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Analyzing the Tactical Challenges Arsenal Will Face Against Manchester City

LONDON, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 08:  Mesut Oezil of Arsenal celebrates scoring their first goal with team mates during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Everton at Emirates Stadium on December 8, 2013 in London, England.  (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Michael Regan/Getty Images
Aaron BowerFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2013

Arsenal head to Manchester tomorrow to face arguably their biggest challenge of the season so far—a Manchester City side who have been unbeatable at home so far this campaign.

The Etihad Stadium has been a fortress of sheer magnitude in 2013/14—seven wins from seven games represents just what a challenge the Gunners face as they look to extend their lead at the top of the Premier League.

In games of such importance, breaking down the tactical battles and strengths of each side often gives us a fairer idea of who could come out on top. City are a side who play in a very similar fashion to Arsenal—with possession football an important and popular trait for Manuel Pellegrini and his side. That is merely scratching the surface though—what specific strengths will Arsenal have to counter on Saturday afternoon?

 

Win the Middle-of-the-Park Battle

A spine of a side often gives a firm indicator as to just how successful they can be over the course of a season. That has perhaps proven evident when looking at Arsenal's start to the season—given that their central defence pairing of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny have been near enough ever-present—and performing superbly.

City also possess a strong middle, and it is there where Arsenal must try to assert their authority on Saturday. Per the excellent WhoScored.com, City's play and attacking chances largely come through the middle of the park. With Yaya Toure and Fernandinho proving so influential in midfield—particularly the former, who has been so impressive this campaign—Arsenal must try to neutralize that threat with the likes of Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.

Photo courtesy WhoScored.com

If the Gunners can shut down City's fulcrums in midfield, they could be on the way to being the first side to take points away from the Etihad this season.

 

Muscle Up on Sergio Aguero

Arguably the Premier League's most in-form striker, Sergio Aguero is City's biggest threat in front of goal on Saturday. With 12 goals from 13 starts in the league so far this season, the Gunners must be smart to ensure that tally does not increase at the weekend. To do that, they must get tough with the Argentinian.

If City have any flaws, it is their physicality. Sure, the likes of Vincent Kompany and Pablo Zabaleta are tough at the back, but up top, City look much weaker physically than the Arsenal back line.

Per Mertesacker will play a crucial role in this game. If he can get the upper hand on Aguero early on by being physical—within the boundaries of the law, of course—then Aguero could well regress into a shell.

However, if Arsenal let Aguero play in the early exchanges, it could be a tough afternoon.

 

Suffocate Their Possession

As mentioned, City are a team who play with a particular style—much like Arsenal. They like to look after the ball and play a possession game. WhoScored.com's excellent statistic centre backs that up and suggests their style is exactly that.

Ozil will play a crucial role in midfield.
Ozil will play a crucial role in midfield.Michael Regan/Getty Images

The best way to counter that is for Arsenal's talented and skillful midfield to play the classic game away from home and try to restrict chances. The likes of Mesut Ozil, Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla are all excellent technical footballers and can pass a ball with extreme precision.

If the Gunners can frustrate the opposition early on, it could lead to a few fouls born out of frustration from the men in blue. That would set the tone for the entire 90 minutes and lead Arsenal to a potential victory.

 

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