There were three potential winners in the Arsenal-Manchester City game. A draw meant Leicester City would go into Christmas five points clear of Arsenal and Manchester City, while the Gunners could close in on the summit and reduce the deficit to two points with a win, and victory for Man City could have reduced their gap from top to three points.
Before the clash between second and third in the Barclays Premier League, both Arsene Wenger and Manuel Pellegrini stressed on the fact that Leicester City are no pushovers, with the latter even suggesting that any team looking to get their hands on the title must consider the Foxes as serious contenders.
A top four spot looks realistic for Leicester City, but even with their remarkable run of gilded form, going all the way to win the league is a wishful thought. After Chelsea’s title hopes fizzled out early in the campaign and Manchester United nowhere near their best, Pellegrini would have known Arsenal are City’s biggest rivals in the title race.
In a blockbuster encounter, Man City lined up in a defensive set-up, a trend Pellegrini has repeatedly followed in away games this season. It hasn’t suited the team, but Pellegrini has overlooked the soreness, particularly at the back.
It explains Man City’s dip in form away from home. Pellegrini’s tactical approach has been poor, and last night’s display is witness to the fact. When the noisy neighbours arrived at the Emirates, they hadn’t won away from home since September.
Pellegrini deployed a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Yaya Toure and Fernandinho sitting in front of the incapacitated defensive pairing of Mangala and Otamendi. Delph got the nod ahead of Raheem Sterling — another decision reinforcing City’s vulnerablility at the back without skipper Vincent Kompany. Pellegrini said before the match, ” Possession is key”. But although his side enjoyed 60% of the possession in the first half, they were trailing 2-0 at half-time. Clearly, the City manager missed a tactical trick.
1) Toure’s position
Yaya Toure’s performance in a match as big as this was poor by anyone’s standards , but the Ivorian is not the only one culpable for his dreadful display. In the holding midfielder’s role, there were numerous occasions when Toure looked like he was in two minds. His natural instict when he has the ball at his feet in centre of midfield, is to bulldoze into the opposition half and make an incisive pass. But last night, Toure was ordered to just sit in front of the back four, and not venture into advanced positions.
Instead, his job was to deny Ozil the pockets of space he thrives on, and also keep an eye on Aaron Ramsey’s darting runs. He did neither, and Ozil capitalized by taking his tally of assists to 15 in 14 outings. Defence has never been Toure’s forte and he cut an anonymous figure as the game progressed.
Jamie Carragher summed up 32-year old’s evening impeccably. “They lost the game tonight and one of the reasons is the space (Mesut) Ozil had behind him. The only thing he needed was a walking stick and an overcoat.” Jamie’s criticism is imminently indicative of measuring the worth of a fish by its ability to climb a tree, something that warrants serious consideration for Pellegrini.
2) Frail centre-half parternship
The match was a cagey affair for most part of the first half and it needed Theo Walcott’s stunning goal to get the crowd going. It was an unsavable strike from the Englishman, but Man City must look at it as a defensive blunder. Toure was nowhere to be seen when Ozil received the ball, and when the German slid it through to Walcott, he should be have been caught offside. Otamendi and Sagna held their ground, but Kolarov and Mangala rushed into the box to play Walcott onside.
It’s not the first time this season City have made a mess of the offside trap. Without Vincent Kompany’s defensive organisation, the 2014 champions’ defense looks as frail as ever. Here’s an incredible statistic that shows just how pivotal Kompany is to Manchester City.
Goals conceded ( without Kompany ) : 18 in 9 matches
Goals conceded ( with Kompany ) : 1 in 8 matches.
Food for thought for Pellegrini
Last night’s result will make little difference to the long and fluctuating title race, but it has given Pellegrini plenty to think about. City were thumping their opponents at the start of the season, as if in a hurry to bring the title back to the Etihad. Free-flowing, direct, aggresive football has been the mantra to Manchester City’s achievements, but lately Pellegrini’s tactical acumen has gone missing.
With Pep Guardiola on queue to occupy a vacancy in Manchester City’s hot seat, one would imagine Pellegrini will have to fix his tactics and win the title this season to keep his job.