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Tactical Analysis: Organized Arsenal beat Manchester City 2-0

With most pundits predicting a goal fest at the Etihad, a 2-0 scoreline to Arsenal was a surprise, with not even ardent Arsenal fans hoping for a clean sheet. In a game of two halves, Arsenal trumped Man city by showing an awareness of their personnel and utilizing their strengths rather than sticking blindly to Arsene Wenger’s “we don’t change for anyone” mantra.

CONTRIBUTOR
19 Jan 2015, 02:50 IST
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Santi Cazorla celebrates with Olivier Giroud 

With most pundits predicting a goal fest at the Etihad, a 2-0 scoreline to Arsenal was a surprise, with not even ardent Arsenal fans hoping for a clean sheet. In a game of two halves, Arsenal trumped Manchester City by showing an awareness of their personnel and utilizing their strengths rather than sticking blindly to Arsene Wenger’s “we don’t change for anyone” mantra.

While a quiet first half saw a dominant Arsenal give the runaround to City, the second half was characterized by frenetic end to end football with Arsenal coming out deserved victors.   

Sergio Aguero made a much anticipated return to the starting line-up as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 formation. The industrious James Milner was preferred to the more inventive Samir Nasri on the right, ostensibly to negate Arsenal’s pace. Vincent Kompany also made a return from injury to strengthen a recently shaky Manchester City backline. 

Arsenal continued intheir preferred 4-1-4-1 formation with Aaron Ramsey slotting back in to the first eleven alongside Santi Cazorla. Hector Bellerin was handed a start in place of the injured Debuchy, preferred over Callum Chambers who was consigned to the bench and David Ospina continued to keep out Wojciech Szcz?sny in goal.

While it looked like Arsenal, with their single holding player were set up to be exploited by the dynamic duo of Silva and Aguero, they managed to not only stifle but come out on top in a strong display.

Both teams lined up with fluid, mobile frontlines

Curious selections of Navas and Milner

Lacking a physical striker up front, and a general lack of height all over, it was a curious decision by Manuel Pellegrini to pick Jesus Navas and James Milner as the wingers. Navas is a traditional winger who likes to beat his man on the outside and lay in accurate crosses. With Aguero lining up as a lone forward, this strategy always had a weak point as his 5 foot 8 frame was pitted against the 6 foot 6 Mertesacker.

Additionally, Aguero is most prolific when he is running behind opposing defenses with a physical focal point linking up play up front. The selection of the touchline hugging Navas and the defensive minded Milner meant that the space around Coquelin a 4-1-4-1 formation was never exploited fully even with a midfield as potent as Man City’s.

To further highlight what City was missing, in the third minute, Fernandinho exploited this space with a driving run from deep, forcing Koscielny into a desperate foul; but this turned out to be an exception rather than the rule. One can only wonder how the missing Yaya Toure would have impacted this game with his physical presence and driving box to box runs.

Arsenal defend in numbers and exploit City’s soft centre with quick transitions

A common complaint against Arsenal in recent times has been their penchant for slowing down play with their passing, to the extent that they always face set opposing defenses in their attacks. In recent games, since the introduction of the more energetic Coquelin as the primary holding midfielder, their transitions from defense to attack have been quicker.

Arsenal displayed good defensive organization with the midfield four defending deep in a straight line in front of Coquelin and then using their pace to quickly move the ball forward, often outnumbering the double pivot of Fernando and Fernandinho. Ramsey and Cazorla curtailed their natural attacking instincts to some extent to sit deeper and then utilizing their crisp passing to release the wingers.

Special mention should be made of Coquelin whose savvy positioning and man-marking of Silva allowed these blitzes up field. Needless to say, Arsenal went one up after a nice transition move starting from the back, where lot of quick one touch passing culminated in Monreal being bought down by Kompany in the box, leading to a penalty. Santi Cazorla constantly switching with Sanchez and Ramsey to drift into space, provided a masterclass as he dominated the game.

The deeper midfield bank of 4 allowed Coquelin and Koscielny to man mark their men

Introduction of Jovetic in the second half opens up game

Recognising that his team was lacking bite in the first half, Pellegrini introduced Stevan Jovetic for the ineffective Milner. While he slotted into the left wing for his defensive duties, in attack he constantly drifted inside opening up spaces for Aguero to make his darting runs. Since there was only one defensive midfielder, coupled with the added urgency of Man City trailing, the game became more stretched resulting in some thrilling end to end football.

On the flip side, there was more space on the right wing for Arsenal, allowing the pacy Bellerin to push upfield. This dynamic which persisted for the first 25 minutes of the first half lead to many chances on both sides, with City going closest when Aguero was unable to tap in a low cross from Navas in the 60th minute.

Olvier Giroud killed the game in the 67th minute when he scored from a Cazorla free kick, which had resulted from a Jovetic foul after another Arsenal counter. The rest of the game just saw Arsenal defend resolutely to see out a victory.

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