Man City 1-1 Arsenal: Match Observations And Analysis
A point away to the champions would be gladly accepted at any time. The fact that City are on this fantastic home run of 29 victories in 31 games makes this one even more commendable. It was a performance that augurs well for Arsenal’s chances in the league this season – a point gained and a point made.
Arsenal lost captain Thomas Vermaelen to a virus so Laurent Koscielny came into the team while Vito Mannone replaced the injured Wojciech Szczesny in goal. As expected, Gervinho started through the middle as he did against Southampton but the surprising decision was Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion as a right-sided midfielder ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Roberto Mancini started with what looked like a more attacking formation on paper. Javi Garcia and Yaya Toure shored up things in midfield while David Silva started on the right and Scott Sinclair was brought on to provide pace and width on the left. Up front, Dzeko played as the central striker while Aguero drifted in behind him.
For a game which had so much attacking talent on show, it’s ironic that both goals came from corners and both were scored by centre-backs. Unlike the last two games, Arsenal dominated possession and stayed on the front foot for most of the match. Without dissecting each phase or listing the order of events, here are a few observations on the Gunners tactics and performance.
Proactive approach and combinations
Although the away victory at Liverpool was impressive, Arsenal were far more reactive in that fixture. At Anfield, the Gunners were content to defend deep and wait for counter attacking opportunities. Against City yesterday, players actively sought the ball and put early pressure on the carrier. While we still displayed a willingness to get behind the ball, there was more energy and proactivity in our approach to winning the ball back.
One of the reasons could be the increased match fitness of players. It is an encouraging sign as for the first time this season, Arsenal actively tried to win the ball back and dominate their opponents.
Possibly the most satisfying facet of Arsenal’s play was the large number of combinations all over the pitch. Whether it was Ramsey with Jenkinson and Arteta on the right, Cazorla with Gibbs and Podolski on the left or Gervinho with Diaby and Cazorla in forward areas, Arsenal looked like a team speaking the same language. No wonder then that Arsenal’s top five pass combinations included six different players.
After the Montpellier game, I felt that Arsenal’s use of four very direct players in attack meant the Gunners lacked the ability to keep possession and control play. This from my article a few days ago on striking a balance:
The introduction of Aaron Ramsey was a reaction to this (surrendering possession) and although Montpellier’s tiredness also played a part, Arsenal did look more in control of the game after the Welshman’s introduction.
Even so, Aaron Ramsey’s inclusion in a big away game was a brave decision by Arsene Wenger. As it turned out, it was an inspired selection. For me, the Welshman was the difference between what could have ended up being a glorified parked bus and what turned out to be a well-greased motoring unit.
Ramsey’s effectiveness came from making himself available at every opportunity and his ability to use the ball quickly and accurately when he received it. With inexhaustible energy, the former Cardiff City youngster was an ever-present outlet for Jenkinson on the right and Arteta in the middle. When Arsenal moved forward, Ramsey stepped up to play quick one-twos with Cazorla. In a game where Diaby was shackled by the presence of Garcia and Yaya Toure, it was Aaron Ramsey who provided drive to Arsenal’s midfield.
Another interesting aspect was the 21-year old’s positioning and how it affected players around him. When Arsenal were without the ball, the Welsh captain dropped to the right flank to protect Jenkinson and the team retained their starting line-up formation. But when the Gunners won back possession, more often than not Ramsey cut inside into more central areas.
When that happened, Gervinho would peel off to the right, Podolski would move into the central striker position and Cazorla would go wide left. While Podolski did not enoy too much success against Manchester City’s centre-backs, Gervinho’s movement in the channel between Lescott and Clichy created problems for the home team.
Aaron Ramsey’s improving form is cause for optimism because contrary to popular belief, the Welsh captain is more in the Fabregas mould than Cazorla. His passing skills and energy added a different dynamism to Arsenal’s midfield. This is borne out by the stats – Ramsey made the most passes in the attacking third (26 of 31) and the second most passes (73 of 82) overall.
While Per Mertesacker’s defensive work was outstanding, Aaron Ramsey was Arsenal’s man of the match for me.
Manchester City’s goal towards the end of the first half came against the run of play. While Vito Mannone’s misjudgment was certainly responsible for the concession, the fact that Lescott was able to get a clear header six yards from goal is slightly worrying.
The choice between zonal marking and man marking is a never-ending debate. Both have their advantages and disadvantages so it’s difficult to state categorically that one is better than the other. In reaction to our abysmal record of defending set pieces prior to the start of last season, Arsenal have since gradually adopted the zonal marking system. And we were fairly successful with that tactic last season.
But with City crowding the area with 5-6 players with height and strength, Arsenal looked vulnerable from corners as the Gunners’ stood off against a wall of blue shirts poised to make a run towards the ball. For the home team’s goal, Lescott was able to run into the space between Koscielny and Podolski just as the delivery came in. Mannone was never getting there and if he’d stayed on his line, there was every chance of him saving the resulting header. But without focusing on what was an obvious individual mistake, it must be noted that neither Podolski nor Koscielny had the momentum to compete with Lescott.
Perhaps the strategy needs tweaking against certain opposition and Steve Bould will certainly look to improve on that front. It’ll be interesting to see if Arsenal adopt a different approach against the more physical teams the next time out.
At the back, Vito Mannone’s error gifted City the first goal but he made up for it with some good saves later on, notably the reaction save to Kompany’s overhead kick towards the end. He was well protected by the central defenders in front of him. Mertesacker was impressive once again in his reading of the game, 7 interceptions proof of the excellent judgement he’s displayed so far this season. Koscielny was a bit lucky not to have conceded a penalty and there was that nervous clearance from Mannone’s Kompany save, but for his first game of the season the Frenchman looked alert and agile and attempted more clearances (12) than any other player.
The full backs were influential once more. While prior to this game Gibbs has stolen the limelight with his forays down the left, Carl Jenkinson was hugely impressive yesterday, both defensively and offensively. He made Scott Sinclair anonymous in the first half with some assured defending and became a constant attacking threat in the second half when the home team started dropping deeper.
In midfield, Diaby had quiet game as Yaya Toure and Garcia in particular marked him well. However, that helped Aaron Ramsey make inside runs unchecked as Sinclair was hesitant to follow him in central areas and the City midfield were more concerned with keeping tabs on Diaby and Cazorla. Santi himself was less influential than in previous matches as City denied him space to motor into. Despite that, the Spaniard was Arsenal’s most potent attacking threat and created two chances besides forcing a save from Hart.
The midfielder that impressed the most was Mikel Arteta, completing 100 of 106 passes at an incredible 94% pass completion rate. The former Evertonian kept things ticking over with constant movement to receive and distribute the ball. Arteta contributed defensively too, making three interceptions and a couple of blocks.
On the left, Lukas Podolski’s work rate was top-notch once more but he didn’t get much change out of Kompany and Zabaleta. Ramsey’s constant forays inside also pushed him into more central areas where the German saw less of the ball and consequently had less of an impact on Arsenal’s play.
Gervinho was lively once more but after scoring three in the last two games, the Ivorian seemed to have reverted to the player we saw last season as he wasted a couple of glorious opportunities in front of goal. City’s defense also dealt well with his direct running as only 4 of his 12 attempted take-ons were successful.
Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott did not have much time to make an impact but the Frenchman once again showed his enormous strength as he held Vincent Kompany off easily on a couple of occasions. The former Montpellier striker also got into a fantastic position for that late chance that Gervinho hooked away.
Overall, the manner in which the Gunners imposed themselves on the game, the effortless combinations between players and the flexibility Arsene Wenger possesses in the squad all engender optimism in this team’s chances.