Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Gunners stun Citizens 2-0 with perfect tactical setup

In their best defensive performance of the season, the Gunners showed a lot of solidarity on Sunday to stun Manchester City 2-0 in the Premier League. I’m sure very few Arsenal fans expected such a fantastic result after last season’s humiliating losses at Stamford Bridge, Anfield Road and the Etihad stadium. The tactical setup was perfect.
Manchester City vs. Arsenal
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A few years ago, the Citizens relied on counterattacks because they couldn’t challenge Arsenal for ball possession. The two teams swapped roles last weekend. Wenger played a low defensive line that was tailored for the slow Mertesacker and the half-fit Koscielny, both well protected by the midfielders and the wide players. Manchester City enjoyed 63 percent of possession, but it proved a fruitless domination since the Gunners had as many shots on target as the hosts. Another surprise was Arsenal’s efficiency on set pieces. Giroud scored from Cazorla’s free kick while Manchester City couldn’t find the net from 16 corners.
The manager made two changes to the side that routed Stoke 3-0 the previous weekend with Bellerin deputizing for the injured Debuchy and Ramsey getting the nod over Rosicky in midfield. The Gunners were under siege for most of the match and made many stray passes. But in the end, they conceded only one scoring chance. Monreal failed to cut a teasing cross from Navas in the 60th minute, but Koscielny prevented Aguero from tapping home by slightly diverting the ball. That was the closest the Citizens came to scoring. Because Manchester City was pushed wide, Ospina only had to save angled strikes from Aguero in the 47th, Navas in the 51st and 73rd and Dzeko in the 88th.
Bellerin’s poise
Arsenal did not really get off to a good start as Koscielny picked up a yellow card by the third minute for a late challenge on Fernandinho. That basically meant a Damocles sword was hanging over Koscielny’s head for 90 minutes. But the French defender had enough self-control to refrain from earning a second booking.
In the first half, the Citizens played in a 4-3-3 formation with Aguero up front, Silva in the hole and Navas and Milner on the flanks. Pellegrini switched to a 4-4-2 system at halftime by replacing Milner with Jovetic. Silva moved to the left wing but troubled Bellerin only once. Bellerin showed tremendous poise in such a high-stakes game and even a bit of vice by making a cynical foul on Silva in the 56th. Manchester City finished the match with three forwards as Dzeko replaced Navas in the 76th. The Gunners made a couple of defensive mistakes in the closing minutes but got away with them. Mertesacker played Jovetic onside in the 80th but the Montenegro striker’s effort deflected off a defender for a corner. Then there was a bad matchup in the 89th when Kompany outjumped Rosicky at the near post to head Silva’s corner wide.
A different player
Coquelin deserves a lot of credit for arguably his best performance at the club. He was different from the player making stupid fouls, giving away the ball and not winning duels a couple of weeks ago. On Sunday, Coquelin kept his turnover rate low, showed sound positional play, refrained from gifting free kicks and proved smart in his passing game. But this is just one game and, besides the issue of consistency, the long-term question is whether Coquelin can perform well in games dominated by Arsenal. Obviously, the Gunners won’t use that tactical setup against weak or average teams.
Cazorla got plenty of plaudits for his defensive contribution, his ball retention skills, and his smart positional play that keeps the team balanced when Ramsey roams forward. However, I thought Giroud had an outstanding game too. Giroud beat Kompany to the ball to meet a cross from Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 18th but his diving header was blocked. Five minutes later, Monreal played a one-two with Giroud and was fouled by Kompany, who sticked his right hip out. Cazorla converted the subsequent penalty to open the scoring. Kompany received a yellow card in the 41st for another obstruction on the Frenchman.
The Gunners could have reached halftime with a bigger lead. Ramsey had three passing options in the 27th but poor runs from Chambo, Sanchez and Giroud killed the chance as the Welshman gave the ball to an offside Giroud. In the second half, Giroud was involved in another counterattack and fed Ramsey, who fired over the bar. Giroud finally gave Arsenal a 2-0 lead in the 67th by taking advantage of a marking mistake from Fernando to head home Cazorla’s free kick. The Frenchman lacks a bit of pace but his movement inside the box is very good.
Sanchez’s off day
I felt Ramsey lacked tactical discipline by playing in a higher position than Cazorla. It doesn’t make sense for Ramsey to play as a No. 10 since his strength comes from his deep runs a la Lampard. Sanchez was the star of the show against Stoke, but he overdid himself on Sunday, isolating himself from his teammates with solo runs that often led to turnovers. He dribbled past Zabaleta in the 53rd but sent his side-footed effort wide. He also cut inside in the 73rd to curl a shot that Hart parried.
It’s definitely a victory that could boost Arsenal’s self-confidence. But at the end of the day, it’s just three points and the Gunners still trail Southampton and Manchester United in the standings. We have no room for error because the Saints and the Red Devils don’t play in any European competition while Arsenal could lose some stamina in the Champions League next month. Any move made during the winter transfer window could add some freshness in the squad and increase rotation possibilities.