Arsenal Opposition Report – Manchester City
So much has happened since Arsenal hosted Manchester City at the Emirates back in December. The 3-0 defeat symbolised the end of Freddie Ljungberg’s interim management of Arsenal and the start of Mikel Arteta’s reign. Arteta who was seen as a potential replacement for Pep Guardiola at City had the serial winner left them, has begun to put down the foundations for his tenure at Arsenal and will be hoping to measure the extent of this work against the large barometer which is Manchester City.
The scout report will analyse Manchester City and the strengths and weakness of Guardiola’s side.
Manchester City’s last game was a 2-0 defeat to Manchester United at Old Trafford. Manchester City’s problems so far this season were once against exposed by the red half of Manchester. United got behind the ball well and pressed up the pitch as one solid unit. The back five defended the width of the pitch well, with the two midfielders protecting them with plenty of energy and aggression. When in a low block, United went from a 3-4-3/ 5-2-1-2, to a 5-3-2/5-2-3 dependent on if City had the ball out wide or central. The forwards looked to sit very deep when United dropped, this was so they could reduce the space between their own midfield line and themselves and protect any pockets and spaces which City often look to exploit. Because of United’s compact shape, the multiple attacking lines and angles City usually look to create were constantly met with a United player pressurising them. City themselves looked to deploy a 4-3-3 which focused on overloads out wide and quick patterns which saw the interior and wide zones exploited.
When City attack they look to create as many lines as possible This helps them play through tight compact defences. They usually aim to create five lines. The centre backs create one, the holding midfielder another, the two fullbacks, the two midfielders create separate lines and then the wingers and strikers create another two. They remain compact and connected through the vertical spatial relation they hold to one another. The midfielders look to create angles for each other so they can pass through the lines and progress the ball quickly and effectively in pairs. It’s important that they pass and move in pairs so that they can counter press quickly and effectively to win the ball back, as well as exploit their opponents being off balance as they are wrong-footed.
One of Kevin De Bruyne’s major strengths are the balls he plays between the goalkeeper and defensive line. To achieve these situations, the winger ahead of him will be positioned slightly higher than normal almost in line with the defensive line. His job would be to run the defensive line back to allow De Bruyne time and space on the ball to be able to play the pass. The striker and opposite side winger will look to attack the ball from slightly deeper and therefore should be able to get across their man and onto the ball.
Guardiola teams always attack with width and with a major emphasis placed on the wingers maintaining their positioning whilst they are waiting for the ball. Against Aston Villa, both Raheem Sterling and Phil Foden did this very well. They waited for the ball out wide and trusted that it would arrive with the perfect conditions to maximise their effectiveness. As you can see from the image below, Sterling (7) and Foden (47) were responsible for staying wide, whilst David Silva (21), Gundogan (8) and Rodri (16) were pivotal in committing and attracting Villa players central. This helped open the wide space for Foden and Sterling. It was in particular the positioning of Silva between Guilbert and Engels which caused lots of problems for the Vila defence. Guilbert didn’t know whether to press out to Sterling when he had the ball and leave Silva, or leave Sterling and stay with Silva.
Manchester City have many players who fulfil the title of a “needle players”. A needle player is basically one which has a low centre of gravity, good technical control and great awareness. They aim to receive the ball high in the opposition half under intense defensive pressure. They both attract opposition players and negate them from their defensive responsibility, by beating them with their skill and control. These players really help free up space for other supporting players who are in midfield, whilst also helping to create space out wide and create 1v1’s for the wingers. Bernardo Silva and Phil Foden are examples of these players, when they are played more centrally. They receive the ball and almost like a magnet, can attract opponents and free teammates. To prevent these players becoming a problem, Arsenal must make their own players vigilant and aware of this threat.
