Man City v Arsenal: Tactical Preview, Probable XI And Score Prediction
Arsenal’s first big test of the season arrives today at the home of the champions. While it’s too early for any result to have a lasting impact on either team, a point or three from the Etihad would bolster the growing confidence and set things up nicely for Chelsea’s visit next weekend.
With both Szczesny and Fabianski injured, Vito Mannone will get another opportunity in goal. Up front, Gervinho’s impressive performance in the last league outing should earn him a start through the middle ahead of Olivier Giroud. In fact, expect for the enforced change in goal and Abou Diaby coming on in place of Francis Coquelin, Arsene Wenger is likely to field the same side that put six past the Saints last Saturday.
Manchester City have lost Samir Nasri to a hamstring injury while Micah Richards is still out with ankle trouble. Sergio Aguero is likely to return after recovering from a knee problem and new boy Javi Garcia should be preferred in midfield over Jack Rodwell. If Aguero can’t start, it’s possible Tevez will play as centre-forward with Yaya Toure pushing up as well and Gareth Barry playing alongside Garcia in midfield. Either of Zabaleta or Maicon can start at right-back and Mancini’s choice of personnel in that position may provide a clue about his approach in this game – something that is discussed later in this piece.
In recent years, matches between the Citizens and Gunners have been tight affairs. Last season’s fixture at the Etihad resulted in a 1-0 victory for the home team. In fact, all three matches between the two teams in 2011-12 ended in 1-0 scores, one in favour of Arsenal with two in favour of City. Surprisingly, for two teams that have so much attacking talent at their disposal, only six goals have been scored in the last six meetings between these two.
Ever since Roberto Mancini has taken over, City have approached Arsenal games with caution. More often than not, the Italian has sought to prevent the Gunners’ dominance in midfield. Having said that, the Etihadians are unbeaten in 31 games at home so unlike the last meeting at the Emirates when they tried to defend deep, I expect the home team to try to take the initiative from the start.
They are one of the best teams in the world. They played very well at Liverpool away recently and that showed this will be a difficult game for us. They are very strong, especially with counter-attacking.
And for Arsenal, Arsene Wenger will want to see a continuation of the collective defending which has defined Arsenal’s season so far. At the same time, the manager is always more focused on his team rather than the opposition so this game will be no different in that respect. When asked if City’s loss to Real Madrid might affect the home team, Wenger said:
… On our side, let’s not have any speculation on the weakness or strength of them, let’s focus on us to be at our best. If we are at our best I think we have a great chance to get a good result there.
Tactically, Arsenal’s counter attacking style is well suited to this match. Against Liverpool, Southampton and to an extent Montpellier, Arsenal have shown an aversion to using midfielders to press high up the pitch, instead preferring to fall back when the ball is lost and afford protection to the back four. In attack, the Gunners have taken advantage of the pace, power and precision of the front four to hit teams on the break.
However, in the past, Arsene Wenger’s team have caused City problems because the Gunners have shown a desire to dominate the ball. Even in the 1-0 loss at the Etihad last season, Arsenal still managed 53% possession. The manager will want his team to stay on the front foot and not invite pressure from the home team. Although we defended resolutely in midweek, it’s unlikely Aguero and Co will be as wasteful as Montpellier were on Tuesday.
Manchester City’s main attacking threat will come from the two Argentinians up front. Aguero and Tevez have an instinctive understanding with each other and their movement in between the lines can cause Arsenal problems. Mertesacker and Vermaelen will need to be focused and co-ordinated while the full-backs will have to provide cover and track back quickly when the ball is turned over.
With both teams possessing creativity and pace on their left side, it’s likely that both will look to attack down that flank and defend stubbornly on the right. Clichy and Silva will aim to trouble the relatively inexperienced Jenkinson and Oxlade-Chamberlain while Gibbs’ pace and Podolski’s power down the left will provide some food for thought for Milner and Zabaleta (or Maicon).
In this scenario, the braver of the two right backs could have an influence on the game. As compared to Zabaleta, Maicon is the more adventurous going forward so it’ll be interesting to see who Mancini prefers to start the game. If the Italian plays the Brazilian, it would show positive intent and make for a more open game down Arsenal’s left and City’s right. On the other flank, it’ll be interesting to see whether the quietly impressive Jenkinson can strike the balance between providing support in attack and guarding against City’s threat down his side.
Of course the battle royale will be in midfield where arguably two of the most complete midfielders in the Premier League will go head-to-head. Many are labeling Abou Diaby as the new Yaya Toure which I feel is unfair to the Frenchman. Because while Toure was still making a name for himself as a holding midfielder at Barcelona, Diaby was already showing his immense talents during injury-free spells at the Emirates. If anything, Diaby is the original Toure.
Both midfielders will cause problems for the opposition. Mikel Arteta will need to be at his best to stop the rampaging runs of Toure while Diaby will create similar difficulties for Garcia. Both players are in sublime form at the moment so it’ll be the showcase one-on-one of this game. If Aguero does not make the starting line-up and Toure plays further up, it will make City more potent in the final third. On the other hand, it will also allow Diaby space and time on the ball to hurt City on the break. It’s a mouth-watering prospect and the team that wins this battle will fancy their chances.
Although Arsenal have produced the results so far, Arsene Wenger will want his team to impose themselves on the game a bit more against the bigger teams. To consistently produce results, Arsenal need to find the balance between proactivity and pragmatism. If the Gunners’ can find that equilibrium this afternoon, there’s every chance of returning from Manchester with three points.
While I remain optimistic about an Arsenal victory, I think a point would be a worthy achievement so I will go with a 2-2 draw.
Enjoy the game, match analysis tomorrow.