Tactics corner: We analyse how Arsenal can beat Manchester City
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We analyse the key strengths and weaknesses of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – and how Arsene Wenger’s men can beat them in Sunday’s crunch game.
Guardiola’s risky City strategy Manchester City are likely to line up against Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday in a similar way to how they did before the international break, writes Mark Thompson.
With options limited in central midfield, Pep Guardiola has settled on a 4-1-4-1 as his favoured formation. But it is a risky strategy, as has been shown in recent games against Monaco and Liverpool.
The problems largely stem from a lack of midfield presence when City lose the ball, making them vulnerable to counterattacks.
To combat this, Guardiola has former Arsenal full-backs Bacary Sagna on the right or Gael Clichy on the left tuck inside to bolster his deep lying midfielders when City have the ball.
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While Fernandinho seems to understand this role more than others in possession, he has looked uncertain defensively – even if City’s defence tightened up once he replaced Yaya Touré in central midfield against Liverpool. Guardiola’s personnel choice in these positions will spell out what his priorities are for the game.
Fernandinho at full-back and Touré in midfield equals attack – while the former in central midfield and the latter on the bench will result in a defensive mindset. Pace is a problem for City, and this is the most obvious plan of attack for Arsenal. Players like Theo Walcott, Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alex Iwobi are all capable of orchestrating swift attacks which could leave City vulnerable.
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As City’s attacking midfielders don’t have the discipline or defensive nous to track back effectively they fail to adequately cut off passing options, so teams countering against them are often able to switch play across the pitch quickly and dangerously.
The best form of attack for Arsenal may be their defence – although given recent Gunners games this may not sound too promising. City’s attacking midfielders have varied in effectiveness over the past month – but when they click, the fluidity of the front five and their superb interplay – including dangerman Sergio Aguero – makes it exceedingly difficult for defences to deal with them.
However, when things are going less well, these forwards can struggle to press effectively when the team loses the ball. This is part of what opens up so many gaps in the midfield area for opponents to counter through. While the game-plan to attack City is relatively simple, balancing this with an adequate defence is more difficult, and defending against Guardiola’s men is hard enough.
Worryingly for Arsenal fans examples to follow are thin on the ground – they’ve failed to score just four times in the league this season, and in two of those games, against high-flying Tottenham and Everton, they still managed mustered 11 shots on target respectively.
A co-ordinated press allied with an organised defensive shape – attributes Arsenal haven’t always shown this season – will be important to prevent City moving the ball fluidly, something the blue half of Manchester can sometimes struggle with in a 4-1-4-1 formation.
Similarly, Arsenal’s midfield need to improve their inter-play in the central midfield area as they also often have problems. Francis Coquelin’s return, which seems probable, may make this even harder. Wenger’s game-plan should be to keep it tight at the back, to counter quickly and effectively – taking advantage of unforced individual errors amongst City defenders – and to show fight which has not always been evident recently.
Possession may be nine-tenths of the equation – but execution is the tenth that makes the difference. And Wenger’s team will need to have that in their armoury if they are to win Sunday’s big match – and lay a marker down for Wembley.
? Mark Thompson is freelance journalist, follow him on Twitter @ETNAR_uk.