Arsenal travel to the Etihad on Sunday evening in a bid to close the gap on fourth-placed Chelsea. The hosts, meanwhile, would be wanting to make things right after a listless performance on Tyneside threw their title charge into disarray.
Hence, Arsenal would need to be on guard against a wounded City team when the clock strikes 16:30 in Manchester.
In the past few weeks, Emery has showcased his full repertoire of systems. While the Spaniard adopted a 4-4-2 against Chelsea, he used a narrow 4-3-3 against Cardiff.
Yet, one just feels that the Cityzens would be a different kettle of fish altogether and Emery would need to be at his tactical best if he is to eke out his first victory over Guardiola.
Thus, through this article, we would take a look at three different systems the Spaniard can use to dent City’s title aspirations once and for all.
#3 Three at the back
The first defensive set-up Emery can ponder is three at the back. In the middle phase of the season, the 3-4-3 or 3-5-2 helped Arsenal maraud down the flanks courtesy their wing-backs. The formation also allowed the Gunner’s deadly strike duo, Lacazette and Aubameyang to play in tandem.
The likes of Bellerin and Kolasinac enjoyed the increased attacking freedom with the latter in particular, turning in some strong performances.
Moreover, Xhaka and Torreira were accorded greater security with a third centre back behind them. Hence, the formation worked a charm for a while.
However, the system might not work against City as superbly as it did against some of the other teams.
To start off, City’s full-backs keep bombing forward and with three at the back, Arsenal run the risk of getting outnumbered on the wings. If the central midfielders are shunted out wide to help the defence, that would leave space in the middle for De Bruyne, Silva and Bernardo to exploit.
Additionally, Arsenal lack the appropriate personnel to pull off a ‘three at the back’. Bellerin is out for the season while question marks remain over Maitland-Niles and Koscielny’s fitness. To add to their woes, their Greek warrior, Sokratis isn’t expected to be back until the end of February.
Though the formation has proven to be a viable alternative previously, evidence suggests that Emery might just be better served in not adopting the said system on Sunday.
Yet, with Unai, you just don’t know what he has in store.
#2 Field a conventional 4-3-3
Mid-week, Arsenal played a narrow version of the 4-3-3 with Aubameyang, Ozil and Lacazetteforming the front three. The midfield comprised of a trio of conservative midfielders in Elneny, Guendouzi and Torreira.
However, come Sunday, one can expect Xhaka to replace Elneny and Ozil to surely drop out of the eleven (a cloud over his work-rate remains).
With the said formation, Arsenal would surely be better placed to control the midfield. Yet, they could just leave themselves exposed in the wider areas.
Aubameyang and Iwobi are smashing players on the ball but both possess the tendency to switch off at times without it. Hence, entrusting the pair with stopping Walker and Danilo might just be a tad risky.
Additionally, the Gabonese hasn’t looked very comfortable playing on the right wing with his tendency to cut inside making the Gunners hopelessly narrow on occasions.
The defence too, might not paint as solid a picture with Monreal and Mustafi being the only centre-backs.
The upside though would be that Arsenal get to re-kindle the wonderful partnership between Iwobi and Kolasinac. The Nigerian’s clever movement invariably paves the way for the Bosnian to venture forward and if the latter can improve his end product, it could be a potential goal-scoring avenue.
Hence, all is not doom and gloom with the said system. Yet, the cons might just outweigh the pros a touch.
But, if the Gunners’ notoriously long injury list rids them of the required players, sticking to the 4-3-3 could just prove to be the safer option.
#1 Play with a 4-4-2 diamond
A couple of weeks ago, Emery fielded a 4-4-2 diamond system against Chelsea. A staunch exponent of the 4-3-3 or the 4-2-3-1, the Spaniard’s approach caught everyone off guard but it eventually worked a treat.
Against Chelsea, the 4-4-2 was primarily used to cut off the West Londoners’ supply line, Jorginho. Ramsey was tasked with man-marking the Italian and the Welshman did so expertly.
In addition, Arsenal looked a real menace on the counter-attack with Ramsey, Aubameyang and Lacazette being joined by at least another midfielder.
For the game against City too, Arsenal’s best option could be going in with the same formation. Though the Cityzens aren’t as dependent on Fernandinho as Chelsea is on Jorginho, a lot of City’s play does go through the Brazilian.
Apart from the said aspect, a 4-4-2 would also allow Arsenal to play their triumvirate of Xhaka, Guendouzi and Torreira. While the trio has been criticised for lacking creativity in home games, they would definitely not be out of place in a big away game.
Moreover, the threat of the opposing full-backs could be contained to an extent with the 4-4-2 boasting of the flexibility to turn into a 4-5-1 without the ball.
Though there is hardly a fool-proof plan of getting the better of City, sitting deep, containing them and hitting them on the counter is probably the closest one can get.
The 4-4-2 diamond would allow Arsenal to implement those tactics and it could just turn out to be the difference-maker.
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