Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Manchester City

Manchester City have not won away to Arsenal since October 1975, scoring just 9 times in 26 subsequent visits. But that will count for nothing when the game kicks off this Sunday. Arsenal have failed to score in 5 of their last 6 meetings with City in all competitions. That is a more relevant stat as it reflects the quality, especially defensive, that the visitors have bought in recent years. But even that could mean little in a game that is vital to both clubs’ aspirations.

Wenger knows this,

Both teams are in the same situation – a draw is not good enough.

As does Van Persie,

… a draw is not that good for either of us.

And I am sure most fans on both sides would agree.

Interestingly, Arsene did say this game is more of a must-win for City and a want-win for Arsenal.

I say on our side it is a ‘want-win’ game more than a must-win game… Man City are in a situation where they will have to win.

To an extent it is true. If City don’t win, it pretty much puts paid to their title hopes. The Gunners on the other hand will not be out of the race for the top 4 even if they don’t take all three points from this fixture.

But Le Boss knows winning is important. There is a four-way fight for the final two Champions League spots. Arsenal need all the points they can get.

We love victory and we want to win. On the table side of course you want these three points.

Such a situation sets up a very interesting tactical battle. The Manchester Blues have, in recent years, come to the Emirates with the intention of parking the bus and consequently, the last two league results have been drab, scoreless draws.

How will Mancini approach this game? Will he go on the offensive and take initiative in search of a win?

In the previous two visits Mancini has started the game with 3 defensive-minded midfielders. His choices this time around will dictate the patterns of play because Arsenal will definitely try to go on the offensive irrespective of their tactics.

Their need for a win would suggest a more attacking approach will be needed. The Italian could have Silva in the middle with Nasri on one flank and two strikers sharing the other wide position and central role. Aguero is likely to start so he could be supported by Balotelli or Dzeko, or even Tevez.

If I were Mancini though, I’d take a more conservative approach. Instead of engaging Arsenal in a scoring battle, it would be better to ensure my team doesn’t concede. That’s half the battle won. After that I’d want my attackers to test the Arsenal defence with all the wide spaces to exploit. The likes of Aguero and Tevez can really be a handful for Vermaelen and Koscielny if they consistently get a chance to run in behind.

If City can keep a clean sheet till the final 20 minutes or so they will have a very good chance of nicking the three points. Arsene was recently talking about United knowing how to deal with “money time”.

I believe this year the title at Man United, if they make it, is really down to experience. What I mean by that is that on Monday night against Blackburn, when Giggs came on [in the 63rd minute], you thought: ‘They can only win it now because they know how to deal with the money time.’ That means the last 15 minutes in football when it is 0-0, [they] don’t make a mistake. They have that security at the back. They have won so many titles because they are not nervous.

Sadly, the same cannot be said about Arsenal. We have seen plenty of games where the side is in the ascendancy at the start of this “money time” and even creates a few chances but ends up dropping points through the one chance they concede. Arsenal make defensive mistakes. They’re too open and do not have the necessary security at the back. A motivated and clever side can find a way through; especially one with attackers who have the quality to produce something special in individual battles, and in an inventive sense or clinical manner.

Of course, the Gunners have been very strong at home this season. They’ve the fourth best home  points tally in the League (Spurs have played an extra home game) at the moment with only 12 goals against, which is actually the second best and less than the number United have conceded. On the other hand City have only won 2 of their last 9 away games. So one cannot fault the fans for feeling confident before this fixture.

In order for that to feeling to be justified at the final whistle the Arsenal midfield will have a vital defensive role to play. The back five will have to avoid the kind of mistakes we saw from Vermaelen in the last game but the role of the three in front of them is of greater significance. Even against QPR the midfield was equally at fault for the two goals. They didn’t move across in a timely and defensively intelligent manner from the throw-in as QPR moved the ball across the back and down the middle. Similarly, they completely lost track of Diakite for the second. Such errors might go unpunished against some of the smaller teams but will inevitably prove fatal against a City side desperately fighting to sustain their title chase. The positioning and decision making of the midfielders will have to be spot on to provide sufficient cover to the defenders.

In attack, Arsene will again have a decision to make on the left side. Recently, a trend seems to have developed in that a direct winger starts at home while a midfielder plays the away games. By that logic either Gervinho or Oxlade-Chamberlain could get the nod, with the youngster likely to be the popular pick. However, Wenger could also pick an additional technical player if he thinks winning the possession battle will be important. It hasn’t worked as well, especially for Ramsey, so there will be resistance from the fans – perhaps even vocal – but in principle, the approach is one that can be respected.

