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Aug 8, 2014

50-50 Challenge: Arsenal vs. Manchester City

Aaron Ramsey is expecting a difficult match against Manchester City in the Community Shield.

Last season's FA Cup and Premier League winners are set to face off in Sunday's Community Shield. James McNicholas (Arsenal) and Simon Curtis (Manchester City) discuss the match and who will claim the first trophy of the 2014-15 season.

What shape are you in ahead of the new season?

James McNicholas: Off the back of the World Cup, this preseason has felt somewhat rushed. Arsenal have played just four friendlies thus far. Somewhat understandably, that has prevented the club from building up a head of steam before the season kicks off. The results are relatively inconsequential, but the performances are not. Some Arsenal players have yet to shake off the rust accumulated over the summer holidays, while others look a little burnt out from Brazil.

Nevertheless, there is an optimistic mood in the camp. Arsenal have been unusually decisive in the transfer market and there is plenty of excitement about seeing the new arrivals in action.

Simon Curtis: City arrive at Wembley in good shape. Preseason has gone smoothly enough, without giving away too many secrets about what we can expect from Manuel Pellegrini's men in 2014-15. Last season's slow and sloppy start is one of the main errors that need to be corrected this time around, and so many people are looking for a strong City side coming fast out of the blocks.

Having said that, the Community Shield is a glorified friendly, which some take more seriously than others. Personally, after 35 years waiting, I am not tired of seeing Vincent Kompany lifting trophies, and this one is included in that sentiment. When City beat Chelsea at Villa Park two summers ago, the casual observer will not have noticed anyone holding back on the celebrating. It sets the tone for the season to come and, for that reason alone, a brief reminder to Arsenal of what to expect from the sky blues would be handy. Alvaro Negredo remains the only absentee, while some of the World Cup participants have only just touched down at Carrington and are unlikely to play a big part in this game.

What do you think this game could tell us?

JM: Ultimately, the Community Shield is just another glorified friendly. However, given the strength of the opposition, we might learn a thing or two about Arsenal's confidence against the big teams. Last season, their displays against their title rivals proved their undoing. With an FA Cup win under their belt, they ought to be more prepared to take the game to the likes of City. Arsenal need to start imposing themselves upon their direct competition.

Lots of eyes will be on Alexis Sanchez. Arsenal fans will be hoping to see how the 35 million-pound man fits into their system, and whether he can cope against the physical defenders of the Premier League. With Theo Walcott still missing with a cruciate knee ligament injury, Sanchez is likely to start on the right flank, perhaps against fallible former Gunner Gael Clichy.

SC: If past Community Shield games are anything to go by, not that much. Players are still striving for full fitness, the sun is still out and formations are still being tweaked. With the World Cup still relatively fresh in the memories, most of City's contributors to the big party in Brazil have yet to get much game time, so an appearance from the likes of Kompany, Bacary Sagna, Pablo Zabaleta, Sergio Aguero and Martin Demichelis would be welcome sooner rather than later. Of all the summer nonstarters, a sighting of Eliaquim Mangala might be the sweetest of all, as his transfer is beginning to look like a full-blown saga.

It may well be that we learn slightly more about Arsenal than City from this game, as the Gunners have been more active in the luxury end of the transfer market and look set to provide a stiffer challenge this year than last. With a side that looks eminently better balanced too, it will be interesting to see how Arsene Wenger sets up his side for this season.

Mathieu Flamini, left, and Arsenal square off against Samir Nasri's Manchester City in Sunday's Community Shield.
Mathieu Flamini, left, and Arsenal square off against Samir Nasri's Manchester City in Sunday's Community Shield.

Fear factor

JM: City are blessed with a fantastic squad full of gifted players. However, the one Arsenal fans will have nightmares about is Samir Nasri -- not because he's City's best player, but because seeing him play well would make Gunners supporters sick to their stomachs.

Nasri left Arsenal under the blackest of clouds. After a slow start in Manchester, he has grown in to an influential midfield force. Having enjoyed a summer of rest, he will be eager to put his former club to the sword at Wembley. There will be nothing "friendly" about Nasri's reunion with Arsenal.

SC: Arsenal are traditionally open at the back, bursting with midfield talent and a touch short of goal power from the forwards. Alexis Sanchez is one of the most exciting additions to the Premier League this summer and it would be logical for City to keep an extra watch on his darting forward runs. Having said that, the trouble with Arsenal is that they have so many good creative players that they are bound to find themselves with plenty of goal chances.

The likes of Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere, Mesut Ozil and Aaron Ramsey are a constant threat, and the manner in which this department links to the thrusts of Theo Walcott and Sanchez might well cause City some trouble. How a new-look defence, presumably comprising Mangala at some point, cope with this will be interesting to see. If the young French stopper has still not shown his face by the weekend, and we are afforded more teasing glimpses of the likes of Micah Richards and Dedryck Boyata, goalkeeper Joe Hart may be in for a busy afternoon.

PREMIER LEAGUE PREVIEWS

As we count down to kickoff on Aug. 16, ESPN FC previews all 20 teams in this season's competition. Can Burnley, QPR and Leicester stay up? Will the new signings of Alexis Sanchez, Diego Costa and Adam Lallana help usurp Man City's crown? Will Manchester United get back on track under Louis van Gaal?

X factor

JM: Like Nasri, Aaron Ramsey has been the beneficiary of a couple of months with his feet up. The effect has been clear: for the second summer in a row, he's been the outstanding player of Arsenal's preseason. Ramsey's transformation from struggling squad player to talisman has been quite extraordinary.

Last season, he made himself an Arsenal hero with his FA Cup Final winner against Hull City. If his ascent continues at this trajectory, the thought of what he could accomplish in 2014-15 is mouthwatering. The Welshman is more than capable of beginning his campaign with another majestic moment at Wembley.

SC: Like any side with their eye on the top echelons of European competition must, City have managed to hold on to all of their main players. The thrust of Yaya Toure, David Silva, Samir Nasri, Alvaro Negredo and Sergio Aguero did in many teams last season and Arsenal, on the wrong end of a six-goal thrashing at the Etihad, can be counted among the many victims. Arsenal -- like many before them -- will be unsure who to attempt to shackle first, as putting two men on Silva allows Nasri free rein and trying to shut down Toure means his midfield partners have more space to wreak havoc.

Although Negredo is out for three months, City have a ready-made replacement in the in-form Stevan Jovetic, who has been perhaps the best player in preseason so far. His sure touch and clever weaving forward play has been a pleasure to watch and it may be from this slightly unexpected source that City's main threat comes on this occasion.

Prediction

JM: Arsenal 2-2 Man City. Arsenal have a side packed with attacking talent, but their defence is still taking shape. With his departure imminent, Thomas Vermaelen is unlikely to be involved, meaning Calum Chambers will be thrust straight in to the fray as a centre-half. Mathieu Debuchy is also adapting to his new surroundings, so Arsenal's defence may not be watertight. Nevertheless, Ramsey and Sanchez should have enough to do damage at the other end. I'll go for an Arsenal win on penalties.

SC: I agree with James: 2-2 with penalties putting the shield up for grabs afterwards. City have played out 2-2 draws with both Liverpool and Olympiakos, in which the Blues dominated decent portions of each game. I would expect to see a continuation of this free-flowing forward play combined with a not-yet-watertight defence, with everything pointing to goals at both ends. Having learned their lessons from the penalty shootouts in the U.S., expect Pellegrini to keep Richards well away from the ball and for City to prevail after the spot kicks.

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