Tactical Analysis: Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal

Manchester City and Arsenal faced each other at the Etihad stadium. Where City ran out 2-1 winners over the Gunners.


It was obvious in the first half that Arsenal sat back and looked to hit back on the counter which made it difficult for City to penetrate the Arsenal backline.
City are still in their early stages of development under Guardiola as he tries to implement his own ideas and style of play.
City deployed Sterling as the ‘false nine’ in the first half. Having been deployed as a winger throughout this season, Guardiola had chosen to play Sterling there to utilise his pace to beat the final line of the Arsenal defence.

Arsenal are used to a high pressing style with striker Alexis Sanchez playing a key part in it.
However, in this game they adopted a defensive approach by inviting City onto them. There were instances where City would rotate in midfield but Arsenal’s midfielders stayed in their defensive shape.
City’s full-backs Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy pushed up high onto the Arsenal defence which left City attackers Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane the freedom to roam from their position. With Arsenal defending deep it was hard for De Bruyne and Sane to get into space.

arsenal defence.png
Arsenal (yellow) nullify the space in front of their back four which proved difficult for City attackers like Kevin De Bruyne and Leroy Sane. (Credit Sky Sports)

From the picture above, we can see Arsenal’s intentions by trying to limit the space for City’s attacking players. The defender on the ball (Nicolas Otamendi) has no pressure on him but the focus for Arsenal is to maintain their shape and limit space in front of the defence.


The major change in City’s play in second half was that they were more aggressive in their attacking and defending.
The simple but effective change of shifting De Bruyne to the center to play the false nine role while Sterling moved to the right and Sane to the left, paid dividends as City started to open up Arsenal.

As much as City improved in the second half, Arsenal were very passive. They didn’t keep up their good work from the first half. Arsenal are not usually a team that sit back for long periods in time in a disciplined fashion, they are normally a team who tries to control the whole game with a possession based style of football.So it was a bit expected that they would tire eventually and lose discipline and concentration.

However, City took the initiative and started playing with much more aggression and pinned Arsenal back in their half. The switch of De Bruyne to a central position was also instrumental as his quality and decision making is far more effective from a central role.

City (blue) didn’t press with enough intent or aggression in the first half. (Credit Sky Sports)

This was an picture from the first half where the City players showed a delayed reaction to pressing the Arsenal defenders.

Trying to press Arsenal from the front, the City players lacked the togetherness to win the ball back in high areas of the field.
With Arsenal defender Gabriel in possession of the ball, Sterling looks to close him down. A quick pass into midfield to Granit Xhaka who positions himself between David Silva and Yaya Toure, the City plyers are again slow to react. This meaning that Arsenal can easily play through the press when Xhaka passes the ball to Koscielny (circled) and bring the ball out.
This also meant that Arsenal had a lot of space in between the lines to exploit and attack City’s defence.

However, in the second half City players took better aggressive positions and also pressed together as a team rather than as individuals.

In the second half, City (blue) pressed as a team and in numbers. (Credit Sky Sports)

All the City players were better positioned to counter press the ball high up the pitch and win possession back from Arsenal.
The difference was that the forwards came back and pressed along with the midfielders. Added to this, the very closely spaced Arsenal players could not effectively play their way out of trouble as the pressure from City was too high.

The major factor that contributed to City’s dominance was the lack of desire in the midfield to cover spaces by Arsenal.
None of the Arsenal players closed down City players and therefore as a result, City could play with more freedom as there was no pressure on the ball.
With the directness in City’s front line helped by De Bruyne’s shift in position, Arsenal did not replicate the same energy which they had in the first half to make sure they stayed compact and hard to beat.
With gaps starting to appear in the attacking third, City constantly probed and eventually cracked the Arsenal back line.

City started to exploit overloads in wide areas where the full-backs Zabaleta and Clichy kept on over-lapping their wide men to create a 2v1 situation.
Fatigue was starting to kick in as Arsenal did not seem to be able to cope with the intensity that City were playing at.
Another thing that Arsenal were poor at was pressing together as a group. There were times where Sanchez would go on to press the ball and he would not be backed up by the midfield behind him.


Pep Guardiola would have been delighted with his team’s second half performance as his side dominated Arsenal and won the game.
Sometimes in football tactics go out the window and it’s about desire and commitment to stop the opposition from playing. This was evident in the second half as they outran and outplayed and out fought Arsenal.

Arsenal’s lack of concentration and discipline in defensive areas yet again came to the fore. Arsenal have a lot of work to do if they have any ambitions of winning the Premier League this year and it is clear that they need to improve the defensive side of their game if they want to progress in the league.


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