Manchester City face off against Arsenal in a major clash in the title race this Sunday. Both Arsène Wenger and Pep Guardiola will be keen to capture all three points, and these keys will give them the victory.
Keys for Manchester City
After a routine victory against Watford, Guardiola’s men have a tough match-up ahead of them at the Etihad Stadium. City still have a lot to improve upon since the poor showing against Leicester last weekend.
The biggest concern for the Citizens is to sure up the defence. Glaring errors from the likes of John Stones and other defenders have lead to cheap goals gifted to opposing sides. Despite those calling for Guardiola to change his style of play to cut out these fatal errors, the Spaniard insists that he will not change the style of play.
This means two things. First, Pep needs to instil the high pressing system that worked so well in the early season back into the team. The high press allowed City to pressure opposing teams into making mistakes, and they were able to pounce and capitalise on these opportunities. This tactic was key in their success, as they won their first ten games out of ten in all competitions.
It will be important for Guardiola’s men to use the high press early on Arsenal, as pressuring players like Gabriel Paulista and Nacho Monreal into mistakes will result in easy opportunities. Scoring first for City is vital, because their possession style of football is much more difficult to get opportunities against a team with lots of players behind the ball. City have struggled when they have conceded first all year long, exemplified best by when Jamie Vardy scored early on to lead the Foxes to the win last week.
The second key to victory for Manchester City will be the play of their wingers. Raheem Sterling has looked lacklustre at times this season; Jesus Navas has simply lost his magic; Nolito, however, has provided a bright spark and is in good form. His presence on the left wing will look to provide a finishing touch. Don’t be surprised to see a possible inclusion of summer signing Leroy Sané in this one.
Too often when teams get behind the ball in numbers against this possession-driven attack, City’s progress is halted when they pass the ball out to the wings. Whether it’s Nolito, Sane, Sterling, or Navas, the full-backs must give some help with overlapping runs to trouble Arsenal.
If City can sustain pressure without cheaply giving the ball away in both vulnerable areas of the field as well as on the flanks, their chances of winning is high.
Keys for Arsenal
Arsenal have not lost a game when their star centre-back pairing of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi have played the full 90 minutes. Unfortunately, Arsenal are without Mustafi due to injury this weekend, and they will surely have to make up for his absence in other parts of the field.
The first key to success will be an effective, counter-attacking style of play. Wenger will need to field a capable eleven to combat City’s intricate passing even without Ilkay Gundogan.
However, effective counter attacking must not come from a park-the-bus mentality, looking for a smash-and-grab win similar to the one enjoyed away to City two years ago. Instead, Arsenal must come out with a high press of their own in order to disrupt City’s flow of the game.
If the Gunners try to hit City on the counter by just sitting back, they will be picked apart by the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and company. With Guardiola unwilling to change his style of play, there will be plenty of space left behind the offside trap of City’s back four, and Arsenal must take advantage.
The second key for Arsenal to come away with the three points against City is on set pieces.
The corners and free kicks must be defended well. The late winner in midweek from a thundering Ashley Williams free header in the middle of the box was simply unacceptable that late in the game. If Arsenal are going to win away from home, they must defend without any lapses in concentration as seen at Everton.
Zonal marking has always seemed to let Arsenal down at the worst of times, but their offensive set pieces are just as important. The left foot of Mesut Özil will have to whip in quality crosses from the corner flag or other spots of delivery. After an innocuous performance midweek, his set pieces will be the key to Arsenal’s success. Whether it’s not hitting the first man or testing the goalkeeper, the German maestro must show he can perform in the big matches.