How Arteta beat Guardiola Match Analysis
With a place in the FA Cup final up for grabs, Wembley hosted the second edition of Mikel Arteta against Pep Guardiola. Despite working in Pep's coaching staff, in their previous and first matchup, Arteta's team fell to common tactical patterns of the Cityzen's. Getting overwhelmed in midfield and falling victim to common runs of the forwards the match ended 3-0. On the blue side of Manchester, they've won eight of the last nine trophies available to them in England, running domestic competition raged. Despite all this, coming off a victory against Premier League champions Liverpool, confidence will be high (as high as it can be against Manchester City) among the ranks in Arsenal's dressing room. Arteta's positive mentality will undoubtedly try to draw on this to create a belief within the players that they can claim victory on the day to reach their club's 21st FA Cup final.
During this match analysis, we'll delve into how Arteta's tactics tricked Pep, City's 2-2-6 formation, why their forwards couldn't recieve the ball in advanced positions and Pep's change in tactics at half time.
Pep Guardiola hunting to reclaim the cup would have to do without the unavailable Sergio Aguero. Gabriel Jesus started at the striker who's scored in his last three matches, Raheem Sterling and RIyah Mahrez joined the Brazilian in the attack. Ilkay Gundogan was preferred to Rodri in midfield. Youngster Eric Garcia was shown faith in this huge match playing over John Stones and Nicolas Otamendi.
Arsenal's team would be shaped into what's becoming a now-standard 3-4-3. Within this formation, there were five changes in personnel from the victory against Liverpool three days before. Hector Bellerin and Shkodran Mustafi rejoined the defensive line. As well as a surprise return of Ainsley Maitland-Niles at left wingback, a ploy in Arteta's tactics to counteract City's plan to get Riyad Mahrez into 1v1 situations. Dani Ceballos was repaired with Granit Xhaka in midfield. Then in the attack, Nicolas Pepe and club top scorer Pierre-Emeric Aubameyang were deployed back onto the front lines.
Arsenal attract pressure to open space
As we saw in my analysis of Arsenal's match against Leicester City, the gunners have become a competent team playing out the back. Their opposing manager Pep Guardiola's objective when playing out the back is to lure in opposition players to press, in-turn opening space behind them to attack. Arteta when coaching alongside Pep throughout their successes will have learned a lot about this piece of play and would now use it against him. This was a massive part of the game, 40% of the action in the first 45 minutes was spent within Arsenal's half.
At Arsenal Arteta's own methodology of playing out the back is that a player must attract a player to pressing them before performing their next action. When in-possession in their defensive third, the shape resembled an asymmetric 3-4-2-2 or 3-4-1-3. Emi Martinez would split two center backs while the other positioned himself as a wingback allowing Ainsley Maitland-Niles to move inside to the central zones. City would oppose this by their shape morphing from a 2-2-6 to pressing in a 4-1-4-1 and engaging the gunner's center backs whenever they'd make a second pass inside the box. Due to the slow tempo played during some of these sequences, a few turnovers were made sometimes even in very favorable positions but would not be taken advantage of.
Despite their immense technical quality, the lack of athleticism in City's midfield would be exposed in defensive transition phases. Leaving attackers to freely run at their defenders.
Once drawn into the box, Arsenal would look for a passing angle out wide. Lacazette would drop to the left or right, attempting to create a passing angle back inside. Due to the asymmetric shape, Maitland-Niles positioning would also warrant more attention to this side. Resulting in the right side of the pitch being underloaded making quick switches of play particularly deadly. In this sequence, Lacazette receives and immediately looks for the switch to Bellerin who can attack into space.
They could be more direct, here is an interesting goal kick Luiz takes it, and quickly, he finds Bellerin pushed forward, eliminating five players and sending the wingback in the other direction. The second image is the results as Arsenal attacks are left in a 5v5 situation, rarely did Arsenal come up against a fully settled defensive shape.
Situations such as these were very common and they'd reap the benefits from them, opening the scoring in the 19th minute. Having a 4v5 against an unsettled defense, Pepe cuts onto his favored left foot where he makes a cross to the back post to an arriving Aubameyang. Kyle Walker at right-back is caught staring at the ball which allows the left-sided forward to run through his blind side to poke the ball home.
Manchester City's 2-2-6 formation
Guardiola would have watched his former students victory against Liverpool midweek in which they were organized and compact out of possession in a 5-2-3. A shape that's been used by City post-break against teams that use a back five has been a 2-2-6. On paper, the six creates an overload against the back five. Whereas the 2-3-5 that has also been commonly used by City would not. Furthermore, it also facilitated the use of overlapping fullbacks on either flank. As Walker and Mendy would both be positioned high and wide.
