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Tactical Analysis

Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal: Tactical Analysis | Lost battles in midfield

A team is a reflection of its manager, and today, Arsenal lacked bite, ambition, conviction and fire in the belly – quite the image of Wenger, standing with his arms folded on the touchline, watching his table topping team torn to pieces by Toure & co. You can steamroll past Sunderland, Norwich, Fulham and Hull but when you are at the Etihad, City must be respected for the awesome physical force they are. The Citizens proved at the Allianz Arena that you CAN play a flat two man midfield and win in Europe, so this was a team to be taken seriously.

Line Ups

City: Pantilimon; Zabaleta; Kompany; Demichellis; Clichy; Fernandinho; Toure; Silva (Milner, 71); Nasri (Garcia, 90); Aguero (Navas, 50); Negredo.

Arsenal: Szczesny; Sagna; Koscielny (Vermaelen, 42); Mertesacker; Monreal; Flamini (Gnabry, 72); Ramsey; Wilshere; Ozil; Walcott; Giroud (Bendtner, 76).

Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal



Fernandinho and Toure were not bypassed by a 3-man midfield

Although Arsenal played Flamini, Ramsey and at times Wilshere tucking in to make a 3 v 2 in midfield, they were unable to take advantage of the extra man solely because there was no pressure on the City duo.

Toure midfield

For Arsenal’s first goal, Ramsey closed down Toure and got the ball, setting up a counter that ended up in Walcott’s goal, against the run of play. This shows in a nutshell that had Arsenal played a high line and pressed Toure and Fernandinho into submission instead of sitting back, they would have recovered the ball and passed City to death.

Non-existent closing down of Kompany and Demichellis

City are a team of towering monsters. Everywhere you look, there are beasts: Pantilimon is almost as tall as the goalpost, Kompany and Demichelis look like mob henchmen, Toure alone can wrestle Wilshere, Ramsey and Flamini to the ground and Negredo is someone who almost reduced Nemanja Vidic to tears a few months back.

You don’t play Hollywood passes against giants like these. Ramsey picked up the ball on too many occasions and tried to play a ball over the City CB’s into Giroud but none of his balls succeeded simply because Kompany and Demichelis are not just monsters but exemplary readers of the game. Giroud and Ozil packed no bite in closing down the City centre backs.

Why didn't Arsenal press City more often like this? It led to their first goal.

Why didn’t Arsenal press City more often like this? It led to their first goal.

Ramsey attempted to ping a number of balls in behind Kompany/Demichelis, to no avail. As an assisting unit, Ramsey, Ozil and Wilshere combined recorded only 1 successful forward pass which was the assist to Walcott’s goal.

Nacho Monreal is not good enough

Part of the blame for City’s dominance down the right was the poor performance of Arsenal left back Nacho Monreal. Sticking very close to Negredo, Monreal left acres of space on the flank. Zabaleta exploited this and his cross was capitalized on by Negredo for his goal.

Zabaleta was left free by Monreal in the build up to Negredo's goal

Zabaleta was left free by Monreal in the build up to Negredo’s goal

As is evident from his heat map, Monreal spent a lot of time switching to a narrow role nearer to Vermealen. This was more to do with the presence of Negredo who usually requires a double team to muscle the ball off him. But, this tactic backfired as the burly Spaniard moved silkily between the Arsenal defense as if they weren’t even there. His crosses too were poor and given the fact that he didn’t have a genuine winger to worry about until Navas was introduced (Silva was cutting inside anyway), he let down the team by not contributing more to the offense.

For David Silva’s goal, Monreal let Navas blast in a low cross very easily and Metersacker could do nothing about it save attempt a wild lash at the ball by which time Silva was wheeling away in celebration.

As this weakness was exploited more and more as the game wore on, Toure and Fernandinho kept pinging long balls to Silva, Nasri, Navas and Zabaleta who took turns in tormenting the Arsenal left flank.

Flamini’s discipline is exemplary. Pity his teammates didn’t have as much

For the better part of the first half, Flamini put up a clinic on playing defensive midfield. He hustled and harried, closed down the flanks and nullified the through balls from Kompany, Fernandinho and Toure. None of his team mates showed such energy and positional awareness. The more talented Wilshere, Ozil et al can take a leaf from his book.


Excellent pressure from City

City’s players showed the attitude of Champions. Whenever the score became close: 1-1 or 4-2, they upped the ante, moved up a gear and almost eased the ball into the net. Arsenal didn’t lose to Yaya Toure or Fernandinho or Aguero. They lost to a well-oiled machine, a perfectly coached group of players who kept pressing even when they were ahead. For Fernandinho’s first goal, City were 3-1 ahead, but look at Clichy and Negredo pressing Ozil deep in Arsenal’s half. This sort of discipline wins you trophies and here it lead to Ozil giving away the ball to Fernandinho who lashed in his first goal.

and Negredo forcing Ozil to lose the ball which lead to Fernandinho’s goal on 50’

and Negredo forcing Ozil to lose the ball which lead to Fernandinho’s goal on 50’

What should Arsenal have done?

Given the fact that Arsenal had Ozil, Ramsey, Wilshere – 3 excellent ball playing midfielders, Wenger should have set the team up like this:

Arsenal should have pressed City into submission, instead of trying to play slick and stylish football. Girourd was non-existent. Instead, had Wenger played Walcott up front with Arteta, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil and Flamini in midfield, with a high line and more pressure on City’s centre backs and central midfielders, the Gunners would have made a strong case.

Playing Walcott through the middle would have allowed Ozil or Wilshere to play grounded through balls between the City center backs, thus enabling the speedy Englishman to capitalize on the more ponderous Demichelis who is a tractor compared to Walcott’s Ferrari.


Made using TacticalPad.

The above lineup would have heaped pressure on Toure(Wilshere), Fernandinho(Flamini), Nasri(Arteta) and Silva(Ramsey) in the central areas where City dominated. This would have forced City to attack down the flanks, which would have led to crosses into the box, defended easily by Mertesacker or Vermalen who are good in the air.


City’s squad depth is mind blowing: They still have Dzeko, Milner, Kolarov, Navas, Jovetic who are all seasoned internationals with first team quality who would walk into any of the top 4 clubs’ lineups but are biding time on the bench. We have known this all along. City have a great squad and now a Manager who has added discipline to a team brimming with world class players at the peak of their powers. The signs are there and it looks like an ominous blue moon is rising again.

This piece was written by Sriram. Follow him on twitter @goodbaduglyboy

What do you think? Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below.

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