Tactical Points from Arsenal's gutting last minute defeat to City
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
A cruel defeat to end our unbeaten streak at home but ultimately, a lot of positives to take from this performance against the best side in the country and arguably, the best in Europe.
Continuity in the Arsenal line-ups is one of the key factors for the chemistry and the confidence in all aspects both with and without the ball. Sticking with this rather than tweaking things for a big game shows that Arteta is willing to trust them to play against any type of opposition.
Manchester City keep adapting to new ways tactically to remain at the top every year, with the latest tactic being, the wide forwards always hugging the touchline, irrespective of whether they are left or right-footed. Utilising the whole width of the pitch in this manner gives a direct route from a turnover as well as allowing the likes of De Bruyne and Silva to operate with much more freedom against a low-block.
There has been a noticeable shift in our structure without the ball with the set-up resembling a 4-2-3-1/4-2-1-3 rather than the 4-4-2, with Odegaard and Lacazette pressing from the front. Saka has a much higher starting position on the right and is willing to keep the ball with his back to the defender, thus providing an outlet from goal kicks and the chipped balls from White. Odegaard’s role is certainly a fluid one without the ball- he can lead the press or be central to block the central outlet. Staying central allows him to find the spaces from turnovers and provide a creative outlet.
Winning the midfield battle was the key as Partey and Xhaka man-marked De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva respectively, all across the pitch. A combination of smart pressing and City being leggy resulted in a lot of turnovers, with the Ghanian showcasing his close control and his progressive abilities to exploit the spaces. Controlling the tempo and leaving the City players scampering to keep up is a rare sight and a glimpse into the potential this team has and the level at which they are playing right now. Xhaka was far more adventurous in his role and pushed forward a lot more than Partey while Odegaard made late unmarked runs into the box and arguably, would have been the ‘better option’ if not for Saka’s brilliance.
Having 2 full-backs who are defensively secure in 1-vs-1 situations has brought much more defensive security to this team and this allows them to sit tight and win the ball back quickly and high up the pitch rather than retreat. Set-pieces and the penalty aside, City did nothing of note from open play, and minimising Cancelo’s impact on the overlap and centrally, played a major role.
Controversial issues aside, this team didn’t look like they were going to concede with 11 or 10 and after all the previous thrashings, putting the Arsenal imprint on the performance is the best start to the New Year.