After being defeated by Manchester City a few days prior in the League Cup final, Arsenal once again faced off against Manchester City but this time, in the league in front of their home crowd. It was a humiliating defeat for Arsenal in the League Cup Final after having sent the Cityzens out of the FA Semi-Finals last season. A victory in the league would’ve been fitting for the Gunners as they sought redemption after a poor performance three days ago.
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Arsenal (4-2-3-1)| Manager: Arsene Wenger
Cech // Bellerin – Mustafi – Koscielny – Kolasinac // Ramsey – Xhaka // Mkhitaryan – Ozil – Welbeck // Aubameyang
Man City (4-3-3) | Manager: Pep Guardiola
Ederson // Walker – Kompany – Otamendi – Danilo // Kevin de Bruyne – Gundogan – David Silva // Bernardo Silva – Aguero – Sane
The home manager reverted back to the system with a back four, having used 3-4-2-1 as the basic idea to start the game at the Wembley. In this game at the Emirates, the back four of Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny and Kolasinac started in defense. Ramsey and Xhaka started as the midfielders in central midfield, though their roles were different. Ramsey would play as the #8 while Xhaka would be the #6 who sits in front of the defense. Ozil started behind Aubameyang as Mkhitaryan and Welbeck played on either side of the German playmaker.
Pep Guardiola also on the other hand, reverted back to his team’s structure from the Cup game as City made use of their customary formation this season, the 4-3-3. Walker, Otamendi, Kompany and Danilo formed the core of the defense. Given that Fernandinho had been injured in the game on Sunday, Gundogan came into the squad who had more defensive responsibility in this game. He had to be the shield of that defense while Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva acted as the usual roaming #8s. Bernardo Silva and Sane started in the wide areas as the former played in the right with the latter keeping width in the left.
Arsenal’s stable movements off the ball and long balls in turnovers
Man City started the game with their usual self as they circulated the ball within themselves at the back as they played for spaces to open up through players’ movements in the middle and final third. When the Cityzens had the ball at the back, Arsenal did a good job in the opening minutes of the game to stifle their opponents to find their forward numbers. Instead of pressing very high, they adopted a shape high up the field to block the passing lanes for City defenders to progress the movements from the back.
Arsenal’s connectivity in their structure in the front was a massive improvement as they shifted positions very well according to the positions of the ball. They adopted a pentagonal shape as the two defensive midfielders acted as proper #6’s off the ball. Ramsey and Xhaka sat at the base of this structure with Mkhitaryan and Welbeck in the wide areas as Ozil played behind the first man, Aubameyang. This was nothing but a staggered 2-3-1 when City had the ball in the first third. Their structure varied as 4-3-1-2, 4-2-2-2 depending on who had the ball carrier was for City.
The image above shows Arsenal’s pentagonal structure which they utilized in the early stages of the game to stop City in progressing from first third to the second third.
Often Welbeck was seen moving forward in the left to join Aubameyang upfront while Mkhitaryan would play alongside Xhaka and Ramsey to form a defensive midfield line of three. In other cases, the Armenian would position himself in the offensive area to compliment Ozil, making use of the 4-2-2-2 structure.
It was evident from the initial stages that Arsenal tried long balls as the main tactic to score against Manchester City. Arsenal made sure that they retrieved the ball from City in the first or second third through their positioning which cut off passing lanes, which meant that City had to play long from the back through Otamendi and Kompany. However when Arsenal won the second balls, instead of playing to the ball near passing option who is free, Arsenal were engaged in finding Welbeck and Aubameyang through long balls.
This was done so that Aubameyang could easily beat Otamendi with his pace and race past him, but Ederson’s movements coming off the goal became very crucial. More than once, Ederson was seen coming out of the box whenever Arsenal used the long ball in turnovers.
Play starts from Otamendi
As it is very evident from their current stature this season, City have been using almost every idea such as counters, build up from the back, set pieces and others to score goals. While Ederson and the two #8s are very crucial in counters and turnovers, the defensive counterparts are the key in building out from the back. However other important tactic to note that City have been using is to manipulate the space available at the farther end by making use of diagonal long balls. One of the best examples of diagonal balls utilised by City is the diagonal cross played by Kevin de Bruyne last season against Arsenal. Sterling received it perfectly in the right flank as he dribbled into the free space into the box and slotted it home.
This season however, City have made most use of direct play and it is to be said that Pep Guardiola has adopted very well to the English style without compromising his philosophy. Almost one-third of the attacks this season has been through Otamendi or sometimes through his centre half partner or Ederson when City play directly from the back. It is understood that City make use of the 2-3-5 structure in attacks and it is tough to play directly in this structure as all the attacking players would be in the same line.
This is why Guardiola asks his strikers to drop deep into midfield instead of the #8s so that Aguero can drag his marker away which will create space for the #8 or the winger who is much nearer to operate. As it can be seen from the below instance, Aguero has dropped deep when Kompany has the ball. This idea has been predominantly used this season as it can be seen the games such as the 2-1 win against Bournemouth where Aguero would drop deep to Kompany’s movements and Jesus corresponds to Otamendi.
