Manchester City take on Arsenal in the Premier League as the race for fourth place reaches its final stretch. Neither team would have wanted to be in this position at this stage of the season but there is still a distinct possibility that one of these teams could miss out on that coveted fourth spot.
The Midfield Battle
Arsenal have played almost the entirety of the season in a 4-2-3-1 formation while City have switched between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2. Both these teams, though, have been unable to settle on the 2 in the centre of midfield as injuries have played a part. Pellegrini’s insistence on playing Toure in the double pivot has backfired more often than not while injuries to Cazorla and the emergence of Elneny have caused a reshuffle in the Gunners’ own double pivot. The selection of personnel in this midfield two would go a long way in deciding who gains the upper hand in this massively important tie.
Playing Yaya Toure is almost certainly not an option for Pellegrini as he greatly undermines the balance of the team wherever he plays. In the double pivot, Yaya offers almost no defensive cover and was expertly exploited by Ozil in the reverse fixture. Statistically speaking, Toure has made only 1.3 tackles per game on average while Fernandinho and Fernando average 2.8 and 2.6 respectively. Playing him in a more advanced role comes with it own sets of problems. Against Tottenham away, Toure’s advanced position meant that Silva had to drift in from the right which left City’s right flank completely exposed to the marauding runs of Rose. It was a similar plight against Real Madrid in the second leg of the Champions League where Kevin de Bruyne was shunted to the left side of midfield to make place for a half fit Toure. Carvajal, Madrid’s right back, created 4 goal scoring opportunities excluding the assist for the goal from City’s left-hand side and had a mammoth 88% pass success rate. Hence, playing de Bruyne in an advanced role backed up by the combative duo of Fernandinho and Fernando is vital to City’s chances of winning the game.
Playing de Bruyne in the hole would also test Arsenal’s double pivot to the fullest. The Gunners have employed Ramsey and Elneny in the double pivot in their last three games. The pairing, more attacking in nature due to the absence of the hard tackling Coquelin , is more likely to face problems against Kevin de Bruyne than Yaya Toure in the hole. With this in mind, It would be interesting to see if Wenger gambles on Pellegrini playing Toure and continues with the same pairing. If Wenger has the slightest of reservations, expect the more defensive Coquelin to start alongside Elneny. This could have its own repercussions to Arsenal’s front four. Alex Iwobi and Sanchez have started in the two wide positions recently and both of them are not known for their defensive exploits. Bringing Coquelin into the double pivot would give Wenger the opportunity to play Ramsey instead of Iwobi in an auxiliary wide position, further solidifying the structure of the team.
Central defence has been a cause for concern for both these teams. Kompany’s injury in the Champions league means Mangala and Otamendi are certain to start for the Arsenal game. The two, despite being big money signings, have struggled to shore up the Citizen’s defence in the absence of their skipper. The pair have come up short in terms of defensive positioning this season and have let attackers through on goal on numerous occasions while trying to play them offside.
Welbeck is more likely to cause Otamendi and Mangala problems with his pace than the slow and clumsy Giroud. Both the managers have been accused of playing the usual names time and again this season rather than playing the one who can give them a tactical edge. A difficult decision awaits for Wenger.
One position he does not have to worry about selection is the centre back position. Unable to find a consistent partner for Laurent Koscielny, Wenger has altered between Gabriel and Mertesacker in recent games without much success. The latter’s injury means Gabriel is likely to get the nod. One could argue that Aguero had more of a chance against the slow Mertesacker but Gabriel’s woeful form means the odds for Arsenal don’t look any better. The weak central defences also make the case for both teams to have a strong midfield base.
Both sets of managers have crucial decisions to make ahead of this gargantuan tie. The Barclays Premier League is not known for its tactical battles. One has to look at Serie A or La Liga for that where managers try to tactically outwit each other week in week out. With so much hanging in the balance, it is a perfect time for these managers to show that the English teams are not that far behind.