No De Bruyne, no Laporte and no preparation but Man City have fighting spirit for Premier League's toughest season

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Pep Guardiola has a way of getting his message across without seeming to make any obvious complaints.

After Manchester City’s nervy victory over Arsenal, the Catalan praised his players but made it clear that they have not had the easiest of starts.

Injuries, illness and international breaks have disrupted a pre-season that was always ridiculously short after the last campaign was extended for the Champions League mini-tournament in Lisbon following the coronavirus lockdown.

Against the Gunners, he was missing two key players in Kevin De Bruyne and Aymeric Laporte, without a recognised left-back andSergio Aguero was barely half-fit.

But City managed to get over the line against Mikel Arteta’s side, even if Guardiola thought they were short of being back to their best.

"We didn't have preparation - Liverpool and Arsenal started three weeks before us and we had three guys who had Covid-19,” he pointed out after the win.

"With the position we have it is important to win games. Now Laporte is out again, Mendy again, De Bruyne again. We cannot be 90 minutes in the top level but we did it."

While it is still early in the season, there was some pressure on City going into the game.

Without a clean sheet in their opening three matches, a 5-2 capitulation against Leicester in their last home fixture and facing an Arsenal side brimming with confidence after their FA Cup semi-final masterclass against City three months ago, the ingredients were there for another difficult evening.

A rookie defensive partnership of new signings Ruben Dias and Nathan Ake stood up strong, Raheem Sterling - captain for the night - led the line superbly and scored the only goal while Ederson pulled off two excellent saves to preserve his first Premier League clean sheet of the campaign.

In a season when it could be the survival of the fittest, grinding out victories will be just as important as the elegant dismantling of opponents that City have been more accustomed to.

“It was an important victory,” Guardiola added. “The clean sheet was important. But it’s not the most important thing. They fought and had the desire to win.

“It was impressive against a team that has everything to be a contender to win the Premier League.

“We knew it would be a tight game, a difficult one, but for us winning games is important for the confidence and mentality.”

Under Arteta, Arsenal are no longer the same team that turn up at the Etihad Stadium and get rolled over comfortably.

They had conceded 13 times in their last five visits but Guardiola’s former coach has added some steel to their finesse and they caused City plenty of problems at both ends of the pitch.

New signing Dias, who has been with the club for three weeks - most of which was spent away on international duty - has settled well.

Alongside him, Ake has been around a little longer but Guardiola was quick to point out that neither has had the opportunity to get a proper handle on the high line, which has proved so problematic in the past 12 months of under-achievement, and expects them to get even better.

“Both guys, Ruben and Nathan, they don’t make mistakes,” the City boss said. “We suffered a lot last season with the amount of mistakes we made.

“Still we have to improve. I have the feeling they are real defenders. I have to help them to build up and to create the spaces for the way we want to play. We have time to do that in training.”

But it’s not just the defenders that take the credit for a clean sheet, just as the side share the blame when they concede.

Sergio Aguero Manchester City 2020-21

Ahead of the backline, City were far sharper with Phil Foden and Sterling leading a more intense press while Rodri was quicker at stopping danger, even if he was required to pull out the odd, intelligent tactical foul.

City’s stand-out performer was Bernardo Silva, who put in a performance that was back to his best of the 2018-19 season.

In that title-winning campaign, Silva was Guardiola’s pick for player of the season when his energetic performances, matched with dazzling skill and brilliant goals helped to City to a domestic treble.

After going on to help Portugal to the Nations League title in the summer, last season was less impressive and he was in and out of the side as his form and energy dipped.

With De Bruyne missing, Silva stepped up to replicate the Belgian's driving passion and recaptured his own creative quality.

This season, squads could be more important than ever with rivals Liverpool now facing their own injury crisis.

City’s win over Arsenal was more hard-fought than most, but it can give them the confidence that they can finish on top in a season when guts and determination could be the most important attributes.