Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal: A Tactical Analysis

December 16, 2013 in Premier League by Ballsy Banter

Pin It

Arsenal’s visit to the Etihad Stadium was touted as the game that could decide the Premier League title. Even though I think it is premature to talk about title deciding games with less than the half of the season gone, no one could have questioned Arsenal’s quality had they won this game. At the same time Manchester City has been irresistible at home. This game was undoubtedly their best chance of shortening the gap between them and the league leaders.


The formations

Manchester City started in a 4-4-2 formation. David Silva amd Samir Nasri started as the two wing players, with Agüero and Negredo playing as the two strikers. Even though their formation could be described as a 4-4-2, Nasri and Silva drifted towards the middle, while Agüero and Negredo rotated around Arsenal’s defence. Essentially their formation can be described as a 4-2-2-2 or a 4-2-3-1 as well, with Agüero behind Negredo.

Arsenal started in their usual 4-2-3-1 formation. Nacho Monréal started in the left-back position. Ramsey and Flamini started as the holding midfield pair. Theo Walcott sarted as the right attacking midfielder.

The free role of Nasri and Silva


Manchester City had the better of Arsenal in the first half. The reason for their domination was the rotation of their forwards. Nasri and Silva played in free roles. They drifted to the middle most of the time, playing between the midfield and defence of Arsenal. This posed a problem that Arsenal could not solve – the problem of neutralising four central midfielders. If  Ramsey and Flamini man-marked Silva and Nasri, Fernandinho and Touré had the space and freedom to dictate the tempo of the game. If Koscielny and Mertesacker would have stepped up to mark them Negredo and Agüero would have been free. At the same time Monréal and Sagna couldn’t come towards the centre either as Clichy or Zabaleta were providing width to City’s attacks.


Congesting space could have worked. However, City’s attackers are excellent shooters. Even giving them a little bit of space could have been fatal. Arsenal’s best chance would have been to cut out the supply of balls to the forwards. This could have been achieved in a number of ways.

Manchester City have been vulnerable to pressing. Southampton and Bayern Münich had the better of them by trying to win the ball high up the pitch. On the other hand Cardiff City neutralised Manchester City by sitting deep, but man-marking Fernandinho out of the game, thus eliminating the passing options of Yaya Touré.


 Arsenal’s lack of pressing

It was strange to see Arsenal not pressing City, especially given the success they had when they did. If you take into consideration how good Arsenal are when it comes to quick, direct attacks, it was even stranger. Even Arsenal’s first goal was scored after winning the ball high up the pitch. Ramsey dispossessed Touré in the 31st minute. Walcott scored after the counter-attack, cutting inside from the left, and getting on the end of Özil’s cut-back ball.

Arsenal had some success playing positionally. Manchester City became narrow if Arsenal had the ball in central areas, 20-25 yards from the Manchester City goal. Arsenal played diagonals to the full-backs and Giroud at the far post to expose Manchester City’s narrow shape.

However, Arsenal’s positional play have left them open. Arsenal’s forwards roated in possession. This made it hard for them to transition into their defensive shape quick enough to prevent getting caught on the counter. Sometimes Özil and Walcott were the last man in the center while Flamini and Wilshere were on the wings. Neither Özil nor Walcott are good options when it comes to tracking back and stopping counter-attacks.


The second half

The second half brought a significant change in Arsenal’s approach. They have started pressing Manchester City in midfield. This allowed Arsenal to play closer to Manchester City’s goal, and transition into attack more efficiently, arriving in front of City’s goal in less time.



 Action areas in the first and second half respectively.

 Manuel Pellegrini was forced to make a change at the beginning of the second half. as Agüero suffered an injury. Pellegrini opted to bring on Jesus Navas instead of a striker. Manchester City have switched to a more classical 4-2-3-1 formation.

Arséne Wenger have talked about the lack of time they had to prepare for this game. His claims had some validity given how error-prone Arsenal were. Manchester City’s scored their third goal after Sagna slightly misplaced a pass to Flamini, which Fernandinho capitalised on.

Wilshere was caught on the ball before City’s fifth goal.

Arsenal were tiring more and more as the game went on. They were chasing the game, leaving open spaces in midfield. Pellegrini brought on James Milner in place of Silva. Even though Wenger brought on Gnabry in place of Flamini, the home team had plenty of space to counter in.

Wenger had to take risks to get something from the game, but Arsenal didn’t have the players to get the ball back from City when it was lost, thus they could not put the home team under sustained pressure.



Manchester City have put in another impressive performance at home. They have shortened the gap between them and Arsenal to two points.

Some people might think that Arsenal are not title contenders after this defeat. However, winning the league is not about how you do in one game, but how you do over the course of a season. Arsenal have been more consistent so far.

Manchester City will have to put in similar performances away from home in order to overtake Arsenal at the top of the table.