The juggernauts on the blue side of Manchester await the arrival of the resurgent Gunners. Having come from behind to win multiple times in the past few weeks, Arsenal fans would feel confident going into a match against any other team than the one that is actually on the schedule for this weekend. But I would argue that this very week, is the best time to play Manchester City, who are coming off of two not-so-amazing results.
Yes, I know that they won last weekend, and yes I know they beat Napoli (a match in which Aguero became the all-time leading goalscorer for City against a team with only 2 losses in 11 matches…both losses to City by the way), BUT these matches have given us some insight into how to go about breaking down this team.
The Weak Spot
I think it would be a stretch to consider anything about this City team “weak”, but I think it is safe to say that their defense is weaker than their attack. West Brom had 7 goals from 9 matches before playing City, and they managed to bag two last weekend. Then, Napoli were able to claim two goals mid-week. Allowing four goals in two games is not great. So, we can make the claim that the defense is the weak spot. Now let’s take a little further. Where can this defense be exploited?
I would say that the easiest way to get at goal is down the right flank. Fabian Delph has been at left-back due to Benjamin Mendy’s knee injury, and the center-back that plays on the left is Otamendi…this is where Arsenal need to attack. Delph, not being a natural defender is prone to being caught out on counter attacks, and it appears that Otamendi is generally prone to mistakes. Let’s take a look.
Stoke’s first goal against City a few weeks back came about from attacking the Delph/Otamendi duo.
Look, Otamendi is loses his man…and then just stands there watching. This is what forces John Stones to run across goal, leaving only one defender in the middle of the 18 yard box. Delph starts out of position, so he is forced to try and throw himself in front of the shot (unsuccessfully). So the two defenders (Otamendi and Delph) get caught out of position to a degree that forces Stones to make a last ditch effort…leaving a wide open opportunity at goal, which is tucked away.
Now, take a look at this one from last weekend…
Otamendi with the beautiful assist. But seriously, he wrapped that goal up perfectly and put a bow on it. Also, the ball came from deep…Ozil and Xhaka are two of the best long ball suppliers in the league. If they aim to exploit Otamendi, something like this could very well happen again.
Well, if you have eyeballs, which you do because you’re reading this…you will know that City’s strength is goalscoring. They have 35 league goals compared to Arsenal’s 19, and they have managed to score four, or more, goals six times this season…SIX (all comps). Four of the top seven goal scorers in the Premier League play for Manchester City. I can’t recall seeing anything like this before.
So how can Arsenal aim to exploit the weaker left side of the City defense, while also trying to keep their attackers at bay? Change the formation. Just for this match. If we line up with what we’ve been doing lately, we will be exposed. City play a 4-3-3 and suggest we do the same. Unlike most other Premier League clubs, Pep opts to have an extra man in midfield instead of the extra center-back. That extra man is Kevin De Bruyne, by the way, and he happens to be playing the best football in Europe at the moment. So if Ramsey and Xhaka are the only two men in the midfield left to deal with De Bruyne, Silva, and Silva…it will get ugly. Neither have tremendous defensive abilities to begin with, and as we have said on this site before this formation does not suit Xhaka particularly well. That being said, I want them both on the pitch…but with some help clogging up the midfield. So how do we fit both Ramsey and Xhaka in the team, while adding a midfielder….without losing one of the Lacazette, Ozil, Alexis?
WARNING: A LOT OF YOU ARE ABOUT TO DISAGREE
4-3-3 with Lacazette up top, Alexis out left, and Ramsey out right. Ramsey has done it before and performed has well. He also provides much better cover for Bellerin than Ozil would in the formation that Arsenal have been playing lately. Bellerin will need that cover, considering he will make a run from time to time and a Delph/Sane duo is waiting to counter when Bellerin gets caught out. Ramsey being out right also allows Ozil to play in his natural number 10 role, where we all know he is best.
That means that partnered in midfield with Granit Xhaka will be none other than Francis Coquelin. The only midfielder at the club that primarily defends. He may not be the most technically gifted, but he is high energy and disrupts play…and that’s exactly what we need him to do. If I were Wenger, I would have him man-marking Kevin De Bruyne for 90 minutes.
At the back, I would have Bellerin, Koscielny, Monreal, and Kolasinac.
So, to summarize: exploit the defensive liability of Sane/Delph and clog the midfield. Pulling Mertesacker out of the lineup in order to introduce Coquelin allows Arsenal to clog the middle of the pitch, and have a higher attacking press. This formation allows our best three attackers to link with one another while providing more defensive coverage. If you are still reading this I thank you for your open mind. I am not calling for this to be our week in and week out starting XI, but I truly feel that it’s worth taking this shot against City. At the end of the day, we are going up against the best team in the league, why not go all in for a result?