Match Preview: Man City v Arsenal – Can Emery Set Arsenal up Right Against a Strong City Side?
Arsenal find themselves on a knife’s edge relative to the table as they currently sit 4th, on goals scored after Chelsea’s surprise loss in the midweek. That may not count for much after Sunday as they square off against title chasing Manchester City at the Etihad.
Both teams looked unlike themselves of late, with Arsenal looking abjectly poor in the first half of their 2-1 win vs. Cardiff City. Meanwhile, City nearly handed Liverpool a big title advantage by losing to Newcastle United 2-1.
City in any matchup are a worrying side, they are more so at home, where they have only conceded 10 times (0.83). Meanwhile, they have average 3.33 goals per game at home.
For their part, Arsenal have only managed to score 22 goals on the road with a 2.00 average. The most worrisome stat however is that have conceded 22 goals on the road and against a high scoring side like City, that’s not good.
Where It Can Go Wrong for Arsenal
We’re all familiar with the defensive issues that have plagued Arsenal since it seems 2004. But against Cardiff, Arsenal looked even worse as Cardiff’s counter attack should’ve seen the visitors go ahead on a few occasions.
But it’s not just the defending that is problematic, it’s how they play on both sides of the ball. They barely created chances as Emery set up with a conservative midfield that made transitioning from defence to attack difficult for the team.
Without Granit Xhaka in the lineup, Mesut Özil had no one to link up with as he looked to occupy space in between the Cardiff lines, this resulted in him dropping deeper to get the back and resulted in him trying to tack players on in 1v1 dribbling situations which aren’t his strength.
Özil’s deeper pay resulted in Aubameyang tucking in and took away their width, especially with Lichtsteiner behind him.
What it all points to is a problem in how Emery set up the team against a lesser opponent. And when you look at how he sets up from match to match the general sense is an erratic one.
Against Chelsea, Emery balanced out his side more with a 4-2-3-1 which allowed them to win the battle in the midfield and prevent getting overrun. It also allowed Emery to engage a stronger press which was effective against Chelsea and resulted in negating the effects of “Sarri ball”
All this illustrates is that Emery has to set his team up to be successful against a team that will take advantage of every little space you give them. If he sets up with a more passive midfield, they will be exploited.
On the opening day of the season, Emery was forgiven because it was his first day on the job. 6 months in and with 2/3 of the season gone, Emery has ample enough opportunity to watch City and how they play.
They’ve not been at their best and they will be looking to establish themselves coming off the loss to Newcastle. Emery’s set up and preparation for the big matches save for Liverpool away, has been excellent. He needs to take a long hard look City and he absolutely needs to get his set up right.
Where it Can Go Wrong for City
Against Newcastle, it most certainly looked like City would walk away with the match after Aguero’s header in the first 25s opened up the scoring for Pep’s side. However, uncharacteriscally to a side that goes down to City, Rafa didn’t change his set up.
Newcastle kept their shape and discipline. They focused in on reducing the spaces and blocking City’s passing lanes rather than pressing and trying to win the ball up high.
The Geordies remained in the mid-block happy to let City have the ball and try and pass around them. The solidity and rigidness of Newcastle’s set up was so effective that it resulted in City only managing 11 shots in the game when they were averaging 16.3 per game.
In attack they played over City’s press looking to play it up to Rondon who would win the ball and play it on to the supporting midfielders.
The key for Newcastle came by getting the ball into the box. When City started losing matches this season, it was evident that there was a problem in their defending and when the magpies got the ball into City’s box, for the first goal, not one defender reacted to the threat – even with 3 of them around the ball.
The key will be defensive discipline. We know that they will keep the ball with the aim of progressing deep into the Arsenal final third. Can Emery get his team committed to maintaining shape and communication to close off any routes to the goal? He may be tempted to mirror Newcastle’s 5-4-1 defensive shape, but would that be the best option for this current crop of players?
If they can do that and make the most of the time when they do get the ball forward, they could come away with something from this match. Of course, its as was highlighted earlier – if Emery sets up his team correctly Arsenal can most certainly get something from this match
Players to Watch:
Arsenal: Alexandre Lacazette. Part of Arsenal’s dual threat. In this match they will need his sheer desire to get a goal.
City: Sergio Aguero. The player most teams covet to have in their lineup. He is just a goal scoring threat every time he is in the box.
Injuries and Suspensions
Arsenal: Holding (ACL), Welbeck (ankle), Bellerin (ACL), Sokratis (ankle)
City: Mendy (knee), Kompany (muscle), Bravo (achilles),
Form (Last 5)
Arsenal League Record vs Opponent
23W 10L 10D
Goals Scored (average per game)
Arsenal: 2.00 (away)
City: 3.33 (home)
Goals Conceded (average per game)
Arsenal: 2.00 (away)
City: 3.33 (home)
What the Manager Says (courtesy Arsenal.com)
It will be a tough match. Our challenge is [big] against every team, but on Sunday we are playing against the best – Sunday is against the best. I think with Liverpool, they are having a very big Premier League season. They are very hard [to beat]. They have lost some matches but I think that was an accident. In another moment, in another match, they could have won against Newcastle. They are playing at home and for us it will be very difficult. But we are looking forward to playing, to showing that we can [win] and want [to win]. I think in Sunday’s match every player will be with a very big ambition to show their best performance and quality against them.
Referee: Martin Atkinson (19M 60Y 1R)
Assistants: Stephen Child, Lee Betts
Fourth official: Craig Pawson
UK: SkySports 16.30 BST
US: NBCSN 11:30 AM EST
Match Facts (courtesy BBC.co.uk)
- Manchester City can win a fourth consecutive top-flight game against the Gunners, a feat they last managed between 1935 and 1937.
- Arsenal have lost the last four meetings in all competitions, conceding 11 goals and scoring just one.
- The Gunners are the only side yet to keep a Premier League clean sheet away from home this season.
- They have lost 11 of their last 19 away league games (W5, D3), with their sole clean sheet during this sequence coming in a 1-0 win at Huddersfield in May 2018.
- Arsenal are winless in their last 20 league games away to the other sides in the established top six since a 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium in January 2015, and have lost 10 of their last 12 such fixtures.
- Unai Emery’s side are without a win in their last five top-flight away games (D2, L3), with their last victory coming at Bournemouth on 25 November.