I’d like Arsenal to adapt tactics similar to the ones I’ve recommended for City. Start slow, stay in the game, try to force mistakes but without compromising your own shape, rely on pace and finishing skills of the attackers.

Essentially, the teams have to let a win come to them instead of chasing a result. Some might say that’s exactly the kind of approach that led to the previous two stalemates but I don’t completely agree. In those games City didn’t need a result. In this one they do and that will result in more gaps on the pitch. There will be chances. Whether they will be easy ones gifted to a side by the opponent’s bloopers or tough ones worked out by individual and collective skill remains to be seen. The side which minimizes or eliminates the former is likely to be happier at the fulltime whistle.

Preferred line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Song, Rosicky, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.

There could be a point made for selecting Santos ahead of Gibbs or even in an advanced role on the wings. It’s not without merit and Wenger will definitely have to give it some thought. From a distance, and with little knowledge of how players are doing in training, it’s hard to be sure about such choices.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is also a valid option in attack but Gervinho did well in the last home game and tends to do better when he starts rather than as a substitute. AOC might be a better option against tired legs later in the game if it’s still tied.

To be completely honest, I don’t expect a win in this game. The 7-game winning streak came when Arsenal were performing a couple of notches above their level, and with a bit of luck involved. It’s hard to sustain that. While City aren’t in great form they will be hard to break down. Sometimes Arsenal make mistakes when the opponents can frustrate them for a long enough period.

The Gunners have also struggled when opponents have pressed them cohesively and consistently. It will be a tough ask, and a risky tactic as it might involve coming higher up the pitch, but Mancini might as well go for it if he is desperate and believes his players can pull it off.

Finally, with Martin Atkinson as the ref, I won’t be surprised if we see a penalty and/or a sending off in this game. Koscielny could be banned for two games if he picks up a yellow in this one (Haven’t had a chance to verify this). He’ll have a tight rope to walk on but even otherwise all the defenders will have to be very careful in and around the penalty box.

All-in-all the point is not to say that Arsenal can’t win. Just that it will require some luck and an effort above and beyond their usual very high standard.

Before ending I want to share a link to a post on clear-cut chances that I did for EPL Index. It has some very interesting numbers and if you enjoyed my previous stat-based articles you’ll find something of interest in this one too.

17 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Starting Eleven Against Manchester City

  1. Jack,Essex says:

    i would prep her chamberlain

  2. shardi says:

    if arsenal want to win this game arsener wenger have to start with santos and chambarln or gervino but not ramsey and gibbs

  3. Paul says:

    Nice 1 desi your blogs are always top noch!!!!!

    My thoughts are simple on today’s match if we start with Ramsey then we loose if we start with OX we have a good chance… Now I’m not just jumping on the band wagon of Ramsey haters as I’ve said from the beginning of the season that he doesn’t look up to it wether that. Be because of the injury he suffered or maybe he’s just not that good!! The reason I think we will loose if he’s on the pitch is because he slows everything down and with the likes of na$ri,silva,toure, there midfield has alot more class and Technique  than ours so the only thing we have going for us is speed and theo and OX have plenty….. This might sound crazy but if things aren’t going our way at 70mins I would bring on chamakh and play 4-4-2 as he’s a tall strong striker who can help deal with that beast kompany!!
    Anyway Im just wishing we smash these mancs

    Come on you GOONERS!!!!!!!!!

  4. Shiv says:

    Like ManC, Arsenal have everything to play for. Mainly to showcase the fact that they will be a title winning threat next season and should not be counted as a club whose primary ambition is to qualify for the CL and grab the accompanying purse. I have always suspected that LeProf has been given the mandate by the board to maintain this ‘atleast come 3rd or 4th with the shoe string budget while we give you a huge pay packet and recover the costs of the new stadium’. I wonder … ‘cept for the left of midfield where i think the Gurve will start, there is no doubt about the first eleven. It’s a home game and luckily the opposition is not a struggling side, trust the team to put a fighting performance. Vanman is due for goal(s) – is he plain tired at the end of a long reason or has he signed up for another club ? Whatsay DesiG ? Hope we win, just so show Na$ri and Ce$c that the Gunners are still big enough.

  5. Makumyczxs says:

    Chambo, santino, for starters. If we get a margin of 2, bring in Gibbs, for chambo, Jenks for Theo, n later, djirough. What am i thinking? Am thinking Mourinho-esque. Sagna goes to the flanks, as does santos with their competitors sticking at the back. Arteta n Morzart supply, song assists n defends, RoaringVanpire goes for the jugular, gooners bag three pnts n Venge-ance wins over Manchitty.

