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Match Preview: Manchester City v Arsenal; Any hope for hapless Gunners?


With only a scant few days left before the first international break of the season, Arsenal look set to complete their opening frames of the new season with another difficult tie as they head to the Etihad to take on Manchester City. For under the microscope Mikel Arteta, it means a reunion of sorts with mentor Pep Guardiola. For his team however, it’s another difficult mountain to climb.

The season has gotten off to a horrendous start for the Gunners and while the result against Chelsea shouldn’t have surprised many, the loss to Brentford means that Arsenal could be looking at their third straight loss to open a season for the first time ever.

The issues plaguing Arsenal aren’t new. They run the gamut of managerial decisions, injuries and individual mistakes. The opponent they face, will make the Gunners pay if they don’t find a way to cut out the poor managerial decisions and individual mistakes.

City aren’t infallible and their loss to Tottenham may provide a blueprint for the Gunners to follow.

Abandoning the 4-2-3-1

Through their two games so far this season, Arsenal have played all 180 minutes committed to one shape, 4-2-3-1. The problems with the 4-2-3-1 were evident last week against Chelsea where Arsenal were outnumbered in the midfield with 3v2 overloads seemingly everywhere.

As seen in their attacks Chelsea exploited Arsenal’s defensive transitions in the wide areas due to a myriad of factors including the fullbacks and wingers not being on the same page. And against Brentford, the issue of Balogun wasn’t his age but the 4-2-3-1 left him isolated at the top.

Against City, its likely Areta would likely revert to mid- to low block. This would be an attempt to likely try, and channel play out wide. But on examination City may be looking for opponents to set up this way. In the last few games, Eric Laurie an analyst highlighted that City look to overload the central areas to isolate their technically superior wingers on each side.

It sets up the wingers in 1v1 situations and opens the seams between the full back and near-side centerback which is one of the primary attacking channels for Pep’s side.


City look to isolate the opposition FBs in 1v1 2v1 situations and play the gaps between the FB and CB (courtesy Eric Laurie)

I’d like to see Arteta, possibly switch to a 3-4-3 (5-4-1 defensively) to perhaps reinforce that situation out wide and add an extra layer of protection to the channels.

In a low block (because we are likely to see a lot with Pep’s side dominating the ball) if the ball is played into the wide channel the support around that area is likely to create a 2v2 situation rather than the 2v1 we see above. It makes the space smaller and it forces play to the touchline making it easier to defend.

The 3-4-3 also gives a better platform to attack from as you progress through the thirds. It creates wide overloads even if the wide forwards tend to tuck in as the wing backs push forward to create a 3-2-5 in attack.

The Counter Attack

There are very few surprises when it comes to playing a Pep Guardiola side. Still, his teams are so good at what he wants them to do, and it will still take a herculean effort to beat them

City like to press and they are among the best at it. Breaking that press is a difficult task. That’s why it would be wise for Arsenal to consider a similar tactic to Tottenham and focus on quick counter attacks when winning the ball.

For our noisy neighbors, this concentration on counter-attack resulted in 13 successful attempts with 8 resulting in shots. Last season city allowed a mere 2.54 counter attacks per 90. In the early season that number has gone up to 4.33 per 90.

This current crop of Arsenal players aren’t exactly led footed. Save for Granit Xhaka and the center backs, Arsenal are blessed with speed outside and in the front of the attack. They also have quick thinkers on the ball that can enhance the overall speed of play. 

Counterattacking has been a problem though for the Gunners as the speed in which they develop that play often looks labored and allows time for the opposition to regain shape and cut off the transition. 

We know that City will have the lion’s share of the ball, therefore the time Arsenal have with it, has to be effective. In the times they had the ball against Chelsea it was in quick counter attacking play that they got deep into the Chelsea end. 


This match has already been written off by many. Certainly the current title holder presents another formidable obstacle for the Gunners in the early season. Still, Arsenal have been more prepared for bigger sides than they have in previous years, so there is always a possibility they can get a result but it is a big ask for a team struggling to do much right. 

What the Manager is Saying (courtesy

It’s the level that they read the game and the level that you have to be mentally ready for, to run for long periods of the game without touching the ball to sacrifice and being prepared to suffer in the right moments. But as well, having the conviction that we’re going to have moments in the game and when those opportunities arise, we will have to take them and that’s how I want to see the team. They are fully committed, fully prepared, and they believe that we can go to Manchester and get the result that we want.

Probable Lineup for Arsenal


Probable Starting XI vs Man City (4-2-3-1)

STATS (Courtesy and


Arsenal Pass Grid with xT



Where the opposition have created chances (Opp xT Creation Zones)


Arsenal’s shot location through first two weeks of season

Match Officials

Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistants: Lee Betts, Richard West
Fourth official: Andy Madley
VAR: Darren England
Assistant VAR: Peter Kirkup.

Match Facts (courtesy

  • Manchester City are unbeaten in their last 11 league matches against Arsenal (W9, D2).
  • Arsenal could lose their ninth consecutive Premier League game against Manchester City, which would set a new record for their longest top-flight losing streak against a single opponent.
  • The Gunners have scored just once in their last seven league matches against City – a Laurent Koscielny goal in a 3-1 defeat in February 2019.
  • Arsenal could lose their opening three fixtures of a league campaign for the first time since the 1954-55 season.
  • The Gunners await their first Premier League goal of 2021-22 – if they are unable to net on Saturday it will be just the third time in their history they have failed to score in their opening three matches of a league campaign.
  • Nicolas Pepe has scored four of Arsenal’s last five goals in the Premier League, including each of the last three.
  • Bernd Leno is set to make his 100th Premier League appearance for the Gunners. He has kept 24 clean sheets in his previous 99 games – the five other Arsenal keepers to make a century of appearances in the competition all had at least 38 clean sheets when they reached the milestone.



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