Match Preview: Arsenal vs Manchester City

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Ok so we kick off our formidable fixtures list with a home game against City. Last time around at the Etihad in a 1-1 draw we were treated to a game of 2 halves, in which both teams stamped their authority on the match at different times. Let’s not sugar coat this, it will be a tough match for Arsenal to win and here’s hoping our tremendous record against City at home, continues to ring true.

This is however possibly the best time we could have to play City since they have many of their players out, both with injury and suspensions and also the African Cup. City will have to make do without Nasri, Kolo Toure, Aguero, Yaya Toure and Maicon. Unfortunately this does leave their defense pretty much intact but takes away from their physicality in midfield and creativity and finishing quality in attack. Arsenal meanwhile will have to make do with Gervinho which will be a terrible loss I’m sure and unfortunately maybe also Giroud who has a nasty cut over his knee thanks to a Swansea player stamping on him. Last time around it was very much a game of who could counter-attack better and somewhat amusingly, both goals were scored against the run of play. This time without the presence of Yaya Toure in midfield and the threat of Nasri on the wing, I would expect Arsenal to be able to assert some form of dominance over the middle and force City to play on the counter, rather than their usual tactic of short passing and possession in their opposition’s own half.

The defensive pairing for this match will be a big decision for Arsene Wenger and could play a crucial part in this match. On one hand we can play Mertesacker for his organisational abilities at the back, governing the offside trap and starting each attacking play, or we could bring in Koscielny since City possess players with good dribbling skills who could turn the slow German inside out, much like Aguero did to him last time. Given that City have scored over a quarter of their goals this season from set pieces, I would choose a partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen, both for being able to stop tricky dribblers and because for some reason, both of these shorter players are better in the air than Mertesacker. I also think aside from the set pieces, one of the biggest threats we will face in this match will be Tevez’s movement and spontaneous shooting, so two players who are able to get tight to their markers and prevent shots on the turn will be ideal.

Attacking-wise, last time Wenger chose to use a striker with pace in behind their defensive line and deployed Ramsey at right wing to drift inwards and gain a man advantage in the midfield battle. I don’t expect this to change, though I feel Ramsey might be on the left wing this time, with Podolski coming off the bench in the second half, hopefully in the same explosive form as he was against Swansea City. With Giroud in doubt for this match, I expect Wenger to use Walcott as our striker and it remains to be seen if he’s physically tough enough to deal with the attentions of Nastasic and Kompany. I would expect Arsenal to attack mostly through the middle with Oxlade Chamberlain cutting in on the right at times to mix things up. I almost hope I’m wrong though as I’d like to see Podolski start this match, partnering with Gibbs and Ramsey on the right wing, with Oxlade held in reserve to use his pace and trickery to our advantage late in the match. The midfield trio is the key to success in this match, Arteta and Wilshere will surely have their hands full with Silva drifting in off his wing, looking to exploit any space and two volatile forwards like Balotelli and Tevez moving in and around our lines. Yet Cazorla can do the same at the other end of the pitch and unless City commit a Center Back to his movements, the City midfield may have a busy day as Cazorla is at his best, moving around and finding space even out on the wings and there’s no way he’ll just stay central in a match like this.

So overall, we have a good chance at this one, the real game changer in question is whether Mancini starts in a 4-5-1 as expected or his much-experimented 3-4-1-2, as this would change the entire dynamic of the game, for better or worse. It’s unlikely though and in the expected system this game would look to be a real arm wrestle in the center with neither having great options on the wing. Gibbs could be a deciding factor with his pacy bursts forward and Wenger’s decision on both his starting Center Half pairing and whether to start Podolski or hold him in reserve will dictate the tempo of the match, particularly in the first half. The other telling factor will be how well we deal with any set pieces they have, which also means not giving away fouls in dangerous areas of the pitch and defending corners properly.

Manchester City Dangermen: Well they’re all dangerous but the biggest threats will most likely be Tevez, Balotelli and Silva. And also Dzeko who I would expect to sub on in the second half and can be a real game changer.

Result Prediction: The similar pressures in midfield from the two teams, suggests a draw to me, I’d say 2-2 but hopefully we can nick a late win.

Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Chamberlain, Arteta, Wilshere, Ramsey, Cazorla, Walcott

Conclusion: Both teams will compete early for control of the middle, which could be quite a high tempo start. Expect only a few clear cut chances created by either side and a rather cagey affair until the first goal is scored with City playing on the counter and Arsenal breaking their teeth on City’s defensive line. Impact subs in the second half have the potential to blow the game wide open and make it a very exciting last 25 or so minutes. Who knows, maybe Giroud will be fit enough to sub in late and make an impact along with Podolski.

If you live near the Emirates, get down there and show the timid home support how to REALLY cheer on our team as it plays a major part to a team’s performance in a big match such as this. It will be a huge 3 points if we get them and considering the fixtures that await us, a real momentum boost. Come On You Gunners!

 

The Evolution of Arsenal’s Gameplay

The Invincibles are gone, they’ve parted ways and chosen their futures. Some have gone on to rot on benches, others to try new prospects. As the dust settles Arsenal’s style of play has changed from the impressively successful 4-4-1-1 employed by the Invincibles side to a 4-5-1 formation for the modern game built around 1 man, Cesc Fabregas.  But as time went on the big teams learnt how to deal with this amazing playmaker and Arsenal’s offense looked more and more unimaginative and while it was at times, dazzling to watch, the majority of games saw us passing the ball around on the edge of the opposition’s goal box without ever taking a shot or looking threatening. As more and more teams cottoned on to the fact that they could stand off Fabregas(who rarely shoots) and simply man mark all the target players he would pass to, we also started to see how often and easily we could be undone on Counter-Attacks as the team got more and more aggressive, committing more and more bodies forward and leaving our back 4 very exposed in our desperate search for goals, despite having the self proclaimed “World’s best striker” Nicklas Bendtner, on hand to hit the target, or chair row Z, or simply put his shot out for a throw in.

The Diagram shows a fairly standard scenario from a few seasons ago when we still adopted this style of play and it’s easy to see the problems with what we were doing back then. Fabregas naturally plays fairly advanced and with the other midfielders pushing up in support you can see the huge gap it leaves in between our lines between Song and the Center Backs, that can be exploited by teams with a quick long ball to a target center forward who can then run at the defense or really stretch us if they have speedy players flying down the wings, like say United. By ignoring Fabregas, Player A intercepts a pass from Fabregas to Bendtner, hits it long to Player B who lays it off to Player C and then we’re screwed. You can clearly see how Song is outnumbered, Sagna is caught high up the pitch, Clichy is overlapped and the result is an attack with width running at our two Center Backs and the hapless keeper beyond.

Now,  jump forward to last season. Fabregas is gone, Na$ri(who?), Clichy(who?)  also and Wilshere is injured indefinitely. In their place Arsenal has Rosicky,Gibbs, Gervinho and Arteta. Now while these players are being utilised the same way there are some important differences. Firstly Gibbs is much more of a winger style player than Clichy ever was, Clichy was a no-nonsense Fullback who pushed forwards at times whereas Gibbs is more often further up field than his Left Winger. This has created the occasional problem defensively but weirdly it has also solved a big problem for Arsenal. Clichy was often found to be playing attackers onside resulting in a heart attack inducing 1 on 1 with “gulp” Almunia. Whether because Vermaelen is too aggressive or because Clichy was just useless at staying in line with his Center Backs is up for debate but since Gibbs is so eager to go forward this problem no longer exists.

Gervinho and Rosicky added some much needed energy to our offense, both have great workrates however the best thing that Rosicky inadvertedly did is get the other players involved. With their crutch Fabregas gone from midfield the other 10 players on the team started to take on more responsibility on the pitch and even though a certain Dutch traitor who we shall refer to as “Voldemort ie “He who can not be named”  was banging in the majority of our goals, the assists were coming from everywhere. In the later half of the season once the excellent Arteta had firmly stamped his mark on a midfield position in our side, the trio of Arteta, Song and Rosicky started to show their potential and with this new confidence we started to see a shift in formation, when attacking from the normal 4-5-1 to a very fluid 3-5-2. In possession, Gibbs would bomb down the left wing providing width, Gervinho would slide inwards into a secondary striker role and the Center Backs would adjust their position to compensate for this. This gave Arsenal an extra attacking option and allowed one of the best crossers on the team, Gibbs to show his attacking potential. With the speed of Theo Walcott on the Right Wing, Arsenal were able to not commit Bacary Sagna at Right Back forwards too much and still provide an attacking threat from both wings, crucially stretching the oppositions defense.


