When Mikel Arteta was an assistant of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, they not only dominated England but were one of the best teams in Europe playing mesmerizing passing football. After Arteta’s departure to the Emirates, the game between Man City and Arsenal was always going to be a highly anticipated battle between the master and his student. In this tactical analysis, we will be looking at how Guardiola’s Man city beat Arteta’s Arsenal.
Manchester City lined up in a 4-3-3 formation and shifted to 2-3-5 formation with possession with Ilkay Gundogan as the defensive midfielder, David Silva as the left central midfielder, Kevin De Bruyne as the right central midfielder often occupying the half-spaces during the offensive phase. Aymeric Laporte and Eric Garcia as the two center-backs, Kyle Walker and Benjamin Mendy as the fullbacks and Raheem Sterling, Gabriel Jesus, Riyad Mahrez upfront.
On the other hand, Arsenal lined up in 4-3-2-1 formation but shifted to 4-2-3-1 formation very early in the game. One surprise exclusion was Mesut Ozil, Kieran Tierney made his fourth premier league start and Eddie Nketiah as the center-forward.
Manchester City’s build-up play
When Mikel Arteta was an assistant of Pep Guardiola at Manchester City, their build-up play featured the heavy usage of Ederson, he usually steps out of his line to create the numerical advantage and to break the pressing line, in this game also Ederson played as the deep playmaker, he completed 87% of his passes. During the build-up phase, the center-backs would split, Gundogan, who was responsible for getting the first pass from the goalkeeper would often drop to create a vertical passing lane. One of City’s attacking midfielders usually De Bruyne in this game would drop in the left half-space to break down Arsenal’s press and to create a passing option.
In the image below, we see an example of this, Ederson stepped out of his line, De Bruyne dropped deep and took out one Arsenal’s player, Guendouzi was following Gundogan and Kyle Walker was free on the right flank. Man City have created a 6v3 situation in their own half and were easily able to build their play from the back.
The image below highlights one more situation of how City build their play. Here, Ederson again stepped out of his line to create a 5v2 situation as there was a clear lack of pressure from Arsenal and City were easily able to build their play.
City’s offensive phase
One of Guardiola’s beliefs is to keep the ball in the opposition half as much as possible, he followed this in this game also by limiting Arsenal to just 32% possession. As mentioned above Man City shifted to 2-3-5 formation during the offensive phase with wingers staying wide, attacking midfielders occupying the half-spaces and fullbacks playing at the inverted positions.
But they often changed this system with Sterling getting narrow to open up the space on the left flank for Mendy’s runs and De Bruyne at the left midfield position but keeping the 2-3-5 formation with possession.
The image above highlights this situation, here, wingers Sterling and Mahrez are staying wide, Silva and De Bruyne occupying the half-spaces and the fullbacks Mendy and Walker at the inverted position. It is also important to see that De Bruyne pulls out Tierney and that left Mahrez free on the flanks as Aubameyang was not tracking back to mark Mahrez.
The lack of defensive help from Aubameyang often left Tierney in 1v2 situation with De Bruyne and Mahrez on the right flank. Most of the city’s attack(35%) came from the right side. The image below, we can see that Aubameyang was not tracking back and that left Mahrez totally free.
In addition to this, the diagonal runs of Sterling also made it difficult for Arsenal to defend. City tried to overload the right-sided zones with three players, Walker, De Bruyne and Mahrez, from here they would look for either Sterling or Jesus to make the diagonal runs in behind the Arsenal’s defensive line. The image below highlights this pattern of play.
Another common pattern of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City throughout this season has been to overload one side of the pitch and then switching the play. On one side of the pitch they would often create a numerical advantage with Kyle Walker playing at the inverted fullback position and dragging one Arsenal’s player with him, this allowed Laporte to switch the play to Mahrez who often found himself isolated on the right flank. The image below highlights this pattern of play.
Arsenal’s lack of presence in between the lines
Arsenal only created two chances in this game. Without the presence of Mesut Ozil, there was a lack of creativity in between the lines. Manchester City defended with 4-3-3 formation with very little gap in between the lines, making it difficult for Arsenal to progress the ball in the attacking third as there was never an Arsenal player dropping into the space to create a new passing option. The image below, highlights this pattern, Here, Dani Ceballos can only pass the ball to his center-back as no one is dropping into the space to create a passing option.
Following David Luiz’s red card, Arsenal shifted to a 4-4-1 formation making it further easier for Manchester City to progress the ball in the attacking third with more space further up the pitch and on the flanks. In the situation seen below, Mendy has enough time and space to quickly scan his multiple passing options, he decides to play a long ball to De Bruyne, who is totally free on the right flank, De Bruyne then crosses the ball to create a goal-scoring opportunity.
In this tactical analysis, we saw how Pep Guardiola outsmarted Arteta on the field. Arsenal are yet to win a game against the top six this season. David Luiz’s lack of discipline also made it all the more difficult for Arteta. His team made the wrong decisions in the attacking third and were simply outplayed by the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and David Sliva.