Man City vs Arsenal: The Preview
By Alfie Cairns Culshaw (Chief Editor)
We face Manchester City at the Etihad tomorrow night in what promises to be an intriguing encounter given the two side's respective coaches. The tactical element of this game could be fascinating, and the way in which each coach approaches the game could make it a great watch.
With City losing to bitter rivals United on Sunday, they will be fired up and there is pressure on them to respond to such a poor result, whereas there is a lack of expectation on our side to come away with anything. This could well give Arteta a bit of freedom to experiment or push his side to express themselves offensively, but realistically I think a little bit of pragmatism is needed in a bit of a ‘damage limitation’ game.
City are by far and away the most creative team in the league, and preventing them from creating high quality chances is not going to be easy. Their game at United was the first time they’ve failed to register an xG above 1 in the league this season, and just the second time that they’ve had an inferior xG to their opponent.
United sat in a low block and prevented City from utilising the combinations between their two wide players and two eights in the half spaces- the area in which they create most of their chances. If we are to replicate this, it’s imperative we switch to a 4-3-3, with two of the midfield three covering these half spaces.
However, adapting to the qualities of the opposition is not something we’ve seen Arteta do very often in his short managerial career, and against his coaching mentor I definitely don’t expect this to change. I do expect him to stick to his favoured shape and structure, and he’ll want his side to impose themselves on City- not a tactic that worked for Chelsea earlier this season when Frank Lampard’s side became the only team this season to have more possession than City in a league game. Chelsea lost 2-1.
As for our line-up, I'd expect Arteta to stick with his 4-2-3-1 system and structure, but personally I think a slight adaptation is key for us to come away with anything. In goal, Leno will inevitably retain his place, with Luiz and Mari likely to retain their centre-back partnership, particularly with Mustafi possibly out.
At right-back, whilst Bellerin is still nursing a groin issue, the fact that he's a natural right-back makes him a better fit than Sokratis in this position. Cedric is still unlikely to be involved. At left-back, Tierney is still unlikely to be ready and throwing him into a game of this magnitude would be a huge risk, so I'd expect Saka to retain his place.
In midfield is where I'd make a notable change. Mesut Ozil's defensive deficiencies are potentially going to leave us extremely vulnerable against a superb offensive outfit, so I'd personally bring Guendouzi in to accompany Ceballos and Xhaka in a flat three. A conservative decision yes, and one I don't expect Arteta to make, but for me it's sensible one. City use two eights to attack the half spaces, and a 4-3-3 allows us to counter this a lot more easily.
As for the front three, whilst there's an argument to be made to go for Aubameyang down the middle with a pacey winger on the left, with a counter-attacking game plan put in place, I think if Arteta is going to attempt to implement his possession based philosophy on this game, he must opt for Lacazette, to provide us with a focal point- someone to play off.
For someone so intensely obsessed with the tactical side of the game, I can’t wait for this game. As an Arsenal fan, I’m absolutely dreading it. COYG.
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Fernandinho, Otamendi, Mendy, Rodri, Bernardo Silva, De Bruyne, Mahrez, Jesus, Sterling
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Luiz, Mari, Saka, Xhaka, Ceballos, Ozil, Pepe, Lacazette, Aubameyang.
Prediction: Man City 2-1 Arsenal