Manchester City 0-3 Arsenal: red card holds back City, but Arsenal impress in important win
An early red card was the game’s key moment, but Arsenal played well on their way to an ultimately comfortable victory.
Manchester City’s front six were as expected – the news was at the back, where Dedryck Boyata started alongside Vincent Kompany in Kolo Toure’s absence, with Jerome Boateng at left-back and Micah Richards at right-back.
Arsenal also named an XI without many surprises – Abou Diaby was unavailable so Denilson came into the midfield, and the Djourou-Squillaci partnership continued at the back.
City started extremely strongly, with Richards motoring forward past Andrei Arshavin twice in the opening five minutes and getting into good crossing positions. Tevez also looked to play on that side, and one of his balls into the centre found David Silva, who flicked towards goal but was thwarted by an excellent Lukasz Fabianski save.
Cesc Fabregas started the game playing deeper than usual, coming short to collect the ball in front of City’s midfield, and playing two very good through balls early on. The first caught Arshavin slightly offside, but the second found Marouane Chamakh, and when Boyata fouled him, he was shown a straight red card.
Red card aftermath
This forced Manchester City to reorganise in the absence of one of their central defenders – first James Milner went in at right-back with Micah Richards in the centre, then Yaya Toure moved back to centre-back, then Toure moved into midfield again, with Ricards going to centre-back , Boateng switching to the right-back position, and Gareth Barry playing at left-back.
City had so many options to get around the problem at centre-back, and versatile players are generally an asset. But by changing the system three times in the first half (with yet another change at half-time with Wayne Bridge coming on), the defence was always going to have problems working as a unit.
That’s not to say that City gave up. Despite the fact that such an early red card will always have an impact on the game, this was probably one of the less decisive red cards in terms of the overall pattern of the game (although clearly the home side were severely weakened) – City were always going to sit back, Arsenal were always going to dominate possession.
City still offer attacking threat
Mancini went with a 4-3-1-1 system – David Silva played in the centre of the pitch with Milner forming more of a midfield three. And this meant that City offered a surprising level of attacking threat, especially considering how cautious they generally are against bigger sides.
With the three in midfield narrow, and Silva just ahead, they were effectively forming a midfield diamond around Arsenal’s three central midfielders (with the wider players of the three shuttling forward) and were not played off the pitch. Indeed, Arsenal were having trouble in the centre of midfield, reflected in the fact Fabregas, Alex Song and Denilson all collected yellow cards.
City’s problem, however, was that when Arsenal had possession, they were able to shift the ball from flank to flank (see the Chalkboard below, with the majority of passes in wide areas) and exploit City’s narrow midfield.
Milner covered the right side well, but the left was more of an issue – with the changes to the side there was no permanent left-sided midfielder, and no permanent left-back. It was therefore vaguely inevitable that Arsenal would score from that side, and Samir Nasri was always a good shout for first scorer, with six goals in his last six games.
Arsenal control the second half
Fabregas missed a penalty that would have made it 2-0, and the second half started with City still very much in the game. Tevez was not at 100% and had to make way for Emmanuel Adebayor, and the ex-Arsenal player was arguably a more appropriate type of striker for this situation – able to hold the ball up and buy time, whereas Tevez needs support, which was limited with one less player on the pitch.
Arsenal weren’t passing the ball particularly well (by their standards) at 1-0, though a second goal always looked like killing the game. It was again in City’s left-back position that the goal came from, with the substitute Bridge allowing Song in for another goal. Song’s goal tally this season (three already, compared to only four before this season in his entire career) demonstrates his slightly more advanced role, as mentioned after the Arsenal v Shakhtar game. From City’s point of view, it also demonstrated that the return of Aleksander Kolarov is very much needed.
At 2-0 Arsenal changed their style, simply looking to keep the ball. Mario Balotelli came on for Gareth Barry to increase City’s attacking threat, but this opened up the midfield and Arsenal dominated possession to a greater extent. Arsene Wenger’s side only really looked for goal if they happened to end up in a goalscoring position at the end of some neat passes – Nicklas Bendtner finished nicely to seal the win, after the excellent Nasri’s through ball.
It’s difficult to judge performances when the game sees such an early dismissal, but both sides can be pleased with their display. Arsenal were relatively comfortable (aside from the number of bookings they accumulated) and now have seven points from their last four away games at Blackburn, Sunderland, Chelsea and Manchester City – seven more than from those fixtures last year.
Mancini’s hands were tied, and the 4-3-1-1 system he used worked well. His problem was that he didn’t make a stronger decision about the personnel within that system, meaning the defence was disorganised and two poor goals were conceded.Manchester City 0-3 Arsenal: red card holds back City, but Arsenal impress in important win