  6. Aussie Jack says:

    Been trying to find you Desi to put you into my `favourites` but due to technical problems I lost the Arsenal website you wrote on and I can`t remember the title. Back to the City, I`m with you in saying I don`t expect a win but one point is better than none.
    The team almost picks itself but dear Arsene has a habit of testing our nerves so don`t be surprised to see Almunia in goal with Squillaci at centreback and Ramsey on the wing. Sounds like a formula for a riot. lol

  7. Charlie says:

    Look at Arsenals’ home form vs Citys’ away form and a win is a reasonable expectation. It’ll all depend on solid defensive work because this will be an open game. Excellent post Desi. I can see what Arsene is trying to do by playing Ramsey out wide but it hasn’t worked because he’s been disappointing in the role. As you said it’s normally a tactic for away games so it’s fairly likely that Arsene will start two wingers, let’s hope so.

  8. Gerry Lennon says:

    I think you have put more time on the thoughts of Mancini’s side than, allegedly, AW does? But I think it is time well spent, even if we cannot know the opposition until just before kick off.
    I agree that the bulk of the team picks itself. It is our left flank that is the key?
    Whatever the popular opinion is about Gibbs, and I suspect it varies from match to match, two things the facts back up.
    The side has better balance since he has been in.
    He needs support if he is to offer an outlet going forward … sadly lacking last time!
    For that reason I think it will be the Gibbs/Gervinho pair who will get the nod. The Ox will come on later, preferably with a little more time to affect the game than of late. I think AW is all too mindful of the Wilshere situation, so will not give him full games until the last two or three. There would be a clamour for him to play in every game until the end of the season if he does well … then he will go to the Euros, and then pre-season, so by the time August comes around he will be in that dreaded ‘Red zone’. So by restricting him now to just a few 90 minute games, he should have a reasonable chance of managing the Euros with only a small break before next season.
    That said, Man City do have a tendency to use the speedy Scot down the right towards the end of matches, which might see the Gibbs/Santos partnership i have been suggesting for a little while now, being the better option? So the Ox may only get on if Rosicky is starting to fade?
    Who ever plays, it will be tough but a nice game to win.

  9. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner says:

    Desi a big thank you for the post. Brilliant and enlightened. Now that I have known the difference between a want win and a must win, I ‘ll prefer we have a conservative approach to the game. They are the one who are desperate of winning, we should wait for their mistakes and capitalise on them. We should not commit more men upfront. I still remember their goal against us in Carlin cup, we played a corner kick, we lost possession, they turned it to counter and resulted to their winning goal. They have deadly strikers who can turn a have chance into a goal and we should not allow that to happen today. Although,we too have the pace and I will like to see the duel between Walcott and Cliche. Walcott has to be at his best today and every of our player. For the first time in memorial a Man U friend of mine said, he will be supporting me and wishing me the best of luck. I am not praying for a draw, i believe we can win this one but a draw cannot put us out of the champion league spot. Up Arsenaaal.

  10. Borntobeagunner(btbag) says:

    Whoever takes attacking game to arsenal at arsenal’s background will end up losing that game. ROBIN VAN PERSIE wont be doing the woodwork this time but network,mancity had been escaping with a point at emirates but the situation this time proved to make the game an open one and that means advantage to arsenal at emirates except mancini takes Desi’s advice. We are cool and the pressure is on the city already. A Boyata esque red card might make it more exciting. Desi weldone once again. From a Nigerian Arsenal fan. Desi xi is my prefered xi.

  11. Taewo says:

    Wil prefer ox on d left

  12. Ade David, a Nigerian Gooner says:

    borntobeagunner @10.41am Hi mate if u are still there. Which part of Nigeria do u live? I live in Kano but about to relocate to Lagos bcos of insecurity of lives and properties in the Northern part of Nigeria

  13. Gozman says:

    D best formation wenger shuld use up front is chamberlain, rvp, walcot,den midfiled rosicky,song,arteta,defence santos,vaminator,kocieny nd sagna.believe me wit dis formation we must surely win.

  14. 9jagunnerdoc says:

    Nice blog as per usual DG.

    Kozzer is actually on 8 Yellow Cards, so he can afford another one today.

    That said, the only reason i’m sure we’re gonna win today is because you said we won’t. During the 7-match winning run, all your posts we’re a shade negative and just when you thought we’d win last week, we lost. So, a win for the Gunners today is it.

  15. adebayo says:

    ramsey should not play today,s match benayoun,ox,and santos should come in as subs or should start.

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