Does this defensive masterclass prove Arsenal are turning a corner?

Hardly anybody would have predicted Arsenal’s impressive away victory against Manchester City on Sunday. Arsene Wenger approached the game effectively and was tactically spot on in how Arsenal lined up against the Champions. So does this mean Wenger has finally worked out how to play against the big teams?

If the performance against City it anything to go by, then you would say yes. Arsenal certainly showed resilience as well as quality in the final third. Although they did score two goals, they looked a threat on the counter attack throughout the game and had a number of chances to increase the scoreline.

City, on the other hand, did not have as many clear-cut chances as Arsenal did and this was largely down to how the Gunners chose to approach the game. They got midfielders behind the ball and chose to invite pressure, which can prove to be a risky tactic against a side of City’s quality. However, as soon as Arsenal got the ball back, they looked to break up the pitch. It was a mature way to approach the game as Arsenal refrained from trying to go to the Etihad and play them off the park.

In terms of possession and passing, City were completely dominant. They completed 531 passes compared to Arsenal’s 273, with 143 of those passes occurring in the attacking third, so Arsenal did have to defend well. In terms of defensive stats, Arsenal made a massive 50 clearances in the game compared to City’s twelve. They also completed an impressive 39 interceptions in order to break down City’s attacks. Judging by these stats, Arsenal’s no nonsense approach at the back worked effectively as it helped to slow the momentum of their opponents.

When Arsenal did get the ball, they seemed to be more direct with it. The likes of Santi Cazorla, Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain ran at the heart of the City defence, looking to carve them open. It was this attacking threat that led to Arsenal’s first goal. Full-back Nacho Monreal was running into the box before Vincent Kompany fouled him, resulting in Arsenal being awarded a penalty, which Santi Cazorla expertly dispatched. Arsenal were not afraid of getting forward, though, and it was their defensive maturity that a lot of Arsenal fans would have been relieved to see.

A special mention has to be given to Cazorla, who was absolutely superb throughout the match. His goal was almost overshadowed by his excellent work rate and energy. At times, he looked like a yappy dog that the City attack couldn’t shake off. He made two successful tackles during the match and intercepted the ball three times. He performed the ugly side of the game well but it was his ability with the ball that really stood out. He had a 92% pass success rate at the end of the match as well as providing the excellent assist for Olivier Giroud’s goal. Cazorla has really stepped up to the plate in recent weeks and is often inspiring Arsenal to produce performances like the one on Sunday.

Credit has to be given to Wenger for the manner in which Arsenal collected the three points. Many had accused him of tactical naivety and stubbornness when approaching the big games, especially away from one. However, this was a performance that showed that Arsene is more than capable of setting up a team in a manner that makes them very hard to beat.

If Wenger can continue to get performances like this out of his team, they will become a tough test for the top sides in the league, something that simply has not happened in recent seasons.

It was Arsenal’s most impressive display this season in terms of commitment and work rate, suggesting that Wenger is more than capable of grinding out results when it really matters.

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