Tactical View: City can expose Arsenal’s soft centre


TACTICAL football boff Chris Bland (@blandc_1996) gives us the lowdown on Super Sunday's match-up between Arsenal v Manchester City.

Arsenal v Manchester City | Sunday 15th December 2019, 16:30 | Sky Sports

Manchester City head to the Emirates Stadium looking to avoid falling further behind in the title race after a disappointing defeat to Manchester United last weekend.

Pep Guardiola’s side responded with a resounding 4-1 win away at Dinamo Zagreb in midweek, as youngster Phil Foden starred with a goal, and Gabriel Jesus bagged a hat-trick. Just the boost the Citizens needed, they will be confident of a return to domestic form on Sunday, as they come up against an Arsenal side struggling in ninth.

Victory over West Ham last time out was far from convincing for the Gunners, as it took three goals in a hectic nine-minute spell in the second half for Freddie Ljungberg’s side to gain victory, and the first 60 minutes will be alarming for the Swedish stand-in boss.

A 2-2 draw against Standard Liege saw Arsenal through the group stage of the Europa League, however, with nine changes being made, not too much can be read into that, as they head into a game against the champions.

Gunners must keep De Bruyne quiet

Manchester City will look to take the game to their opponents and dominate the game, much like normal, and as a result Arsenal will look to sit and hit City on the counter, similar to how Manchester United did to great effect last weekend.

Whether the Gunners possess the ability to utilise the break, as well as dominate the midfield, in the same way United did awaits to be seen, but the signs are ominous for Ljungberg’s side.

Creating chances hasn’t been a problem for City this season, as they have racked up an Expected Goals (xG) output of 45.89 in their league games, scoring 44 goals in the process. This has been in part down to the form of Kevin De Bruyne, and keeping the Belgian quiet could hold the key for Arsenal.

With five goals and eight assists so far this season, he is averaging 4.14 key passes per-90 minutes, and an Expected Assists (xA) of 0.63 per 90 minutes, so who Arsenal utilise to keep him quiet will have a huge bearing on the game.

Arsenal will be without Granit Xhaka in midfield, and this is particularly worrying given the lack of depth in the central areas. Lucas Torreira will be partnered by Matteo Guendouzi, and their energy and tenacity will be required to keep De Bruyne quiet.

The Ozil conundrum

However, as ever with the Gunners, there is the conundrum of whether to start with Mesut Ozil in the middle of the park. His creative talents are unquestionable, but his defensive contributions are often found wanting, and coming up against such an imperious attacking force, where Arsenal will be on the back foot for long periods, whether or not to use the German in the attacking midfield role he was given on Monday awaits to be seen.

If Ozil does start, it could easily see the Arsenal midfield overrun by City’s impressive midfield, and given the tempo and energy they are able to play with, particularly De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva, it could be as if they’re playing with a man short at times.

Full-back concerns

Another area for concern for Arsenal is in the full back areas, and it would be no surprise to see City target these, especially if Hector Bellerin is ruled out through injury.

Ainsley Maitland-Niles filled in on Monday, however, up against the much scarier proposition of Benjamin Mendy and Raheem Sterling, Callum Chambers could be moved to right back and David Luiz return at centre back to try warn against this threat.

However, the issue also lies in Nicholas Pepe’s ability to track back, and whilst he does pose a threat on the break, he can be easily targeted by the on-rushing Mendy, who will look to get beyond Sterling and create 2v1s.

City should be able to find a way past the Arsenal backline with ease if Pepe does start, and could see a lot of joy down this flank. This would also occupy the right back, and allow Sterling to drift inside, and with one of the central midfielders looking to drift over to the flank as well, it could be a long afternoon for Arsenal’s right back.

City’s high line weakness

The attacking nature of Manchester City’s full backs, coupled with the high line they often choose to play, does highlight one area of weakness, and was something United were able to exploit, much like other sides have done this season.

The Citizens are extremely vulnerable to the counter-attack; Arsenal do possess the pace to trouble City on the break, as demonstrated in their win at West Ham on Monday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang will fancy his chances up against Fernandinho, and will be more than happy to move into the channels and utilise the space vacated by City’s full backs.

Gabriel Martinelli impressed against West Ham, netting the equaliser, and the young forward is equally as suited to press on into the spaces, so Arsenal at least will have an out ball.

The in-form Gabriel Jesus will be looking to kick on after a hat-trick in midweek, and his movement and willingness to drift between the lines will cause the Arsenal backline all sorts of problems, particularly if Luiz is selected.

Luiz’s tendency to get drawn out could cause issues, and the Brazilian striker’s movement could create spaces for on-rushing midfielders into the box beyond the striker. Certainly an area to watch out for, his movement could bring into play the goalscorer markets for the deeper midfielders such as Bernardo Silva or Phil Foden, if he starts.

It looks a tough ask for Arsenal on Sunday afternoon, and despite their inconsistent form and defensive worries, it is hard to see past Manchester City.

The betting angles

The defensive worries for Arsenal, and weaknesses on display particularly down the flanks, point in the direction of City goals, particularly with the high number they’ve been creating and subsequently putting away.

Arsenal may pose a threat on the counter, but City should be able to put this poor Gunners side to the sword. Available a 11/10 (Coral), the -1 handicap on City stands out.

Arsenal have shown a susceptibility from set-pieces in recent weeks as shown by Angelo Ogbonna’s opener on Monday, and this, coupled with both City’s tendency to rack up the corners, makes for another appealing option.

Averaging 9.38 corners, whilst Arsenal concede 6.38 per-game, coupled with the tactical elements of the game, it would be no surprise to see City accumulate these once again. However, the lines are particularly tight on the corner count, and as a result I’ve taken a look at Nicolas Otamendi to have a shot on target at 9/4 (SkyBet).

Fresh from scoring against Manchester United last weekend, he is one of City’s main aerial threats, and he should be able to find joy against a backline that struggles off set pieces.

Best Bets

Arsenal v Manchester City – Manchester City -1 handicap (11/10 Coral)

Arsenal v Manchester City – Nicolas Otamendi to have a shot on-target (9/4 SkyBet)

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