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Talking Points: Positives despite Gunners defeat

STERLING STUFF: Raheem earns MOTM in Arsenal friendly
City went down to a narrow 3-2 defeat against Arsenal in their final pre-season encounter but there were still plenty of reasons to be optimistic after the game.

Club journalist Mark Booth picks out five of the major topics from an entertaining and illuminating friendly…

1 Reasons for cheer

Pre-season technically goes on for another five days but the public-facing section of summer is done.

It’s been an exciting month for supporters as they’ve got their hands on a few beta versions of this new-look City and, while Pep has warned it might be months before he has the team playing exactly the way he wants, there are reasons to believe that we can get off to a good start.

There’s no doubt that the senior members of the squad have fully bought into their new boss’s methods.

At the Ullevi Stadium, Sergio Aguero, Nolito, David Silva and Raheem Sterling all showed the aggression to fight for every ball in the attacking third, Jesus Navas was excellent when he came off the bench and Kevin De Bruyne showed very little rustiness after his summer break.

A number of City’s youngsters have also caught the eye over the last few weeks and it was certainly telling that Guardiola has kept them involved right through pre-season.

Tosin Adarabioyo, Angelino and Aleix Garcia have all stayed the course and featured from the very start of July through into this friendly against Arsenal, so they will be hoping they’ve done enough to be part of the first-team squad in the coming campaign.

2 Sterling stuff

Competition for places has never been higher at City but perhaps the fiercest fight of all will be for starting berths on the flanks.

The arrival of Leroy Sane has only added to this friendly in-house rivalry and in Sweden on Sunday it looked as though Raheem Sterling rose to the challenge and staked his claim.

For all of this talk of competition, Guardiola knows that with the potential for City to play in four competitions, there will be plenty of football to spread around his squad and he’ll also be aware of the quality Sterling can bring to the party, especially after this final friendly.

Lining up on the right as opposed to the left wing he occupied for most of his debut season at the Etihad, Raheem stretched the Arsenal defence with his direct, speedy running to the byline and produced one of the game’s moments of brilliance – a sublime cross for Sergio Aguero which begged to be turned in.

It was just one of a number of actions which hinted that confidence is returning to City’s 20-year old, just in time for his second campaign.

3 Work in progress

For all of the fantasy in Pep’s football, the Catalan remains a realist and he’ll know that nothing worth having comes easy.

Guardiola has been in Manchester for a matter of weeks rather than months and, when you take into account that, until last week, he’s been without some of last season’s key performers, such as Kevin De Bruyne and Bacary Sagna, it’s understandable that there are still some creases to iron out.

A couple of defensive lapses cost City goals in this final exhibition match but they will be seen as collateral damage in an overarching quest for Pep’s masterplan.

In the attacking third of the pitch, all of the signs were promising, with a commitment to defending from the front evident from the first whistle.

It was this emphasis on pressing, in this case from De Bruyne, which gave City their second goal as the Belgian won the ball back deep in Arsenal territory before feeding Navas who teed up Iheanacho for his header.

It’s the type of goal that will have pleased Guardiola as much as a 30-pass team goal, as his players demonstrated the fight that he has demanded throughout his managerial career.

4 Fab, again

Sterling earned our ManCity.com Man of the Match honours but it was a close-run thing with Fabian Delph.

The Yorkshireman was our star man against Dortmund and he was superb again here against Arsenal, retrieving the ball three times, winning two tackles and finishing up with a pass completion rate of 96%.

Stats only tell half the story, however, as the most striking thing about Fabian’s pre-season contributions have been the leadership skills he’s demonstrated, clearly benefiting from having a year with his feet under the table at City.

A well-liked, personable character, Delph will be hoping for an injury-free campaign and will be hoping his pre-season performances will have earned him a place in the XI for Sunderland on Saturday.

5 Genuine tests

Pep repeatedly expressed the important of taking on top class opposition in his first friendlies in charge as this was truly the only way to identify weak spots in his side before the real business begins.

Like a bicep after a good gym workout, City will be stronger for their genuine tests against Bayern, Borussia and Arsenal as the players assimilate the new manager’s fresh ideas and carry them into the Premier League season.

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