odegaard. Martin Odegaard > Bernardo Silva
This is a hard one and it looks like De Bruyne will be starting with an injury that given his age might be something that finally slows him down. So this is probably a smaller gap than it would have been at the start of last season and it is possible that Odegaard takes the spot going forward.
It remains to be seen what City might do in this spot is De Bruyne’s injury extends beyond the start of the season.
Left Advanced Midfield: Kai Havertz > ??? maybe Mateo Kovacic
I am not really sure who City plan on putting in this spot next year with the departure of Ilkay Gündogan to Barcelona. They may do more of a 4-4-2 shape with Kovacic and Rodri in more of a double pivot and put in Julián Álvarez playing in the hole with Haaland. It is an open question.
Midfield Overall: I think basically a tie right now. Manchester City have the better DM but they have open questions for who plays in front of them. Arsenal are betting on Havertz to be able to play more midfield replacing Granit Xhaka more on that here:
I don’t think that Manchester City’s midfield is done. They seemed to be serious about bidding for Rice and will probably come back in for additional reinforcements.
Right Wing: Bukayo Saka >> Riyad Mahrez/Phil Foden/Silva
This is a spot in flux for City. Mahrez has been excellent for them but he is likely coming to the end of his run with the team and rumors swirling around him and a move to Saudi Arabia. Foden could slot into this spot but he like so many players ends up in a weird spot of coming in and out of Pep’s system. Silva is player that does well when played in this spot but is also one who is reported to be looking for a move away.
Left Wing: Jack Grealish > Gabriel Martinelli
This is one where I think you can make an argument for either. I am picking Grealish here because I think he has just a bit more polish and took a step forward in being able to impact the game last season. Martinelli I think has the higher ceiling overall between the two and could surpass him next season.
Striker: Erling Haaland >> Gabriel Jesus
Haaland is the best striker in the Wolrd and a freak of nature. It seemed to take a few months to figure out how to best integrate him into the system but they did and he scored 52 goals for them. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he beat that next season and broke records all over.
Attackers: Manchester City > Arsenal
Arsenal have the better right back and it is essentially a tie on the left but City might have the best player pure goal scorer in the middle and that heavily tilts things in their direction.
Overall: In my view, City have the better defensive unit, the better-attacking unit, while midfield is probably a tie (and maybe tilts towards Arsenal as things stand with injuries and incoming).
For overall depth City have more right now have more and showed that they trusted that to help see them through their schedule.
I think City have the edge on coaching with Pep arguably the best in the world. Not to denigrate Arteta but let’s be honest here about what the track records say here.
Given all of that I think it is fair to say that there is a gap between the two teams and it is pretty large. Manchester City are going to start the season as favorites in every competition that they are in for a reason, they are simply the best team with what we know right now.