Why, despite Pep’s love of width, the key to beating Man City may lie Centrally

In the coming days a lot will be written about how Arsenal should approach the Caribou Cup Final against Manchester City. Despite their recent loss to Wigan, they are still the most in-form team in England and arguably the best team in the world. I’d predict that the consensus for Arsenal’s strategies to be successful according to others are as follows:

  • Dealing with the Manchester City press and general ball security
  • Playing direct while limiting slow build-up play
  • Defending as a team while maintaining an off the ball shape
  • Limiting De Bruyne and Silva finding space between the lines
  • Neutralize the threat posed by City wingers (e.g. Sane, Sterling, B. Silva)

We all know about City’s relentless and unwavering commitment to width. This is no secret. Pep wants his wingers to stay wide in order to stretch defenses and open up area centrally. Take for example this pass from De Bruyne against us last December where he doesn’t even need to look to know Sterling’s positioning for the field change:


Oftentimes, in tactics columns and videos there is a heavy emphasis on the overloading of wide areas. Having a numerical advantage on the flank can reap many rewards including isolating attackers on full backs, getting players to the byline for crosses/cutbacks, and opening up central areas for playmakers or late third man runs.

If my footballing upbringing taught me anything it’s that quick central touches are the best way to get meaningful outside touches. A key feature of Pep’s positional play philosophy at City is to overload central areas and halfspaces in an effort to collapse defenders and get advanced attackers into space. These areas are referred to as “high priority areas” where the largest variety of passing angles and interplay options exist.

The red indicates “high priority areas” to exploit on Pep’s positional play grid

What I will especially be looking for on Sunday is how we deal with City’s central interplay that eventually leads to field changes or City attackers being released in behind. I believe the main key to the match is how Arsenal defends its central midfield areas.

Ramsey back in training but will he be back in centre?

This example shows how just one central touch can collapse multiple defenders and lead to a change of field. Now the opposition is forced to shift and defend a wide playmaker in space:


The following example shows multiple central triangles and just the threat of width to eventually open up space for Silva to run between the RB and CB, thus creating a goal scoring opportunity:


Finally, this clip shows how the threat of multiple midfield options can attract defenders and allow for off-the-ball movement in other areas. The attention paid to Silva makes it easier for space to open up for Sterling’s run:


How Arsenal deal with these central overloads and defending of halfspaces will have a huge impact on their ability to succeed this weekend. Given our defensive frailties and apparent struggle to stay “switched on” for the entirety of 90 minutes this seems a tall task on paper.  Let’s hope our boys in red and white can keep a good defensive shape, maintain healthy defensive distances with teammates, and not allow multiple defenders to get sucked in by central touches. Enjoy the match and COYG!

Follow me on Twitter @dfresh10

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One Response to Why, despite Pep’s love of width, the key to beating Man City may lie Centrally

  1. Peter February 24, 2018 at 11:25 am #

    Boys in red and red (and red), no? 😉

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