Arsenal and Arteta’s Manchester City Redemption – FA Cup Tactical Analysis
A lot of time has passed since then and now we sit here proud, after a performance Arsenal fans haven’t seen all too often over the last couple of years.
This report will discuss and analyse the main tactical elements of the game and how Arteta recorded his first victory over his former employer and mentor; Pep Guardiola.
Arsenal lined up in a 3-4-3, with Aubameyang and Ceballos coming back into the side, after being on the bench against Liverpool. Maitland-Niles made a rare appearance as a left wing-back, chosen ahead of Saka. Bellerin started as a right wing-back and Tierney once more slotted into the back three with Luiz and Mustafi.
Pep Guardiola deployed City in a 4-3-3. Laporte partnered youngster Eric Garcia in the central of defence, with former Tottenham fullback Kyle Walker playing as a right-back and Mendy on the left. Jesus led the line, with Sterling and Mahrez supporting him from the wings. The midfield consisted of Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva and İlkay Gündoğan.
Arsenal’s High Press
Arsenal were very brave in their press, committing as many as five players to the cause. When Ederson had the ball, it was the job of Aubameyang and Pepe to press the centre-backs from a balanced position, between the full-back and centre-back. This prevented City’s centre-backs from finding the full-backs and limited their options. Furthermore, it was Lacazette locking onto Gundogan, Xhaka on De Bruyne and Ceballos on Silva, which prevented City’s centre-backs from playing into midfield. This left them with two options; go long for the forwards or go back to Ederson. City tested Arsenal’s bravery by dropping two of their midfielders deep at times, but Arsenal remained committed to the cause and tracked their men, no matter how risky it seemed.
To beat Arsenal’s press, City did as they always do, they attempted to make the pitch as large as they possibly could. Whilst the distance between each City players horizontally, was relatively great, they managed to maintain close lines, looking for vertical and diagonal passes. This allowed the City players to interchange and provide options for one another, attempting to break the Arsenal pressure. City are the masters of demarking and losing their man. This helps them to break pressure and create numerical superiority. Whether it’s through the use of their bodies, individual skill or blocking, City more often than not escape their markers. Arsenal made it their mission when pressing to not allow this, keeping with their men.
It was clear to see on a regular occasion, Arsenal’s intent to press high and actively defend against City’s attacks. This was incredibly prevalent from David Luiz, especially when the ball went into Jesus. Pep wants for his strikers to drop deep to get on the ball and help bring different lines of players into play. Because of Arsenal’s high press, the space between the defence and midfielders, was quite large at times. Penetrating passes from City’s midfielders or Ederson could open up this space and find the City players. In years gone by, this would have caused Arsenal real danger, however, Arteta ensured his team knew exactly how to deal with this situation. One of the back three (normally Luiz), would spring out and approach their man at the perfect angle, to win the ball.
Stopping City from exploiting this space was all the more vital given the positioning of City’s midfielders. Depending on if the ball was on the left or right side of City’s midfield, would determine the positioning of De Bryune and Silva. If the ball was with Silva, then De Bruyne would hold a position just beyond the Arsenal midfielders. Should City have been able to unlock this space, City would have had a 4v4, with players flooding forward. This situation has been very common for City this season and helped them beat Liverpool. City’s advanced wingers helped create this space for them.
Both of Aubameyang’s finishes showed why Arsenal need to retain their prize possession. Aubameyang’s first goal was a truly brilliant team effort, with Arsenal playing the ball through many of the teams lines, to reach the goal. The 18 pass move was inch perfect. From David Luiz having the composure to attract Jesus (who was filling in on the right) and therefore freeing Tierney to receive behind him, to Tierney’s pin point pass to Lacazette who receives and excellently turns, before finding Bellerin who drives in the half space, leaving Pepe wider. Upon Pepe receiving, Mendy doesn’t get tight enough and Bellerin’s run allows Pepe enough space to come inside on his left and find Aubameyang with a precise cross to the far post. Arsenal exploited Kyle Walker’s ball watching position, allowing Aubameyang to get in and score. A great team goal from Arsenal, carving open Manchester City.
Arsenal’s second goal came just at the right moment. After soaking up endless pressure from City, Tierney was able to bring the ball out after receiving from Pepe’s header. Pepe continued his forward run and was found by Tierney. The Ivorian then used his skill and trickery to hold the ball by the side-line, before once more linking up with Tierney. Again, Arsenal exploited Walker’s poor positioning and the inexperience of Garcia. Tierney’s lovely chipped ball over the top, found Aubameyang baring down on goal and the master marksman did what he does best – score. Both Garcia and Walker should have known, the minute Pepe passed to Tierney, that the time and space and the most viable pass was going to be over the top of the City defence. As Tierney received from Pepe, the entire defence needed to drop and track the forward runs.
Mikel Arteta’s Coaching
Since Mikel Arteta’s arrival at Arsenal, there has been so much improvement; tactically, mentally and physically. The players have found consistency and have improved individually as well as a group. Every game you see Arteta guiding his team and talking them through the match. He is constantly encouraging and backing his players in the media. Supporting them through thick and thin. There were many eyebrows raised when Maitland-Niles’ name was seen on the team sheet, especially at left wing-back. None the less, Arteta’s man management and tactical intelligence, showed it to be a masterstroke.
Maitland-Niles was vital in dealing with Mahrez. Mahrez is a magician on the ball and always favours his left foot, constantly cutting in to cross, shoot or pass. He attracts countless markers before laying off the ball to a teammate. Maitland-Niles, whenever Mahrez cut inside, had to stick with him. Maitland-Niles at times did get beaten by Mahrez, however, he always picked himself up and went again. Something which has been very noticeable in all Arsenal players recently. They keep going and have plenty of belief. David Luiz is another player who has had to pick himself up a lot this season. When he was sent off against City at the Etihad, you thought there was no way back. This time against City, he won man of the match.
In conclusion, Arsenal showed something they have rarely shown in the last ten years. They showed grit, determination and an unrelenting desire to get the job done. Whilst of course Arteta wants his team to play the best they possible can and to his philosophy, he knew the value and worth of the result over anything else. The confidence in beating one of the best teams in the world and in a competition which could lead to silverware and European football for next season, could be a complete game changer, not just for those in the squad, but also potential recruits for next season.
Mikel Arteta did an excellent job in highlighting and exploiting many of City’s defensive frailties. Walker and Garcia struggled to deal with Aubameyang and were made to pay for it. It was also under Mikel Arteta’s tactical instruction to deploy Maitland-Niles as a left wing-back. A relatively inexperienced player in that position, however, he gave his all. His intention was to always stay with Mahrez and this was very impressive. Arsenal were tactically perfect against City. In the second half, Arsenal soaked up the pressure, and applied great defensive force on the ball at all times. They knew all they had to do was wait for that one chance to pick City off. Mikel Arteta, taught by Pep Guardiola, navigated the game in a Jose Mourinho type manner and won.