Few gave Arsenal a chance when they travelled to the Ethiad stadium on Sunday, many were predicting Manchester City to roll Arsenal over and the demons of playing big teams haunt Arsenal once again. However Arsene Wenger finally came up with an eagerly anticipated Plan B and consequently stifled Manchester City and Manuel Pellegrini. In recent years, Wenger’s teams in big games have played an open and expansive game which is extremely pleasing on the eye but as a consequence allows the opposition the time and space to kill games off due to the quality they possess.
In the big away games last year Arsenal shipped 6 against City in the corresponding fixture, a further 6 were conceded at Stamford Bridge in Wenger’s 1000th game in charge at the club, Arsenal were also blown away at Anfield last year suffering a 5-1 defeat. Many felt that Wenger was too stubborn to change his big match tactics and that was part of the reason due to the constant murmurs of the WengerOut brigade.
Wenger defied the critics and came up with a perfect game plan which his team carried out to perfection, Arsenal’s game is usually based on possession and attractive football. The 2-0 win away at City proves that this Arsenal side has the ability to mix things up and play in a disciplined and compact manner. In recent big games, the likes of Mertesacker and Koscielny were not offered enough protection and often left exposed, on Sunday Sergio Aguero was never given the opportunity to run at Arsenal’s defence. Wenger’s team on Sunday looked comfortable with the game plan and looked like a team which was united. The likes of Ramsey and Cazorla were able to pull their weight defensively but also offer creativity on the counter attack.
Key to Arsenal’s success in recent trophy winning teams has been the ability of a midfield player to screen and protect the back four, the likes of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva were crucial in previous Arsenal teams. Francis Coquelin was given the unenviable task of being the holding midfielder on Sunday, playing against arguably the most creative player in the Premier League in David Silva, Coquelin thrived on the challenge and showed true maturity and discipline. Coquelin throughout the match showed true leadership and Wenger will be delighted with the young Frenchman’s recent performances. Coquelin is reportedly close to agreeing a new long term deal at the club, with long term injuries to the likes of Mikel Arteta and Jack Wilshere, Coquelin has the opportunity to nail down a regular starting birth and become a pivotal figure in Wenger’s jigsaw.
Wenger’s side also offered a constant threat on the counter attack on Sunday, with the likes of Chamberlain and Sanchez, Arsenal had the pace to really hurt City on the counter. Sanchez was a constant menace for City’s defence, Sanchez was positive and direct whenever in possession. Since Sanchez’s arrival to the Premier League everyone was aware of the talent he possesses but it’s his work rate and energy levels which have provided him the most praise. Sanchez’s work rate is infectious and it was clear on Sunday that his team mates are buying into the theory of leaving nothing on the pitch.
Pellergrini and City seemed perplexed by Arsenal’s tactics, the likes of Silva and Aguero never really got an opportunity to have an influence on the game. Arsenal looked comfortable as a defensive unit and Ospina’s goal never really came under constant siege from the citizens. Arsenal were boosted by the absence of Yaya Toure, City had Fernando and Fernandinho in midfield who are two similarly defensive minded players. City missed Toure’s presence and creativity, Arsenal allowed City’s Brazilians to take their time in possession knowing that they aren’t the most creative players. Zabaleta and Clichy are two of the most attacking full backs in the Premier League but Bellerin and Monreal stuck to their tasks valiantly and were well supported by Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain who both put in a courageous shift.
As much as Arsenal were excellent, City were very poor and will have to significantly improve in the upcoming blockbuster clash at Stamford Bridge. What will be interesting is how Wenger sets up his team in the next big game, if all his star players are available will Wenger go back to his free flowing attacking game? What will be refreshing for Arsenal fans is that Wenger finally showed willingness to change his tactics and shows that as experienced as Wenger is no manager is too experienced to stop learning. The victory at the Ethiad could galvanise Wenger’s troops and instil a confidence in them to push on however these rear-guard performances should be repeated in big domestic and European games.