Here once Kompany receives the ball, Aguero has dropped deep to collect it, this gives more space for the other players to operate. Also in other instances, the attacks started from Otamendi playing diagonal balls on to Bernardo Silva on the right. Otamendi, who is positioned on the left half of the central defense, can easily play the diagonal to break the lines with his natural right foot. As we can see in the below picture, the nearest passing options for Otamendi have been either marked or the passing lanes have been closed. So the Argentine chips the diagonal ball to find KdB in the midfield.
The way Arsenal have marked the City players, by not having adequate measures to close the space in behind, say with cover shadows for example, works in favor for City. The ball playing capabilities of the centrebacks in the City side ensures that they are able to find passes beyond the first line and the astute positioning of the 8’s in Silva and De Bruyne makes it feasible for the passes to reach them.
In other cases, Otamendi was involved in direct long balls to Bernardo Silva. This was very effective from an Arsenal clearance as most of the players would be retreating back to their positions. A sudden pin point pass to the player in the final third would put City in positional advantage as seen in the image below.
City’s defensive movements and high pressing
It is widely known that Arsenal also like to have a good amount of possession in their gameplay, though City are known for it more due to a certain manager who is in charge of them right now. At the end of the game, Arsenal had just 10% of the total amount of possession lesser than that of Man City, as the stats showed Arsenal 45 – 55 City. Whenever Arsenal had possession in their first third, City looked to press high through Aguero. The Argentine was asked to press the ball carrier through the central channel and he even went on to push Petr Cech to play long.
Off the ball, City made use of the 4-4-2 structure to defend when Arsenal looked to play up the field through circulating the ball and maintaining possession. Aguero was joined by the ball near #8 instead of a wide player as either Silva or De Bruyne would jump into the forward line. Here as we can see both Silva and Aguero play in the same line with Aguero pressing the ball carrier. De Bruyne is seen to press the passing option in the next line as he is coming out from the band of four.
As De Bruyne will join Aguero in the first line in the next move, Silva will drop deep and Gundogan will move to the space left by the Belgian playmaker. Hence the #8s pressed out from their positions when ball is worked in their channel and the void space would be filled by the player who is near to him.
Also, City were involved in high pressing when Arsenal looked to build up play out from the back. As Arsenal used the back four in defence, the two full backs spread very wide and Xhaka had to drop in between as the split back to circulate the ball. In the high pressing, once again the central players were crucial rather than wide players as the wingers man marked the full backs. This was evident in most instances especially in the left wing where Sane stuck to Bellerin as closer as possible not allowing the Spaniard to make his trademark runs.
Aguero pressed the ball carrier while the #8 who stepped up would mark the next passing option. Xhaka often came in from the midfield to join the defense instead of starting the attack just in front of the box. This gave more time for the other #8 to follow him. He will be followed in such a way that, Xhaka will have space to receive the ball, but he won’t have the time to turn around to play it to the next line. As we can see in the below image, Silva is already lined up to press Xhaka if he receives the ball. This forces Cech to play long and clear the ball out.
City’s left sided dynamics
There were many impressive players on the night for Man City as Sane, David Silva and Bernardo Silva wrote their names in the score sheet along with Aguero whose overall display was amazing. However one player stood out than all the others on the night as the German winger scored one and assisted one. Often City attacked through the left as Sane provided the width on the left with Danilo acting as the inverted full back.
In the opposite side, the wide player tucked into half space as Bernardo Silva likes to cut inside rather than provide width in the right. Hence, Walker provided the width and made overlapping runs. The left side however was very effective for City as Bellerin would often move forward and it became easy to bypass the channel. Also, Sane’s marauding runs left Arsenal players astonished as the first goal was a perfect example of what Sane could do.
Sane’s movements combined with Silva and Aguero dropping into the left half space often caused problems for Arsenal as they overloaded the left. This overload created the space in the opposite flank where Bernardo Silva can move in centrally once Sane enters the final third. As we can see from the image below, the presence of Sane and Silva in the left along with Aguero has dragged players into this channel to overload and win the ball back. But with Sane’s brilliant movements on the ball, Arsenal players failed to regroup themselves which provided more time and space for Bernardo Silva to find the top corner astutely.
Also Sane was very effective in finding space with his dribbling as seen from the image below. Sane had done well to get past Bellerin and most importantly placed himself to settle in a position where he could find Aguero in the box. Aguero had found himself with some space in front as he delayed his run and this space allowed him to keep the ball at his feet. This allowed Silva to run into the space available between the keeper and the last line and Aguero played it into the path where he easily slotted the ball past Cech.
Hence the first and the second goal resulted due to the movements in the left flank and should be said that Pep Guardiola rightly attacked the weakness in the Arsenal side.
After the early 3-0 lead, City looked more comfortable but didn’t settle as their intentions were very clear to attack and decided to hit them on the breaks and counters. They dropped 10-15m back so that Arsenal couldn’t use their long ball tactic against the high defensive line very well. In the second half, City were mainly oriented with the 4-4-2 shape which was set up so that they were able to negate Arsenal attacks and punish them in the counters. And they were successful in doing so, as they had seen Arsenal off for the second 45 minutes though the Gunners had put in a better display than the first half.
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