GENERAL REHEARSAL OF THE MATCH FOR GOLD
European football has definitely set out to brighten up our gray everyday lives. In January, we are lucky to see the best matches almost once every two days and sometimes more often. Thus, on Thursday night, Real Madrid fought for the Spanish Cup with Atlético, and the next day, Manchester City hosted Arsenal.
This game seemed to be a kind of dress rehearsal for the match that awaits the two main contenders for the title of champion in February. Furthermore, this order of matches plays in favor of Josep Guardiola, who has a more powerful and deeper squad. If he makes a tactical error in the Cup, he will be able to correct it in a more important league match.
Realizing this, Mikel Arteta, Guardiola’s former assistant, decided to make several changes aimed at confusing his opponent. Then Rob Holding (centre) and Kieran Tierney (left) appeared in defence, Fabio Vieira appeared in midfield and winter newcomer Leandro Trossard appeared on the left flank of the attack.
WRITTEN BY ARTETA
Guardiola put together a close to optimal composition, except for the goalkeeper position, where Stefan Ortega ended up, and the flanks of the defense (Rico Lewis, Nathan Ake). At the same time, he came up with another complex role – for Lewis. In the defensive phase, he usually acted on the right flank of the defense, and in the positional attack he went to the support zone, from where Ilkay Gundogan rose even higher. The three remaining defenders became the central trio. That is why Ake nominally came out on the left, feeling confident not only on the edge.
At the same time, more and more I find myself thinking that the City players are getting more and more tired of these complex experiments by the manager. In 2023, they rarely have such a good first half and don’t even always have a significant lead. This also happened this time, and this despite the fact that, I repeat, Arsenal played with a not quite optimal team.
The locals had more possession of the ball, but they did not control the game at all. The fact that he followed the Arteta scenario is evidenced by the following fact: with shooting statistics 5-4 in favor of the “people of the town”, the Londoners resoundingly outperformed the opponent in shots from the penalty area (4-1 ). That is, they remembered every attack and could have opened the scoring twice, if it weren’t for Ortega, who landed really tough shots from Takehiro Tomiyasu and Trossard.
EXAMPLE OF MATCH
As often happens lately, after the break, the City players stopped complicating everything and began to rely more on individual skill, which allowed them to put the opponent in their penalty area, but the Londoners were ready for it and forced Guardiola to replace it. Riyadh completely lost Mahrez late in the hour to second striker Julian Alvarez.
And this ability of Guardiola to work with substitutions is simply shocking. Minutes later, the Argentinean opened in the free zone between the lines and shot at the far post. The ball was picked up by Jack Grealish, feinted in the penalty area and rolled towards Ake, who supported the attack, and the one from outside the box, with the technically lowest shot to the defender and goalkeeper, carefully slotted the ball in. in the same corner.
Ake must be praised, because he not only ideally entered someone else’s penalty area at the decisive moment, but also ate Arsenal’s main star Bukayo Saka in an exemplary manner. If Arteta had a worthy replacement for him, he would probably have replaced the winger long ago, so he first had to release Gabriel Martinelli and Alexander Zinchenko to the opposite flank and only 15 minutes before the end he released Martin Odegaard instead of Sak.
But it was too late. The Citizens don’t hesitate to play for the score this season (although, as the Mancunian derby demonstrated, it doesn’t always go well). This does not mean that they are only defensive, far from it. Both positional defense and ball control without advancing are used, all of which bring the final whistle closer with relative safety. Arsenal players failed to overcome this approach. Yes, they flew out of the Cup, but I am sure that they will gladly exchange it for the title of champion. And they received an excellent lesson when playing against Man City.
FA Cup. 1/16 finals
Manchester City – Arsenal – 1:0 (0:0)
Goal: Ake, 64.
Manchester City: Ortega, Lewis (Walker 58), Stones (Laporte 45+4), Akanji, Ake, Rodri, Gundogan, Mahrez (Álvarez 58), de Bruyne (B. Silva 75), Grealish, Holland.
Arsenal: Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding (Saliba 46), Magallanes, Tierney (Zinchenko 66), Vieira, Parti (Lokonga 46), Xhaka, Saka (Odegaard 74), Trossard (Martinelli 66), Nketiah.
Warnings: Holding, 42. Zinchenko, 90+2. Gundogan, 90+3.