Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City: A lack of creativity

April 24, 2010

A 0-0 is hardly surprising when neither side have any true motivation to take all three points. For Arsenal, the season is over. For City, with the result at Old Trafford, a point was a good result, with Spurs still yet to travel to the City of Manchester Stadium.

Arsenal lined up in their now-familiar 4-3-3 / 4-2-3-1 system, bolstered by the return of Robin van Persie after so many months out. Theo Walcott was providing pace on the right, with Samir Nasri central and Tomas Rosicky cutting in from the left.

Manchester City dropped Emmanuel Adebayor at the expense of Patrick Vieira, meaning they had the ability to play either 4-4-2 or 4-5-1 – they went for the latter, with Craig Bellamy providing the clearest support for Carlos Tevez on the rare occasions City got into Arsenal’s half.

The most noticeable thing about Arsenal was how deep Robin van Persie came to meet the ball, drawing Kolo Toure out of position to try and confront him immediately. It was a reminder that Arsene Wenger’s switch to a system with a lone frontman was not because he wanted to play a traditional lone striker (eg Nicklas Bentnder, as well as he has done in recent weeks) but because he wanted to play with a false nine, and van Persie’s movement and awareness on the ball was very good in the first half, with Samir Nasri often getting forward to become the furthest player forward.

At the other end, Carlos Tevez was trying to do a similar thing to van Persie, but Tevez received no support whatsoever from the centre of midfield (with City effectively playing three holding players there), and Craig Bellamy found it hard to get forward enough to be an attacking threat. Arsenal actually did well to counteract the threat of Tevez and Bellamy’s pace, and to stop the midfield supporting the striker - Sol Campbell and Mikael Silvestre played extremely deep, which meant that City wouldn’t play balls in behind for Tevez to chase, their midfield was also generally forty yards away from Tevez when he got the ball in the opposition half.

Both Arsene Wenger and Roberto Mancini made similar changes in the second half – putting a targetman on and dropping their previous lone striker into a deeper position, forming 4-4-1-1 / 4-2-3-1 shapes. City’s change was first, as Emmanuel Adebayor came on – and the presence of Carlos Tevez snapping at the heels of Alex Song was actually better defensively for City than the presence of Patrick Vieira in front of the back four. Arsenal’s change saw Bendtner come on for Tomas Rosicky (who had been Arsenal’s most lively player) and they begun to loft crosses into the box, but to little goalscoring threat.

Manchester City followed what is fast becoming the official way to play against Arsenal – defend deep and narrow, make sure there is little space between the lines, and let Arsenal cross the ball. There can be few occasions this season when Arsenal have threatened so little by playing their way through the centre – and the physical nature of the defending by Kompany and Toure at the back, and Vieira and de Jong in midfield formed a tough ’square’ in front of Shay Given that Arsenal found difficult to penetrate.

This was an awful game and any attempt to make it exciting through prose would be pointless, so check out the Chalkboard analysis instead, which is far more insightful.

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