Tactical Points from Arsenal's narrow defeat at the Etihad
By Vinay Shankar (Tactical Analyst)
A gritty, fighting performance involving soaking up a lot of pressure, but a relatively blunted performance offensively:
· Formations wise, both managers made some surprising tactical tweaks with Willian playing in a false-nine role and the roles that Rodrigo and Cancelo were asked to play from a City point of view.
· Willian just didn’t seem to get into the game in that role, with City packing the central areas where a false-nine would look to operate. Cancelo playing as a central midfielder when City had the ball did cause problems early on as Mahrez had a lot of space to operate in. Aubameyang was forced to drop deep for support, but that just left Arsenal with no-one upfront for quick counters.
· Arsenal’s pressing was balanced in that it was neither too aggressive nor too conservative. But credit has to be given to Ederson in this regard in terms of his distribution. Every time Arsenal had City penned back with a good press, Ederson was able to ping a 60-yard pass into Mahrez’s feet and City had spaces to exploit.
· This is also where Arsenal’s lack of mobility in midfield left them scrambling. Whenever Xhaka or Ceballos looked to press high up the pitch there were a lot of gaps in midfield for Silva and Sterling to drop into and create overloads.
· An extra midfielder would perhaps be the way forward to counter this issue but that could perhaps negate Saka’s strengths of driving with the ball if he’s played as a forward.
· Arsenal always looked to counter down the left when City turned the ball over with Saka and Aubameyang looking to overload Walker, but Aubameyang was guilty at times of rushing the pass rather than slowing it down and looking for support.
· Other than Willian, Pepe was another disappointing performer for me. One of the Ivorian’s strengths is carrying the ball from deep, especially on the counter, but his decision-making keeps letting the team down. In the big games, it’s all about the little details that make the difference and there has to be more consistency in terms of decision-making with the ball.
· The delay in making substitutions could perhaps be another nitty-gritty to pick out. City had little to no impact offensively in the second half so Arsenal were always in the game. Perhaps a little more urgency could have been shown to put them under pressure and force an equaliser.
· As tough a loss as it is, it was much different game to the previous visits to the Etihad. There were lot of good moments, a more balanced game albeit against a weaker City side but still a lot of improvement to be made in the smaller details.