Due to the narrowness of their shape, there was a lot of space for the fullbacks. Unfortunately for the cup holders, Mendy and Walker would combine for one chance created between them. As the ball would take too long to be circulated between players, the defending wingback would have time to engage and stop the early cross.
Limiting influence of forwards
Manchester City's positional play and passing patterns produce some of the best football in Europe. Penetrating defensive blocks and slicing through defensive lines through their technical midfielders. Within the middle third, David Silva would be given the license to roam from space to space, connecting passing sequences together, initiating positional rotations, and attempt to create numerical advantages in midfield. With the gunner's playing a midfield two, this seemed like a nightmare on paper as most would assume they've be overwhelmed in this space throughout the 90 minutes. Early on, we saw it in practice, as De Bruyne drops to relieve in front of the first line of pressure, Sterling drags Ceballos away. Opening space for Silva to drop into the left half-space and create a 3v2 in midfield as well as a vertical passing angle for Laporte.
Arteta's team would make these rare scenarios rather than common ones like we've seen in past meetings. When Sterling would drop into the third line alongside Silva to receive a pass within the left half-space he'd collapsed upon due to the compactness of Arsenal's shape. Undoubtedly by design as Pep has described this zone of the pitch as "undefendable" and targets it through his tactics in an attempt to progress the ball through vertical passing angles.
Potential player of the season, Kevin De Bruyne was positioned in a deeper role in the midfield two. In theory, he could act in pulling the strings rather than be the one executing the final pass. Silva would attempt to create space for Mahrez on the right by making decoy movements to disorient players marking, but similarly to on the left space in central zones was not optimal to play through. All-in-all preventing Manchester City from getting the ball to their forwards in advanced positions.
At the Emirates on the first day of the Premier League restart, Ederson was a highly influential player. Using his excellent vision and ball skills to shred apart Arsenal's press. When playing out the back on the day they'd look to utlize the Brazilian as a weapon in possession again. This time, testing his passing range with long passes attempting to bypass their first two lines of pressure to a forward in-behind the double pivot.
Most of the time this was Mahrez moving inside. But his lack of physicality would be no match in these aerial duels up against the likes of David Luiz who would rush out the equal the numbers in midfield and win the first ball.
Pep changes tactics
Going into half time 1-0 down, Pep Guardiola would decide to change his teams in possession system. Changing to a 3-1-6, with Kyle Walker acting as an auxiliary center back. When progressing through the middle third they now found more success as they deployed a diamond shape rather than a box. With Sterling at the tip of this diamond, De Bruyne, and Silva would try to spread Ceballos and Xhaka apart, and with great success. This way opening more space through the center for Sterling to recieve a pass from the center backs.
This allowed De Bruyne to be positioned in a more advanced area. Pep and his staff would've hoped that pushing the playmaker forward could get him to break open the Gunner's defense. Due to the congestion of bodies through the middle he would be mostly found floating around the wide spaces. He would create nine chances throughout the match. Including one of their best chances. Silva makes a run into the interior channel and Sterling follows into space he vacates. De Bruyne, from free space on the left, sees it all happening and can make a pass into Sterling.
With so many players pushed forward, and the opposition pushed so far back the defenders largely acted as a midfield would. Circulating the ball side to side and initiating passing sequences from deep. When they'd carry the ball past the first line of pressure however they'd be closed down and left with limited and predictable passing options. With how commonly the forwards allowed the defenders to carry forward, it's only fair to assume it was instructed and if so a very smart way to constrain space and force the opposition play wide from Arteta. If it was Garcia who dribbled inside like below, you always knew he was going to pass out to the right due to him being dominantly right-footed.
Despite having an xG of 1.7, Manchester City could not carve out clear cut chances consistently enough to score. It could be argued that the number of players in advanced positions at times over-occupied the central zones which lead to a lack of fluidity when moving the ball in the attacking third. But this should not take away from the Gunner's performance.
Mikel Arteta will be very proud of his team's performance especially from a defensive standpoint they were truly remarkable. As we saw the spacing between defenders out of possession created a harash enviorment between the lines for the opposition. On the contrary, to former games, their play in attacking transition looked sharp and direct. Players quickly moved the ball forward and made runs around it leading to lethal passing sequences.
Some might argue that Arsenal's 0.7 xG makes them undeserved winners, but there were a lot of positives to take away from their performance and their tactics as we saw during this match analysis. In the end, they'd book their return to Wembley and their first victory against Manchester City since 2017.