Manchester City thrashed Arsenal 6-3 at the Etihad this past weekend, but what did we learn from the game?
Let's take a look:
Arsenal have a soft centre
For all of Arsene Wenger’s attacking play this season and his statement that Arsenal are more resilient in defence, Saturday’s encounter proved that Arsenal still lack the Patrick Vieira-type of player that gives a team its steely edge.
The silky skills of Arsenal’s forays upfront have tended to gloss over the lack of a distinctively cast-iron edge needed when a team is under the cosh. Put simply, Wenger needs a specialist destroyer as a bodyguard to his excellent attacking players. The fragility was best epitomised by Mesut Ozil who faded badly as the match wore on and was then berated by his Germany teammate Per Mertesacker for not showing more guts.
Wenger has more than half a season to fix things but his team have shown a worrying capitulation in both heavy and narrow defeats in Manchester this season.
City have the best attack in the league
Manuel Pellegrini’s side out-attacked the Gunners in an encounter featuring probably the two most potent sides in the league. From the Spanish armada of Jesus Navas, David Silva and Alvaro Negredo to the Latin American influence of Sergio Aguero and Fernandinho as well as Samir Nasri and Yaya Toure, City regularly cut Arsenal’s defence to ribbons in a relentless display of attacking prowess that sent a tremor through the entire league.
The little-and-large combination of Aguero and Negredo will now scare the living daylights out of any team visiting the Etihad Stadium. Poor Nacho Monreal endured an afternoon to forget and was shown to be exactly the player he is – a reserve player.
When you factor in City’s comprehensive rout of neighbours Manchester United and the annihilation of Tottenham Hotspur with a further 10 goals in those two games, you shudder to think what could be in store for all teams yet to go to east Manchester.
City have the most balanced midfield in the league
Cote d’ Ivoire international Yaya Toure has to be the most complete midfielder in the English Premiership. He possesses a unique balance of skill, power, poise and grace and is a towering throwback to a bygone era (read Vieira, Makelele, Keane and Dessaily) when such midfielders were a regular occurrence.
Probably only Arturo Vidal of Juventus may lay a claim to being on par with the Ivorian powerhouse in being a complete midfielder. However, City’s game suffered a lot last season as the African had no foil in midfield and when City needed his lung-bursting runs into enemy territory, he could not provide them consistently for lack of a partner who would complement him. Enter Brazilian Fernandinho in 2013. The ex-Shaktar Donetsk player has enabled Toure to venture forward in the knowledge that someone is there to protect City’s often fragile defence and the way in which the duo swapped offensive and defensive positions was a lesson to many a manager, including Luis Felipe Scolari.
His two goals and commanding performance just about edged his teammate for man-of-the-match honours and surely Scolari cannot continue to overlook him for the Selecao, particularly with Sandro’s recent injury woes. Even then, he has been performing better than his Spurs compatriot, if the truth be told.
With Nasri back to his best and the nippy Silva quickly coming to the fore, the Citizens midfield quartet has the best balance and Pellegrini’s headache is to see City perform just as well away.
City Can still improve
For all their much vaunted home form, Manchester City still need to improve. Their defence has tended to rely heavily on skipper Vincent Kompany and though Pellegrini tends to favour Martin Demichelis, the jury is still out on his effectiveness as he seemed to be the weak link at the back.
Arsenal’s first goal was a tad too soft to concede and Walcott’s was given all the time in the world for his second. In Germany in the UEFA Champions League, Bayern Munich scored two quick goals in the first 20 minutes and had that been the business end of the competition, it would be hard to imagine the Bavarians losing that game.
City’s swashbuckling displays in forward areas has masked some of their lack of defensive discipline and though attack is the best form of defence, Pellegrini may need to adjust his side tactics when playing some of the continent’s better sides, particularly with a certain Barcelona set to visit in the Champions league in February. Their mostly cavalier approach at home may need to be tempered with a collective resoluteness in defence.
Pellegrini still needs to decide on his first choice goalkeeper and though Joe Hart has paid the price for a series of blunders earlier in the season, giant keeper Costel Pantilimon is still to effectively make the starting spot his own.
It's not all gloom and doom for Arsenal
Arsene Wenger would have taken his team’s current position if he had been offered, if not the mauling at the hands of City. His team still leads the pack and though the doubters will again be sharpening their pencils, the Frenchman has adequate time to fix the problem areas and he will want to quickly forget this game in a hurry and regard it as a mere aberration.
A lack of depth has been cited, especially in the full back and the central defensive positions but Wenger’s main problem has to be the lack of a specialist anchorman. Mathieu Flamini’s return has gone some way in rectifying the problem, but it must be remembered that the ex-AC Milan man was not a real anchor when he initially arrived in north London but more of an all-rounder.
Can Abou Diaby fulfil this role? This is highly doubtful considering his regular spell on the treatment table and Wenger may need to ask the board to dip into the transfer market in the next window to properly fortify his team’s title charge.
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