Unai Emery threw away any chance Arsenal had of beating Manchester City by setting his side up to play in a 4-4-2 formation at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday.
An injury to Hector Bellerin and the absence of Ainsley Maitland-Niles meant Stephan Lichtsteiner had to play at right-back on Sunday, which immediately raised concerns over the Gunners’ chances of getting even a point at Man City.
Granit Xhaka’s absence raised concerns too, as the Swiss midfielder is the anchor that connects the defence and attack, and without his presence the midfield needed reshaping.
For whatever reason, rather than including Aaron Ramsey or Mohamed Elneny from kick-off so Arsenal could retain numbers in the engine room, Emery opted for just the two central midfielders, meaning that Alex Iwobi and Sead Kolasinac on the wings had to continually drop back to help out in defence.
A 4-4-2 was never going to work against Pep Guardiola’s side because the current Premier League title holders do not need to drag play towards the byline to open up defences. Instead, they cut between the lines and Arsenal offered no one to occupy this space.
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Emery had to acknowledge the brilliance that City can muster, which is why he deployed Iwobi and Kolasinac as wide midfielders, to try and prevent the creation of chances on the wings.
Unfortunately, by also playing the Gunners’ two best strikers from kick off, it meant that Lucas Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi could not cut the space in between the lines as, with no one ahead or behind, they were forced to be everywhere and everything for Emery.
It is also why Arsenal conceded an opening goal within the first minute. Iwobi had to lift his head to try and spot someone to clear the ball to, only to realise he had no one available – that split second hesitation was all City needed to snatch possession back and play a killer pass.
When Arsenal beat Chelsea last month, the Gunners played on the front foot with the attackers applying pressure, and this was the only way they could have challenged City.
But by playing in a 4-4-2, the pressure could never be applied leaving gaps behind, and Arsenal essentially lost the game on this basis before a ball was kicked.