Pep likes for his team to play short passes and for the team to progress the ball up the pitch slowly rather than with quick direct passes. Pep operates with the mentality that the faster the ball goes forward; the faster it comes back the other way. When City do look to progress the ball quickly, they look to move in groups. The ball carrier will always have a player to the side of them and behind them. This allows for the ball to be laid off if necessary. City love to exploit the space in the half channels between the centre backs and fullbacks. De Bruyne and Bernado Silva, usually operate in this area of the pitch. They like to stretch the defensive line with their wingers in order to best exploit this space. Quick combinations and passing sequences would see City exploit these gaps. Arsenal’s to pivot midfielders must look to protect this space, should Arteta pick a back four.
This season, City have looked to do their usual high press. They look to convert their 4-3-3 into a 4-4-2 structure, once they enter the opponents half. Often it is Aguero and De Bruyne who lead the press with the team looking to move as one unit up the pitch behind them. When they do win the ball, they can press outward and stretch the pitch quickly. They can also take advantage of the disruption caused by their high press and the subsequent spaces which appear. There have been times this season when they have looked to press in a 3-3-4/2-4-4. Against Leicester they did this in order to nullify the midfield threat posed by Maddison and Tielemans. They wanted to prevent Maddison and Tielemans receiving the ball on the half-turn and playing Vardy and Iheanacho in, through the channels.
It’s well documented City’s intentions when they lose the ball. Their aim is to employ Pep’s six-second rule. City will look to counter-press for six seconds before reverting to their defensive shape. If their counter-press get played through, then they will look to “tactical foul” and take the yellow card if warranted rather than allow themselves to get caught out of position. City are very well set-up to prevent counter-attacks. Guardiola enacts a security system to prevent his team from getting caught on counter-attacks. The security system revolves around City’s positioning to cover and protect space before it opens up for the opposition. The fullbacks play a more “inverted” role which means they play tighter in midfield. This allows for better ball circulation, but also means they don’t get caught out when advanced high up the pitch.
On the rare occasion Manchester City don’t have possession, they look to defend in a man orientated way. Against Leicester City they defended in a 4-2-3-1. Pep’s players looked to snap into tackles and interceptions when the pass was made. City look to press their opponents from an angled approach. They look to use their body shape so that they are side-on. With their low centre of gravity and reading of the game, they are very good at channelling passes and forcing the opponent to go where they want them to go. If City deploy a 4-3-3 shape, they will revert to a 4-1-4-1 in defence. This shape allows for players to stay tight and close to each other, which helps in cutting passing lanes and killing space. It also helps when playing through pressure.
When City look to build-up play, they like to form a diamond with Ederson, the centre backs and Rodri. From there, they look to create triangles and other such structures beyond that, which help them progress the ball through the thirds and up the pitch quickly. City want for their opponents to come on to them and press up the pitch. They know that they can use individual brilliance and smart patterns to play through them and unlock their players in favourable matchups which they’ve created. Rodri is a player who has prenominal awareness and can angle his body perfectly to beat a press and play the ball first time out to a teammate.
City like to instruct their forwards to make sacrificial runs behind the opposition backline. A lot of the time they look to do this when they have their opponents in a medium block. Aguero will use his intelligence and experience to quickly swivel and turn to run in behind the defensive line. Another player, either a striker or advanced midfielder will look to do the same thing. Generally, they have no intention of receiving the ball. Pep is looking for them to disconnect the defensive line from the midfield line. This helps create space for De Bruyne, Gundogan, Foden etc. City’s players then look to make diagonal runs behind the opposition midfield. This improves the angle for the player on the ball to find the pass with.
I can’t imagine Arteta and Arsenal will employ those similar tactics to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer, in terms of defensive positioning. Arteta will surely prioritise having as much of the ball as possible, which could suit City. With this mentality, it is vital that Arsenal position their players perfectly to prevent gaps and spaces opening up. I think Arsenal will limit how much they counter-press. They should look to get behind the ball as fast as possible upon losing it. Arsenal not having Lucas Torreira will be a massive blow, as his energy, tackling ability and reading of the game could have been valuable. It will be interesting to see how Arteta constructs his starting elven, in particular the midfield positions. Arsenal could look to bring in Guendouzi for the energy and tenacity. Dani Ceballos would be another option for Arsenal and could continue his starting birth of late.