Arsenal vs Manchester City: Tactical Match Report
The two premier league favourites battled it out on Monday Night Football in a bid to catch surprise leaders Leicester City. The importance of the clash in the title race meant the word caution was of utmost importance to the two managers.
Delph started ahead of sterling in what was the only surprise change for City. Arsenal named an unchanged lineup from their previous game.
Pellegrini spoke about how keeping possession can be the key in the pre-match press conference. And therefore, the addition of Delph in place of the erratic Sterling made perfect sense. With four attacking players in Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Yaya Toure and Aguero, it was thought that Delph was bought in to add the necessary steel in midfield alongside Fernandinho. However when the teams formed their shape prior to kick off, Delph was found to be operating on the left side of midfield. A like-like replacement for Sterling but offering more in terms of defence than attack. This was a bit surprising coming from Pellegrini who is one of the most tactically astute managers around.
It is well documented that since Manchester City last marched to the title, Yaya has not been at his sparkling best. The forward drives that once marauded defences are few and far between. And the once defensive midfielder offers nothing defensively and frequently allows the opposing attackers to glide past him. Playing in the double pivot against the smaller opposition isn’t much of a bother as City’s attack possesses enough firepower to come out on top. But it is against tougher opposition where playing Toure in the double pivot offers more cons than the pro’s.
Arsenal meanwhile were playing with their own new midfield base. Two box-box midfielders in Flamini and Ramsey have come in and had a point to prove for themselves. Question marks had been raised of the pairs defensive capabilities with Wenger acknowledging the same in the pre- match presser. Ramsey likes to drift into more attacking positions frequently and this is exactly what he had to time against stronger opposition like City.
As the match kicked-off, Flamini was found shadowing Silva all around the field, with Delph doing the same with Bellerin. Ramsey and Flamini hardly looked to get forward. Even Arsenal’s wing-backs threw caution to the wind and stayed back. The tactic was to absorb pressure from City’s ball playing midfielders in Silva, KDB and Toure and quickly release the pace of Walcott or Cambell. Arsenal’s wide men continuously kept drifting in deep into the centre of the field where City’s midfield base had left a huge gap.
The opening 25 mins proved to be a chess match and the only opening which was likely to arise was through Arsenals wingers drifting in or something spectacular from either side. This indeed proved to be the case for the first goal as Ozil dropped into the pocket behind Toure and played a simple pass to Walcott who was returning out wide from the centre. The curler from the wide-man was unstoppable and Arsenal lead. A moment of brilliance from Walcott had rattled city and just a few minutes later Mangala gave the ball away. Ramsey who throughout the first half held his position with maturity retrieved the ball and slid it through to Ozil who again found himself in the pocket behind Toure. The pass master released Giroud who made it two-nil to Arsenal.
Silva had not been given an inch by Flamini in the first half and it would have made sense for City to remove Silva (who lacked fitness) or one of KDB or Toure for Sterling, Instead, it was Delph who offered defensive stability and attacking freedom who made way for Sterling. Toure continued to operate in the fragile City base while Ramsey and Flamini offered a master class at the other end. With City chasing the game, Arsenal’s wing-backs showed signs of attacking intent though always in a lop-sided manner. Ie if Monreal went up, Bellerin stayed back and vice-versa. Ramsey started picking the right moments to surge forward and almost made it count not once but twice. Arsenal were clearly dominant. City and Pellegrini had to wait until the 82’ min to let Toure do what he was supposed to do. Tours pulled one back with a brilliant piece of skill but can City keep playing Toure in the base of midfield for that one moment of brilliance against tougher and stronger opposition. Arsenal had given them the answer.
Key Areas and Summary
Arsenal performed in an exceptional manner right from back to front and showed clearly what was stopping City’s exuberant attacking force – That base in midfield. With Flamini taking Silva out of the game and Ramsey offering stability City offered little or no threat as they suffered a major setback in the race for Premier League title