Tactical Analysis | Arsenal drops deep against Man City, into a bottomless pit

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Tactical Analysis | Arsenal drops deep against Man City, into a bottomless pit

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SportsCafe Desk


After surrendering a lead against Everton in the midweek, Arsenal once again repeated the same mistakes against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. Goals from Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane gave Pep Guardiola’s men a well-deserved 2-1 win over a disappointing Arsenal side.

Arsenal XI (4-2-3-1): Petr Cech (GK); Hector Bellerin, Gabriel Paulista, Laurent Koscielny, Nacho Monreal; Francis Coquelin, Granit Xhaka; Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil, Alex Iwobi; Alexis Sanchez

Chuba Akpom, Santi Cazorla, Mathieu Debuchy, Yaya Sanogo, and Shkodran Mustafi remained at the sidelines for the Gunners with injuries. Per Mertesacker and Danny Welbeck are back in training but this match came too soon for them to feature, while Aaron Ramsey also missed out. Arsene Wenger made only one change to the lineup from the one that faced Everton on Tuesday with Iwobi replacing Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the starting lineup.

Manchester City XI (4-1-4-1):Claudio Bravo (GK); Pablo Zabaleta, Nicolas Otamendi, Aleksandar Kolarov, Gael Clichy; Fernando; Leroy Sane, Yaya Toure, David Silva, Kevin de Bruyne; Raheem Sterling

Ilkay Gündogan had suffered a knee ligament damage in Manchester City's 2-0 win over Watford in midweek and is expected to be sidelined for a few months. With Fernandinho also suspended, it left Pep Guardiola short of genuine central midfielders in the squad. Fernando and Yaya Toure were slotted in to fill the void.

Sergio Aguero, who still had two matches left on his own four-match suspension, was missing once again. Guardiola opted to field Nolito as the central striker against Watford, with Kelechi Iheanacho on the bench. However, against Arsenal he opted to field Sterling upfront with Leroy Sane replacing Nolito in attack. John Stones was retained on the bench as Guardiola used Kolarov once again at the center of the defence.

Arsenal take advantage of lack of pressing from City

It is cliché, but it was in the truest sense a game of two halves. Both the teams committed almost similar mistakes either side of the half-time whistle. At the start of the first half, there was no urgency from the home side, and they did not put Arsenal under any pressure when they were in possession. There was no communication between the defence and the two central midfielders, Yaya Toure and Fernando, and their shape was all over the place.


The visitors took advantage of this, and Theo Walcott scored the opening goal in the 5th minute. When Bellerin brought the ball forward from the back, Kevin de Bruyne did not track his run. When Sanchez received the ball from Bellerin, no one closed him down. When Walcott made that run through the middle, no Man City player tracked his run. All of this culminated into a fluent Arsenal move, and a wonderful start for the visitors.

No man to mark for Koscielny and Gabriel

Koscielny and Gabriel are the kind of center backs who are happy to man-mark strikers and shadow them all over the pitch. However, with Manchester City playing without a proper striker, the duo had no one to mark, and were often unaware of where to move forward, and when to drop deep. Initially, City started with Sterling upfront, but the former Liverpool attacker drifted wide a lot of times. David Silva from his central role and at times Kevin de Bruyne from the left stepped in to fill the void upfront. This created a lot of chaos among the Arsenal center-backs, who often left these players unmarked inside the box. Sterling wasted a great opportunity immediately after Arsenal scored the goal, where he was left unmarked at the back post, and the Englishman missed a header from point-blank range. With Silva operating in the space between the Arsenal midfield and the defence, and Sterling and de Bruyne drifting in and out of their central and wide roles, respectively, the Gunners were stretched all over the pitch.

High backline without pressing is a recipe for disaster

It seemed like the Arsenal team were a bit confused about whether to press from the front or allow Manchester City possession till a certain area before closing them down. In a disastrous move, the Arsenal forward line opted not to press Manchester City upfront, while their defence held a high backline.

It was a disaster waiting to happen and, eventually, in the second half, Manchester City exploited that high line of defence with a ball over the top and scored the equalizer. David Silva put Sane through on goal with a lovely ball and the German raced clear before calmly finishing it past Petr Cech.


It was as if the Arsenal defenders overcompensated after conceding the goal and dropped too deep into their own halves. They afforded a lot of space to the Man City players in front of them in fear of being exploited by their pace. Once into this shell, Arsenal never managed to come out of it for the rest of the game, and this is what led to the second goal.

When Kevin de Bruyne played a wonderful cross-field pass to Sterling on the right wing, Nacho Monreal continued to back off instead of closing him down. Sterling continued his run into the box and with a lot of space in front of him, the Englishman pulled the trigger and beat Cech at the near post. Monreal should have dealt with him even before he had entered the box.


Arsenal drops deep and so does Ozil

Mesut Ozil has once again come under a lot of criticism for his performance, or lack of it, last night. But in the defence of the German international, he was not helped out by his teammates. The former Real Madrid star appeared frustrated for most of the night, perhaps as much with his own performance as with his teammates’.

As Arsenal dropped deep in the second half, they failed to get out of their own halves for the rest of the game. Manchester City were playing on the front foot, and they pressed Arsenal at the top winning the ball back in the final third of the pitch. There was no outlet for the Arsenal defenders. As soon as they cleared the ball, City won the ball back and came back at them in numbers. Sanchez was nullified, Granit Xhaka gave the ball away numerous times, while Theo Walcott and Alex Iwobi were mostly tracking the runs of the City fullbacks.

With Xhaka and Coquelin failing to connect the play with the attackers, Ozil had to drop deep into Arsenal’s half in order to orchestrate the play, and this left Sanchez upfront without any support. The German playmaker was seen flailing his hands at the Arsenal backline, urging them to move up the pitch but to no avail. As the match progressed, Ozil and Sanchez’s influence on the game died down, and Arsenal never looked like scoring another goal.

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