Arsenal – Manchester City: Seize The Day (1-0)

If Arsenal were serious about a title charge, now was the time to send a statement. Home soil, missing midfielders, and a weapon waiting in the wings were a welcome window of opportunity to end a rotten record. Even though their display did not dazzle, the hosts would pass this test.

Tactical analysis and match report by Emmanuel Adeyemi-Abere.

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Arsenal must toil on with the unenviable task of hauling themselves off the canvas to challenge again this year. The North Londoners have not lost in the league, chalking up five wins and two draws from their seven fixtures to sit in third place and a point off the summit. However, performances have not packed the same punchiness this season: their balance and invention have not been the same without Granit Xhaka in the midfield. A squad adapting to new demands still seems to be playing within itself.

Manchester City chased down their hosts in the final furlong to wrap up the first third of their treble, and any wise champion would consolidate the security of their supremacy. Defeat in the Community Shield did not damage the determination of the Premier League holders. A streak of six victories in a row marked the club’s best start to a campaign under Pep Guardiola. Wolves bit back in a contest that emphasized how the team is not at its best, but big occasions have brought out the best in this group.

In this era, it feels like only City can hold themselves back. Indeed, Pep could not select Rodri, who was serving the final fixture of a suspension for his part in an altercation against Nottingham Forest. The manager shuffled the pack following a 3-1 victory over RB Leipzig. He put Mateo Kovačić in the middle of the park with Rico Lewis, and Bernardo Silva also moved into the center of the pitch. Julian Álvarez also joined in with the offense to earn his eighth start in eight league matches for the guests.

Mikel Arteta’s main fear would have been for Bukayo Saka to miss the game. Those suspicions turned out to be true. He limped off the field against Lens and was absent from the squad for the first time in almost two and a half years. Gabriel Jesus moved over to the right flank, Leandro Trossard stayed as the left winger, and Eddie Nketiah deputized as the striker. Kai Havertz dropped to the bench, making way for Jorginho as the third component of a midfield trident with Declan Rice and Martin Ødegaard.

Defensive discipline contains City

A pair of early opportunities would be as clear of an opening as City would create for the rest of the contest. Álvarez registered both of their other efforts: one in each half. Those four shots would be the fewest the guests had recorded in a match under Pep in his seven year tenure. How did that happen?

6th minute: pressing sequence from Arsenal. Jesus narrowed to cover Kovačić, forcing Aké out and along the flank. Rice had marked Bernardo and Ødegaard doubles back from pressing Ederson to return to the central midfielder. So once Gvardiol receives under pressure from White, no space is available inside. Saliba followed Foden deep into his half and Jorginho remains the spare man.

High up the field, Arsenal refused to allow them simple exits from the back. Nketiah split to the left in the pressing scheme, blocking Rúben Dias. Ødegaard and Jesus shuttled between Kovačić and the goalkeeper and generated diamond staggerings in the structure, while Rice jumped to cover Bernardo once the trap snared to the right. Thanks to the bravery of the central defenders to go with their men, prospects were high for turnovers at such points, leaving Jorginho as a screen ahead of the defense.

The dilemma in the middle of the park also hung over Pep’s preparation. Only Rodri is comfortable as the sole sitting midfielder on the ball. Neither Stones nor Kalvin Phillips can play at the right passing tempo alone in the past, while Wolves put Kovačić to the sword on the break. So, the manager chose to have more men in this deep zone for more security, stationing Lewis and Kovačić next to Bernardo.

Those selections fed into an offensive strategy that honed in on the center. Pep ditched the typical wide wingers he favors in the final third for more work in close quarters between Lewis, Álvarez, Foden, and Haaland. Their proximity paved the way for dribbles and quick linkups— especially on the left, where Foden drew out Ben White at the back. Yet, Arsenal’s firm block, with the guarding of Haaland from William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhães, largely kept the offense quiet before the break.

Raya rocked under pressure

Within five minutes of kickoff, City could have killed the crowd at the Emirates Stadium. Two faulty passes from David Raya and Rice in the buildup turned over the possession near Arsenal’s goal. Raya ended up in no man’s land from the ensuing corner, but Rice atoned for his mistakes with a headed clearance off the line to deny Joško Gvardiol. City closed in on the rebound, Erling Haaland directed a flick-on back toward the goal, and Nathan Aké struck— only to blaze a strike high over the crossbar.

Those openings indicated how Arsenal were not fully operational with their play out from the back. Lewis would join Haaland at the top of City’s pressing structure, ushering the rest of the block higher over time to make the most of any errors. Raya fell back on more long balls to dodge the press, and in the case of any headway near City’s penalty area, the right edge of their offense came into focus.

13th minute: buildup sequence from Arsenal. Lewis jumped to Raya and the goalkeeper baits further pressure by playing into the feet of Jorginho. Kovačić presses through onto the bounce pass, sending the ball to Gabriel. Rice draws Lewis wide, but Gabriel punts long instead of looking for Ødegaard.

Jesus was an outlet to receive on the right flank, keen to allow Ødegaard to have more touches of the ball and imprint his mark on the match. The rotational carousel that was most promising for Arsenal in the Community Shield reappeared. However, he was not the same individual threat as Saka, seldom selecting the right choice to open up the defense. In the meantime, Trossard had suffered a hamstring problem, ending his display at half time. Who could replace him to throw a spanner in the works?

Substitutes settle standoff

Arteta was the first of the two managers to flinch and bring on a player from the bench. Having nursed a hamstring injury for three weeks, Gabriel Martinelli was raring to go once he replaced Trossard to return on the left at the start of the second half. A sharp start commenced. His speed, threat in behind, and forward thrust in 1-v-1 scenarios upset the visitors. The duel strength of his teammates to add to their intensity also became the difference in several sequences off the ball.

But, a breakthrough did not arrive in this phase, and Pep eventually turned to a dynamo to alter the dynamic of the offense. Bernardo pushed ahead of Matheus Nunes, Stones sat at the base of the midfield, and Jérémy Doku tried to target Zinchenko on the right. Arteta reacted. Although Doku swapped to the other flank to try his luck against White, Takehiro Tomiyasu came on for Zinchenko. Thomas Partey was back for the first time since August, and Havertz entered the fray as a striker.

In the end, the four pairs of fresher legs contributed to the decisive act in this tale. In the 86th minute, Partey clipped a long ball to Tomiyasu, who had advanced into the last line. He nodded the ball onto Havertz, whose layoff set up Martinelli to shoot on the edge of the box. His strike flew off Aké’s face, wrongfooted Ederson, and hit the back of the net. Arsenal had hurdled another mental block at last.


The curse is over. Arsenal have ended a streak of 12 defeats in a row to the champions in the Premier League, triumphing over them in the competition for the first time in nearly eight years. The three points also put the hosts at the top of the table with their fellow North London rivals— two ahead of their opponents. Other performances against City in the past might have shown much more control and creativity, but the stability in the spine of this outfit might make the difference in the big clashes.

The stats spiral in equal measure from this result from City. The outcome marks a second league loss in a row for the first time in about half a decade and three defeats on the trot in domestic competition without Rodri. Pep has already been assembling the squad to work around the long term layoff from de Bruyne, and the absence of a second pillar in his plans lowered the level of risk he might have been willing to take. Nonetheless, the campaign is long, and revenge at the Etihad Stadium would be sweet.

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"Possession as a philosophy is overrated. Possession of the ball as a tool is underestimated." João Cancelo stan (19) [ View all posts ]


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