Tactical Preview – Manchester City v Arsenal

A few weeks ago the meeting between Manchester City and Arsenal could well have been a top of the table clash.

Instead, on the back of a period of inconsistent form from both, they have been overtaken at the summit by a Chelsea side playing attractive attacking football. The match between the two instead instead be a battle to regain form and strengthen their position to push for the title.

There has been a sense this week that the narrative on social media and in the press is shifting against Manchester City coach Pep Guardiola. When the Spanish coach was appointed at the start of the season it was amidst great fanfare as everyone looked forward to seeing his methods applied to the British game.

In recent weeks, however, results have been poor, with Guardiola recently accepting that he was still adapting to the tactical framework of the Premier League. A win in this match against Arsenal would go a long way to restoring faith in the Spaniard.

Arsenal have as usual been their own worst enemies, with performances varying from the sublime to the ridiculous with very little by way of explanation. Tactically, the switch of Alexis Sanchez from wide left to a central striking role has been key as the Chilean international has adapted brilliantly and thrived. As always injuries have played a role in the stretch of inconsistent form, with central defender Shkodran Mustafi recently being ruled out for up to three weeks with a hamstring unjury.

It is of course easy to look at the past as a predictor for future results but in truth, this match is anything but easy to predict. Manchester City will look to find a way to capitalise on their strength on the left hand side of the pitch and in particular the connection between David Silva and Nolito on that side of the field.

Arsenal, on the other hand, will be looking to capitalise on the space in behind the City fullbacks with the pace of Theo Walcott and Alexis Sanchez.

The importance of connections

One of the most intriguing tactical switches made by Guardiola when he took over at Manchester City was the decision to move Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva back in to the central midfield strata of the field.

Instead of operating from the final third where space and time are limited they would instead be able to take possession of the ball deeper and move forward towards the final third, using their creativity to break the defensive structure.

Manchester City v Everton - Premier League

The interaction between Silva and Nolito could be key in this fixture as they look to capitalise on the traditional weak points of this Arsenal structure – their lack of an adequate covering midfielder – with the space between the defensive and midfield lines of Arsenal we could see Silva cause havoc.

Equally important will be the connection between Nolito and Silva as the former comes off the line to link in with his fellow Spaniard and plays short tight combinations. With injury problems persisting in the Arsenal defensive line the quick combination play from City could prove enough to force a way through and In behind Arsenal.

Even if Guardiola had not explicitly stated that he would not change his approach to the game I would still have expected his normal progressive attacking style.

Finding and exploiting space in the final third

It remains to be seen whether Manchester City will operate with their fullbacks tucked in to central midfield or in a more traditional role.

Either way, Arsenal will look to exploit the spaces in behind the fullbacks to give them a platform to attack. Contrary to popular opinion, the centre of the Manchester City defensive structure is actually extremely strong.

The combination of Claudio Bravo in goal, John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi in defence and Fernandinho in the defensive midfield pivot are effective in offering defensive cover and denying the opposition space in the final third.

There does, however, tend to be space to be exploited in behind the City fullbacks, who play a more prominent role in the attacking phase and are less strong defensively. This space is especially vulnerable against this Arsenal side with Alexis Sanchez playing a central role.

Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring their first goal

Although he is being played as a central striker, he still makes similar movements that we would expect from a wide player. Instead of pressing against the interior of the defensive structure, as we may expect from a traditional striker, he will threaten down the outside with runs in to space.

These runs, combined with the tactical intelligence of Mesut Ozil coming from deep and supporting runs from the wide areas, should apply significant stress to the Manchester City defensive structure.

This will be the key area of the game. The battle for control of these wide areas will dictate which side will have the tactical impetus for the match, if one side adapts their game plan to counter the other side then they could quickly find themselves on the back foot.

Conclusion

Another difficult match to call, not least because of the inconsistent form that both have shown over recent weeks.

Home advantage could be key and if Manchester City are able to impose their game plan early then they could well go on to control the match and eventually beat Arsenal.

Whether Arsenal have the defensive structure to hold off the fluid attacking play of Manchester City remains to be seen. If they allow Silva and Nolito to find the seams in their defensive structure then it could prove to be a very long ninety minutes for the Arsenal defenders.

 


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