It’s a shame Rosicky is too old these days to always start as he did a fantastic job in Attacking Midfield when we really needed someone to step up. While all this was happening Arsenal also shored up their defense with the arrival of Per Mertesacker and the development of our young Keeper Wojciech Szczesny.  Mertesacker in particular was becoming a key player for us as he asserts his authority and experience on the back 4 and provides much needed organisation. Arteta likewise in midfield became more important than anyone save maybe Arsene Wenger could imagine as his performances are just so damn consistent it’s like having a machine in midfield. You program it to your specifications and then watch in awe as he carries out your instructions with unerring accuracy.

Present Day

So fastforward to this season and predictably the season started with  several players being sold.  While the article on this site written by Threkstari explains why this is necessary it is no less damn annoying. So adios to Song who suddenly discovered he had Barca DNA, while Voldemort has definitely turned to the dark side as he joins Manchester United. Wenger brings in Santi Cazorla, Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud as his key signings, as well as promoting a young player by the name of Carl Jenkinson in place of the currently injured Bacary Sagna. Happily unlike last season the new recruits bed into the starting eleven much quicker than expected and Arsenal only drop a few points at the start thanks to not having a proper pre-season warm up to familiarize with each other. Cazorla proves a revelation in midfield and Podolski who struggled to play well in Bayern Munich’s 4-3-3 play wide formation quickly strikes up a great partnership with both Gibbs and Cazorla. Giroud impresses early also but fails to get the goals his performances deserve and loses his starting position to Gervinho who after looking rather unimpressive last season as a Left Winger, really seems to have hit his stride in the Center Forward position. But the most impressive thing about all these early signs is what we start to see in the formation.

That’s right, a return to the 4-4-1-1 formation that was the staple of the most glorious days in Arsenal’s history and we have the players to make it work, we have a sexy beast of a Center Forward with brilliant positional awareness and the attitude to get on the end of a cross regardless of if he’ll break his foot doing it.  Meanwhile we have Cazorla pulling the strings and the metronomic Arteta as the midfield anchor. Perhaps the most crucial change to this formation is the doing away with a traditional Defensive Midfielder. Instead we have in it’s place the double pivot of Arteta and Diaby ensuring 1 player(usually Arteta) is always covering the back 4 and eliminating problems we had in the past with 2 defensive lines of 4 players, thanks to the workrate of both Podolski and Gervinho on the wings.

While this is Arsenal’s standard formation now it’s worth noting that in offense we switch to a 3-5-2 due to Gibbs bombing down the flank and I think this is what utilises Podolski’s potential. It’s clear on the pitch he doesn’t like playing wide so having Gibbs provide the width and Podolski slide inside to become a secondary striker is perfect. This also moves Podolski closer to where Cazorla is playing and allows the great linkup play and intricate give and goes we’ve seen them play this season, most notably when Cazorla scored vs Liverpool and when they tore Southampton apart.The starting eleven is almost cemented with maybe 3 or so players who can give it a nudge. Players pushing to get into the starting team is great for promoting good performances from those on the field however and even though Wenger has to decide on which two Center Backs to start and which player should be at Right Wing etc these are decisions that are much preferred to not having any options at all.

Looking to the Future

This current Arsenal squad looks to have loads of potential with far more steel in the side thanks to the veteran players that have been introduced and the willingness of the players to defend and attack as a team. I think we can look forward with hope and belief that this is a team that can win consistently. There is still room for much improvement, particularly our defense on set pieces and also the tendency of a certain newly promoted captain to make rash tackles and press forwards too much but the team chemistry is looking stronger every week. Add to this current crop the fact that our young prodigy Jack Wilshere is soon to return from injury as well as other solid players such as Bacary Sagna and Tomas Rosicky and the future looks positively mouth watering.