Arsenal v Manchester City (1-3): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

Arsenal v Manchester City (1-3): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

  • Tactics
  • February 24, 2023
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Top-of-the-league clashes are always fascinating. Especially in the circumstances that Arsenal and City find themselves in at the moment. A City side looking to go on top of the Premier League battling against a youthful and vibrant Arsenal side that plays some beautiful football reminiscent of the club’s glory days.

Arsenal lined up in their typical 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 as expected in front of their home crowd. Meanwhile, Pep pulled one of his experimental lineups yet again, lining up in a 3-2-2-3 that on paper seemed to mimic the basic principles of the 4-man midfield system used by Xavi at Barcelona.

Starting XI’s of both Arsenal and Manchester City

A look at the statistics from this game reveals how the game panned out from the start. Arsenal bossed Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City in possession numbers from the get-go. The Gunners had around 59% of the ball in the first half and around 68% of the ball in the second half. 

City’s idea did seem to be one that did require command of the ball, but the new 3-2-2-3 of the ‘box-midfield’ did not work as expected. Arsenal’s man-to-man press often helped them to regain the ball easily in the midfield as the Citizens were harried off the ball instantly.

Arsenal’s man-to-man press v Manchester City

Ball progression was not an issue for the Gunners either, who were really good on the night in terms of gameplay. They were able to control the ball and the game, exerting constant pressure on the City backline who were unsettled from the start.

City defended in a 4-4-2 set-up while not in possession. Bernardo Silva had to drop into the LB spot when defending and that was a feast for Bukayo Saka. 

Manchester City’s 4-4-2 against Arsenal

The Englishman was a headache for the Portuguese schemer who was playing out of position, with Saka constantly running directly at him. Bernardo’s only escape option was to concede fouls, which he did a lot of. His lack of prowess in defending as part of a back 4 was very obvious just by the sheer amount of space that Saka was afforded to roam into often. This freedom let Tomiyasu roam upfield far more than he usually does too.

Saka finding spaces v Manchester City

City’s lead came rather unexpectedly as De Bruyne lobbed Ramsdale from outside the box, latching onto a horrid Tomiyasu back-pass. The goal came slightly against the run of play as Arsenal were gradually gaining control of the game.

Arsenal v Man. City – xG & xT flow | Viz by @markrstats

City’s 3-2-2-3 with the box in midfield was a stable base but they simply couldn’t get hold of the ball enough to make good use of it. City were forced back into their defensive shape time and time again, even after the goal. Although Arsenal were poor in front of goal, things fell in the favor of City often as the Gunners kept coming close, but didn’t manage to score.

Arsenal’s 4-1-4-1/4-2-3-1 defensive shape v City’s 3-2-2-3

Arteta’s side quickly found City’s Achilles heel in Bernardo Silva. Often focusing the play onto the left, leaving Saka on the wide right open to any switches. Zinchenko inverted and also overlapped in sync with Martinelli and Odegaard often dropped into the right half spaces to form a 2v1 on Bernardo Silva as Saka played directly at City’s defense. 

Arsenal’s overload on the left side and Saka left isolated v Man. City

But, Arsenal responded right before the break. A combination on the left side found Nketiah in space and the young forward was fouled as he took his shot past Ederson. Penalty Arsenal and Saka truly obliged. Slotting the pen to bottom left, sending Ederson the wrong way.

Both sides returned for the second half unchanged. 

The major change in the plot came when Pep played his first card. Mahrez came off for Akanji. While it would seem baffling that Pep brought on a defender on for an attacker, Akanji came on with a tactical change in mind. The Swiss center-back slotted in as the right center back with Dias as his partner and Aké at left-back.

Bernardo Silva was moved to the right wing. City had changed shape into a 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 with KDB playing just off Haaland. Their style hadn’t changed massively though and Arsenal were the more proactive side still, but City pressed better and seemed quicker in transitions.

City’s passing networks through the game v Arsenal | Viz via @DatoBHJ

From the above graphs, a pattern is clearly visible. City only dominated the ball in the first 15 minutes. Their next best spell on the ball came in the 50-60th minutes, but that was static.

The midfield and attack all condensed into the left side of the field & Haaland had to drop real deep to catch a touch. And that was when Pep switched things up. Then City became more pragmatic and as they got better at defending their goalmouth, Arsenal’s attack struggled to break them down. Arteta’s side only managed to generate an xG of 0.29 in the second half. Gradually City’s transitionary bite hurt the Gunners. As seen in Grealish’s goal.

The ball was won back from a Gabriel miss-pass, although the impressive bit was that it took reigning champions just 3 passes (in other words) 7 seconds in all from retaining possession to score past Ramsdale. Quick & incisive, City led 2-1 before Arsenal could realize what had hit them.

Grealish’s goal (2-1 City) Sequenced

It was a short and sweet move. Silva, who was playing much higher and on the right as a result of Pep’s tactical change won the ball from a sloppy pass off Gabriel. He proceeded then to play in Haaland who had KDB ahead of him, and Gundogan to his left. The Norwegian laid it off to Ilkay, who casually played it into the feet of Grealish who was arriving on the left. It wasn’t a brilliant finish but it was enough to beat Ramsdale.

10 minutes later two became three for the Sky Blues as Haaland did what he does best. The goal was much similar to the second too. Retrieving the ball in Arsenal’s own half only to slice them open and finish it beautifully. Arsenal 1 – City 3 and that was the game. This game was not a pure tactical battle, but it was a matter of who could make the fewer mistakes, in which City succeeded.

Arsenal v Manchester City : Statistical Dashboard | Viz via @DatoBHJ

Meanwhile, Arsenal had only themselves to blame. The scoreline indeed is deceiving as Arteta did have his game plan right, till Pep’s change came in. They created enough chances by then to score and kill the game but Arsenal’s poor finishing was their own undoing.

City’s win took them atop the league, till they blew it away to Nottingham, drawing 1-1. Arsenal are back on top by 2 points and a game in hand at the moment as they took all 3 points in dramatic fashion at Villa Park. Although, that’s not an uncatchable lead yet, as the Gunners will have to visit the Etihad in 2 months time. A lot of things can happen by then, but what we can be sure of is a tight title race.

Also read: Arsenal v Manchester United (3-2): Tactical Analysis – Premier League 2022/23

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