How Mikel Arteta’s inside knowledge could stop Man City: Tracking Ilkay Gundogan, following Pep Guardiola on the details and USING those counter-attack openings… here’s why Arsenal have a chance
- Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal side are the next team trying to stop Manchester City
- Pep Guardiola’s side are on a tremendous run of form dating back to December
- But Arteta’s time at the Etihad could work to his advantage on Sunday afternoon
- The Gunners must not be wasteful when presented with chances on the counter
- City’s win-streak has to end one day – could Arsenal shock them this weekend?
In a stretch of 17 consecutive wins in all competitions, Manchester City have looked nothing short of unstoppable.
Since a 1-1 draw at home to West Brom on December 15 – in a period where doubts were raise about City’s prospects this season – Pep Guardiola has got his free-flowing team back ticking in a form reminiscent of their 100-point season three years ago.
Back then, Mikel Arteta was a key member of Guardiola’s backroom team at the Etihad. This Sunday, Arteta will attempt to mastermind a shock victory against his former employers at the Emirates.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal are looking to stop Pep Guardiola and his unstoppable Man City team
It’s no easy task. Just in the past two weeks, City have wiped the floor with top-four contenders Liverpool and Tottenham.
But the Gunners are in arguably the best domestic form they’ve shown all season, after a dreadful first few months – this Arsenal side is much improved from the team which looked all at sea in the Carabao Cup against City just before Christmas.
What do Arsenal have to do right this Sunday? Can Mikel Arteta glean any knowledge from his time at Manchester to stop his former employers? And could City, who have not put a foot wrong in two months, underperform in north London?
WHAT DID MIKEL ARTETA LEARN UNDER PEP GUARDIOLA – AND HOW HAS HE OVERCOME HIM IN THE PAST?
The two Spaniards shared a similar playing philosophy from the outset, which is why their partnership was so intrinsic and natural.
An upbringing at Barcelona made ball retention key, as well as an intense form of pressing off the ball, as Guardiola & Arteta took City from a fourth-placed team in their first season to history-makers in their second.
They then followed that 100-point season with just the 98 points in an flawless title race the likes of which we had never seen before.
Arteta worked with Guardiola for over three years as part of the backroom staff at Man City
Half-a-season on, Arteta was offered the Arsenal job – a role he couldn’t turn down. Yet in north London, coaching players yes in-tune with his core values, Arteta has had to adapt his playing philosophy.
The most notable example of this was in the latter stages of last season’s FA Cup triumph, in particular a perfectly choreographed performance against City in the semi-finals.
ARTETA’S RECORD VS GUARDIOLA
Goals scored: 3
Goals conceded: 8
In fact, that match on July 18 should be the blueprint for Arteta this Sunday.
He set about his side in realistic fashion, opting not to press high up the pitch and allow City the majority of the ball – 71 per cent in fact.
It was a strategy reliant on City being not at their free-flowing, quick, incisive best – and they weren’t.
But it was also reliant on efficiency and a direct approach when the ball was retrieved, utilising pace out-wide in Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe, while Alexandre Lacazette worked his socks off through the middle.
Yet beyond all the hard-work, rigid structure and discipline, the difference at Wembley was the clinical nature of Aubameyang’s two goals – a feat he followed up in the final against Chelsea.
While the Gunners skipper has rarely hit those heights this season, he is coming into this game off the back of his first hat-trick in the Premier League against Leeds last week.
If Arteta wants to stop the Man City streak, he’d be wise to take confidence from that Cup semi-final – not least because it’s his only success against his old pal in four attempts.
Attention to detail in preparation will be vital – but incisiveness in attack will be more crucial.
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s finishing will be crucial to Arsenal’s hopes of a result on Sunday
WHAT HAS GUARDIOLA CHANGED IN THIS NEW AND IMPROVED CITY TEAM?
When lowly West Brom took a point away from the Etihad back in December, the reasons why – so we were told – were obvious.
No Sergio Aguero. Gabriel Jesus out-of-form. A growingly exasperated Kevin De Bruyne. And vulnerabilities in defence.
What has Guardiola changed then, in this run which has broken the record books in English football?
Man City have been unstoppable since dropping points against West Brom two months ago
For starters, his formation has become less rigid and more adaptable. While 4-2-3-1 was the usual line-up at the beginning of the season, Pep has now switched to just one player holding in front of the back-four.
The midfield is the basis for City’s entire play – and at times more than seven players are involved.
Jesus – or whoever plays in the false No 9 role – often drops back, allowing runners from midfield.
The biggest beneficiary from this has undoubtedly been Ilkay Gundogan whose goals breaking from deep with perfectly-timed runs is reminiscent of Frank Lampard back in his hay-day at Chelsea.
City’s new approach has allowed Ilkay Gundogan to break forward with great effect recently
The German missed the midweek win at Everton with a groin niggle but is expected to be fit for this afternoon’s clash – and Arsenal must make sure he is closely marshalled.
Elsewhere, speedy full backs Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko are utilised to great effect too, with one pushing forward from the back when City have the ball to provide width.
What Guardiola has absolutely nailed is the combination of giving players freedom, with few nailed-down positions, while all are aware of their tasks without the ball and how they must line-up in defence.
Joao Cancelo and Oleksandr Zinchenko have also been key to City’s fine form in recent months
ARE THERE ANY WEAKNESSES WHICH ARSENAL CAN EXPLOIT?
As mentioned previously, Arsenal’s efficiency on the counter-attack will be one of the fundamental points on which this game will turn.
When City do lose the ball high up the pitch, they are vulnerable at the back, with acres of space in behind to exploit.
Take Liverpool’s equaliser two weeks ago – Mo Salah caught out Ruben Dias after a poor touch, with the phase of play resulting in a penalty.
In Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and the in-form Bukayo Saka, Arteta’s side have pace to burn – and must use it prudently.
Arsenal have pace to burn in attack with Aubameyang, Emile Smith Rowe and Bukayo Saka
Threaded balls in-between the centre backs and the full backs will be key, meaning Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos must not be wasteful on the rare occasions they have the ball at their feet.
They won’t get many opportunities to work Ederson so when they do, the Gunners must take them.
Otherwise, City will feel assured that win No 18 in the sequence will be wrapped up by 6:30pm on Sunday with ease.