Arsenal FC vs Manchester City: A Tactical Review of the Game at the Emirates

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Arsenal FC vs Manchester City: A Tactical Review of the Game at the Emirates
Michael Regan/Getty Images

City are eight points adrift of the title, after losing by a goal to nil at the Emirates. Mikel Arteta scored the only goal in a game Arsenal dominated from the outset.  

Arsenal now move to third place and look to dominate the race against Spurs for that spot. Since this article is meant to be an analysis, I will put forward certain questions about the game and answer them.

Formation battle

Arsenal played in their usual 4-2-3-1, with Tomas Rosicky in the hole and Mikel Arteta and Alex Song behind him. Arsenal's full-backs, Sagna and Gibbs, went forward more than usual and were supported by Yossi Benayoun, drifting inside to a greater extent than his partner and Theo Walcott on the wings. Robin Van Persie was alone upfront, and Vermaelen and Koscielny protected the high line.

Manchester City played in a 4-3-3 with Milner, Barry and Toure in the centre, and Balotelli and Nasri supporting Aguero, narrow in a three.  Toure was taken off early in the game, and the Chilean, David Pizarro, was his replacement. Pizarro played as a deep-lying playmaker, marked by Rosicky, while Milner and Barry played ahead of him, as stopper's marking Arteta and Song.

 Why did Arsenal dominate possession?

Average Positions with City in Dark Blue and Arsenal in Red.

The simple answer is Arsenal played a high line, squeezed the space that City had to play in and were extremely effective at doing it.

Thomas Vermaelen and Mikel Arteta worked tirelessly when City had the ball, closing men down and making interceptions, and the two were the reason why Arsenal stifled City so effectively. Actually, Arsenal as a whole pressed well and did well to keep City from having a clear-cut chance all game.

Why, then, did it take them an attempt from outside the box to score?

This is a two-part answer. First—because City played Balotelli, a striker. and Nasri, an inside forward/wing playmaker, on the wings—they became very narrow, and their midfield, playing effectively six in central positions, congested the center of the box, making it very difficult for Arsenal to play through them.

They were also forced back by the high line Arsenal had.

As a result, Arsenal had to play balls out wide to get their attacks going. Their full-backs, advancing to support their wingers, got on the ball constantly, taking advantage of City's narrow wingers.

Sagna and Gibbs were happy to combine with the wingers and the central midfielders to get crosses in. Although Arsenal got plenty of crosses in, not many met with the head of an Arsenal player—as this is a method Arsenal are unsuited for when used as their only form of attack.

Furthermore, Tomas Rosicky, Arsenal's attacking playmaker, was dropping too deep in search of the ball, making Arsenal's transitions very ponderous and further precluding them from penetrating in the center.

How did City pose a threat to Arsenal offensively?

City were attacking a high line, so naturally, they looked to get behind the Arsenal defence whenever they got the ball.

This was mainly done through direct passes looking to exploit the movement of the attackers. Pizarro was key in this respect. City looked better when he came on. He slowed the tempo of the game and kept City ticking with a number of accurate passes, as well as driving City forward with his long balls.  

The Movement of City's attacking players was also crucial. Balotelli looked to exploit the space in behind the center-backs by running at them and drifting wide left. His combination with Gael Clichy led to most of City's attacks.

Samir Nasri moved into the hole from wide, providing the creative spark for the attacking duo. However, they were frustrated both by an excellent defensive performance from Thomas Vermaelen and from the Arsenal offside trap, as City made five offside passes.


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