Match Coverage

Manchester City 2-1 Arsenal: System & Tactics

A fantastic turnaround after a disastrous start meant that City got a hugely important three points as well as an elusive home win in a big league game. Improved performances from almost everyone on the pitch should also be noted as Arsenal barely contributed to the game aside from the opening five or ten minutes.

Arsenal made only one change from their previous game: Iwobi in for Oxlade-Chamberlain. Gabriel once again continued at centre-back due to the absence of the influential Shkodran Mustafi.

Wenger sent his team out in the standard 4-2-3-1 system that has become his go to in recent seasons. When defending (which was most of the game) they operated mainly in a 4-4-1-1 structure with Özil trying to protect space in front of the midfield with Sanchez tending to be detached from the defensive shape and conserving his energy for potential counter attacking opportunities.

An unchanged defence began the game for City (undoubtedly music to the ears of many) with Stones once again being the man to miss out. Fernando replaced the injured Gündogan in midfield with Leroy Sané joining the attacking ranks in place of Nolito.

Defensively the standard Pep 4-1-4-1 was on display when the team was defending within their own half. It should be noted however that the 4-4-2 variation the team uses when a midfielder (usually Silva) joins the central forward in the first pressing line was more often than not the go-to shape during the game.

When in possession of the ball the team lined up in a 2-3-2-3/2-4-1-3 shape; the numeration of the structure was largely dependent on the positioning of Yaya Touré. He was given a rather “free” role in terms of how he could position himself on the pitch. Yaya would position himself either in front of the Arsenal midfield or behind them depending on the positioning of the ball and his team mates. Time and time again he displayed strong positional intelligence; he was always available to help Fernando to circulate the ball whilst consistently finding himself in strong positions in front of the Arsenal defence to participate in combinations with the attackers.

Walcott’s Opener

By all means this was a very, very preventable goal for City to concede. I also think it’s worth breaking down how the goal came about as it illustrates a point I make frequently: if the attackers do not defend properly then the defenders are immediately at a disadvantage. Unfortunately the goal starts with an error from arguably City’s best player so far this season – Kevin De Bruyne.


The image above shows the beginning of the move that lead to the opening goal. It seems a fairly safe scenario as the ball is with Petr Čech and it doesn’t look like anything is wrong with where De Bruyne is positioned. The problem is that he turns his head away from the action (to talk to a teammate perhaps?) and the moment he does so Bellerin spots this and runs into space on his blindside and Čech feeds him quickly. From that point onwards Arsenal have a free man to attack with as nobody is able to pick him up, evidenced by the fact Bellerin is able to advance deep into the City half with nobody applying any pressure.


The above image is the result of Arsenal’s free man. Again, City are in a relatively decent position from which to defend this. Yes, Otamendi could be slightly higher but that’s not were the problem comes from in the end. Fernando is in a good position to contest the passing lane into Sanchez until he does something completely bizarre:


Instead of moving further ahead to close of the possibility of a pass into Sanchez he opens his body and retreats into a very strange position that offers no advantage to the team. This then allows Sanchez to receive the ball in-between the lines and turn to face the defence and slide the ball through to Walcott.

Both of these mistakes are completely avoidable, it’s a matter of improving concentration levels rather than improving the personnel.

Increased Variation in Full-Back Positioning

This is something that was also very apparent in the Watford game. Both Zabaleta (later Sagna) and Clichy operated both deep in the half spaces and very high on the wings. Instead of being confined to deep positions in the half spaces, acting almost as deep midfielders, the designated full backs are instead basing their positioning on the movements of the wingers in front of them.



As the images above highlight, the full backs operated in a variety of positions. This creates an increased element of unpredictability in the teams possession game. It means more rotations and more movement amongst the players, which in turn means that there are more decisions that need to be made by the opposition defence in order to prevent players being able to receive the ball free from any pressure in good areas of the pitch.

Furthermore, by allowing Zabaleta and Clichy to occupy the flanks it means that De Bruyne and Sané are able to move between the lines and occupy spaces behind the opposition midfield. This results in more options to progress the ball vertically instead of a more sterile and horizontal circulation of the ball.

Final Thoughts

The improvement in performance from the team today was as a result of three things:

– Increased effort and aggression in collective defensive actions.

– Increased availability of players between the lines.

– Increased verticality of passing when looking to manipulate the opposition defence.

If these aspects can be built upon (and they will be) over the Christmas period then City will be in very good shape for the second half of the season and the return of the Champions League.

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  1. Pingback: Onefootball Network: How City beat Arsenal, should Milan sell Niang and is the Sturridge dream over?

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