Arsenal travelled to the Etihad with the belief and optimism that they could turn their fortunes around on the road against the top 6, especially after Arteta confirmed new signing Thomas Partey and key defender Kieran Tierney would be included in the squad, roughly at the same time Guardiola ruled out several key players for the hosts.
Raheem Sterling, who was a major doubt for the game, popped up with the winner for the home side midway through the first-half after some schoolboy defending from Bellerin, allowing Foden to come inside too easily and get his shot off, in which Leno pushed straight back into the danger zone. The England International had an empty net to roll the ball into to give Pep the edge over Arteta in this one.
The Gunners will be pleased with the manner in which they played in the second half, trying to take the game to City, however a distinct lack of cutting edge in the final third cost them and undoubtedly will again throughout the course of the season.
Ultimately, the away side will look back at this as a huge opportunity missed to ease their wretched record away at the top 6 and show their intent to the rest of the league.
Here are three things we learned from Arsenal’s 1-0 defeat at the Etihad:
Bukayo Saka is vital for the way Arsenal play
The 19-year old seems to improve with every passing game, consistently putting in performances way above his years, with his showing at the Etihad no different. His importance to Arteta’s flexible system is staggering, seamlessly slotting into any role he is asked to play, often changing in and out of possession.
In this game, Saka was tasked with filling in at left-wing back when out of possession to accommodate for Arteta preferred system when defending, then when we have the ball the youngster would come inside to create a three man midfield with Xhaka and Ceballos, therefore giving him the license to get forward in the hope of linking the attack to the midfield.
The England International was a constant threat for Man City, as his immense versatility allowed Arsenal to have an outlet when going forward, dropping into the hole to receive the ball on the back foot in order to drive us up the pitch, predominately doing this from the left-hand side in order to create an overload with Tierney.
He was effective throughout and one of the only attackers who wasn’t frightened to take a man on, hence why he was brought down on multiple occasions in dangerous positions, leading to the bookings of Rodri and Dias. He was unlucky not to score after carving City’s defence open through some precise link-up with Aubameyang. I’m sure every Arsenal fan would have had no doubt that if it fell onto his stronger left-foot that the net would have bulged.
Without question, the youngster was Arsenal’s best player in this match, at the heart of everything good we had to offer going forward and worked tirelessly to get back into shape when City had large spells of possession. This will be such a vital year in his development and by the looks of his level of performance, he is a player that has the potential to become world class.
Willian cannot be deployed as a false 9
Arteta is the epitome of a modern day coach, using formations and tactics that are often unpredictable, to ensure the opposition are unable to prepare for our game-plan in the same way they can for other teams.
As we have seen in the past, this can be extremely effective, especially against the top 6 and in turn meant that we have been able to complete against the likes of Man City and Liverpool recently.
However, when the lineup was announced, not many would have guessed that Willian was going to be the sole centre forward against a side of City’s calibre – especially away from home due to the inevitability of not having untold amounts of possession.
Arteta said after the game he believed Willian could drop slightly deeper to receive the ball spraying passes over the top, due to his natural playmaking abilities, while Aubameyang and Pepe make attacking runs in behind him.
Looking back, this was certainly a baptism of fire as Willian looked lost for much of the 70 minutes he was on the pitch, unable to provide a physical presence up against Ruben Dias when we counter attacked and therefore pushed him further into the Arsenal midfield.
As a result, we lost the vocal point of our attacks, as we didn’t have a player we could fizz passes into with the hope of them relieving the pressure. Clearly, this had an effect on our wingers as they struggled to get into the game due to having no service or support up there when they did receive the ball.
Willian’s performance as a whole was not good enough, although he was playing in an unfamiliar position, he didn’t offer any creativity and his attacking threat was completely nullified throughout. His consistency is definitely starting to become an issue, as we have yet to see what he’s capable of in an Arsenal shirt, despite against relegation candidates Fulham. There’s no doubting that his task was a difficult one, however as an experienced player, he needs to be offering more in games to be warranting a starting position regularly.
Surely a striker of Lacazette’s profile, someone who can hold the ball up and bring others into the game, playing with his back to goal would have been a more suitable choice. There were noticeable gaps between the front three who didn’t display any passages of play between them the whole game, all looking isolated throughout, but perhaps playing with a natural striker would have helped eradicate this problem.
Arteta needs to pick a formation and stick with it
The Spaniard has proven his tactical nous since taking over as manager, making Arsenal competitive regardless of the opposition, something which we have lacked for sometime.
We were in the game for the whole 90 minutes and were arguably the better side in the second half, despite not creating a whole host of chances we definitely tried to take the game to them.
However, eventually Arteta is going to have to make a decision on a set formation and try to implement his philosophy onto it, as the 3-4-3 formation has served it’s purpose as a short-term fix, but now is the time to start moving away from that.
One aspect this formation does bring is defensive stability, as this has majorly improved since his arrival and was proved again in the second half as City created very little. Couple this with the shrewd addition of Gabriel, who will only get better, it’s time we start looking at solving our issues going forward.
On multiple occasions yesterday and throughout the season, the 3-back formation has proved to be too restrictive as we often have no link between the midfield and attack, causing our strikers to be isolated therefore feeding off scraps.
In chances created and shots taken in the Premier League, we are massively behind not only the teams in which we are competing for the top 4 with, but the majority of the league as well. This needs to be addressed if we are going to have a successful season and with the signings we made in the summer, it has to be an indication of Arteta’s intentions.
In the coming weeks, Partey would have adapted to our style of play and therefore gives us the ability to play in a 4-3-3 formation with Xhaka at the base and the Ghanian playing as a box-to-box midfielder, breaking up the play and kick starting attacks with his accurate passes.
As a result, it should help ease this burden as we lack a player who progresses the ball through dribbling or passing, an aspect which Partey has in abundance. Not only this, but the 27-year old will provide us with athletism in the middle while also having the capacity to break the lines and take opposition players on with his powerful dribbling.The attackers will certainly benefit from this, due to the system allowing more midfielders to join the attack, hopefully meaning an up-turn in chances created and goals scored.
I’m a 20 year-old Arsenal fanatic and aspiring Sports Journalist, who will be studying how to write about the Beautiful Game at Solent University from September in an attempt to make my dream into a reality.
Since the age of 8 I have played academy football, but unfortunately it didn’t quite work out – therefore I decided to pursue the next best career for me.
I am aiming to write honest and interesting articles about the club I love, and to share my opinion (one from the younger generation of Arsenal supporters) with as many other fans as possible!