They hang over us like a cloak of impending doom: big games against our top-of-the-table rivals which have given Gooners little joy in recent years. Many cite the reasons for our shortcomings as style of play only being conducive to beating bottom half teams, lack of tactical flexibility, or even lack of overall quality/team depth.
Fear not, all hope is not lost. The recent cup finals, Chelsea at home last season, and United at home the season prior were some excellent moments the club has provided. Additionally, our 2-0 win against Bayern in the Champions League group stages and 2-1 against City at Wembley in last year’s FA Cup semi-final were reminders of the exhilaration our club can provide. The latter two victories interestingly enough, came against one Josep Guardiola.
I’m a massive fan of Pep’s. His strongest quality is his ability to stamp a stylistic imprint on a club based on the strengths of the players. With his teams, it’s more the case of Pep molding his coaching around personnel rather than the players adhering to a coach’s system. Furthermore, his ability to instill positional play and team pressing ideals into a group is a joy to watch.
Pep’s preparedness and flexible nature almost puts him in direct contrast to Arsene Wenger. If it weren’t for a shared belief that football should be predominantly attacking and fluid in nature, they would have little in common. That being said, despite Arsenal’s big game shortcomings of the last 3 seasons, Arsene has had good success against Pep (2 wins, 2 losses, 1 draw).
The table below breaks down the meetings between the two managers (Arsenal data is provided first)*:
|Fixture||Score||Shots on Target||Possession%||Pass Completion%||Key Passes|
|Oct. 20, 2015
AFC v Bayern
|2-0||8 v 6||26.8% v 73.2%||74% v 90%||6 v 9|
|Nov. 4, 2015
Bayern v AFC
|1-5||2 v 13||31.3% v 68.7%||78% v 91%||5 v 20|
|Dec. 18, 2016
MCFC v AFC
|1-2||1 v 5||60.6% v 39.4%||74% v 85%||4 v 12|
|April 2, 2017
AFC v MCFC
|2-2||3 v 5||44.4% v 55.6%||76% v 79%||7 v 11|
|April 23, 2017
AFC v MCFC
|2-1||3 v 3||34.5% v 65.5%||70% v 86%||8 v 14|
*Stats courtesy of whoscored.com
What Does It All Mean?
1. Arsenal will have significantly less of the ball than they’re used to. Pep’s positional play ideals promote a high touch, possession game which are predicated on healthy distances with teammates all over the pitch. The highest possession percentage a Wenger side has had against Pep has been 44.4%, and that was an Arsenal home match near the end of last season.
On average over the last few years, Pep sides have out possessed us by 27.4% per game. This is important because we will be expected to play well off the ball to get a result at the Etihad. This is something Arsenal has struggled to do under Wenger, especially over the last decade.
2. Arsenal will have fewer quality chances and will have to make them count. The game against Bayern at the Emirates and last season’s FA cup semi-final are the only games where Arsenal has produced more shots on goal against a Pep side.
On average per game, his teams have out shot us 6.5 to 3.4 and produced 7.2 more key passes.
3. Ozil plays well against Pep sides….but only at home (or Wembley). We know how good he is on the ball when he has an adequate supply line from deep, but this won’t be one of those games. City will give him little space and limit the creative pockets he can find.
Digging deeper into the past matches against Pep suggests this may not be a game to have Ozil in from the start. In the 3 games played at the Emirates and Wembley, he has averaged a 7.8 match rating and 2.7 key passes while providing a goal and an assist. Compare that with his performances away from home where he has averaged a 6.2 match rating and 0.5 key passes while providing no goals or assists.
The beauty of sport is that anything can happen in a given game. It seems a tall order for a team with such a poor road record in big games to beat this City behemoth with a +29 goal difference through 10 games. As a Gooner, it’s time to dream a little and hope for the best. Who knows, given Arsene’s overall record against Pep, maybe he has a little magic up his sleeve on Sunday?
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