Arsenal v Manchester City: One big game, five big questions
4 months ago, 10 Aug 17:15
The sight of Unai Emery screaming instructions from the Emirates dugout will feel a little jarring at first. It will be a long time before Arsene Wenger’s absence won’t look strange, before the spectre of Arsenal’s longest-serving manager stops hovering over the stadium. Just ask Manchester United fans: the task of modernising a Premier League club after more than two decades of tactical consistency (and stagnancy) takes time – and patience.
Emery has been handed the most difficult start imaginable. For the first time in the Premier League era Arsenal open their campaign against the current champions, and although Manchester City are without Kevin de Bruyne, David Silva and Raheem Sterling, Pep Guardiola’s side are still clear favourites. The majority of the Arsenal players have had only four weeks of training under the new head coach, which should make for a clumsy, chaotic opening day against arguably one of the greatest sides in the history of English football.
1) Can Emery’s reactive tactics be successful against City?
Arsenal under Emery will more closely resemble his Sevilla team that won three consecutive Europa Leagues than it will Paris Saint-Germain; we can expect the Gunners to sit tight and hit opponents on the counter, especially against superior opposition. Broadly speaking, over the course of the 2018/19 season Wenger’s expansive shape and prosaic passing will give way to Emery’s compressed lines, zonal pressing and quick transitions into the final third.
Emery is by no means a backs-to-the-wall manager, but defensive injuries (Laurent Kolscielny, Nacho Monreal, and Sead Kolasinac are all out) means a relatively deep defence this weekend. Arsenal will look to lure City forward before snapping into tackles in their own half and breaking quickly into the spaces left by Fernandinho or Benjamin Mendy, as detailed below.
But can this tactic be effective against a Guardiola team? Liverpool’s success last season strengthened the theory that a confrontational approach is the only way to unsettle City’s passing rhythm, suggesting Emery – a fastidious student of an opponent’s strengths and weaknesses – will preach bravery in the short initial press (after losing the ball) before dropping back into a compact structure.
Arsenal’s dramatic tactical shift over the summer will inevitably leave chinks in the armour, although their new manager’s excellent counter-attacking coaching will ensure they aren’t penned in by City. The result should be an end-to-end contest with plenty of goals.
2) Will Emery’s bunched counter-attacks target Fernandinho and Benjamin Mendy?
Mendy’s return from injury has been spoken of only in positive terms, yet the Frenchman’s reintroduction to the starting line-up significantly alters City’s playing style, and could present Arsenal with a weak point to attack on Sunday.
Fabien Delph was utilised as an inverted full-back throughout 2017/18, shifting infield during sustained City attacks to provide Fernandinho with support in central midfield. It is highly unlikely that the ultra-attacking Mendy will fulfil a similar role, instead looking to burst ahead of Hector Bellerin. That could leave 33-year-old Fernandinho, who looked his age against Belgium in the World Cup quarter-final, overworked in ...
Category: sports football