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The midfield imbalance which ruined Mikel Arteta’s vision for the perfect antidote to Man City

Mikel Arteta returned to the hot-seat with a major task on his hands at Manchester City.

So far during the 38-year-old’s spell in charge of the club, he has been very clear in his actions, from his presence in the media, his ambitions in the transfer market and most importantly, how the side play. Since his arrival, there has been a undoubted upturn in the organisation of the team and manner in which they play both with and without the ball.

For the most part, Arteta had turned Arsenal into the protagonists Unai Emery so frequently claimed he would. Heading to the Etihad Stadium knowing the Gunners were without a win their since January 2015, ahead of kick off, his change in approach was reminiscent of that memorable 2-0 win.

With the match going far from what was planned, football.london dive into the way Arteta set Arsenal up, the intentions behind that and why it didn’t work out.

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Mikel Arteta’s initial plans

Looking back to Arsenal’s previous meeting with Manchester City in December, the main problem was in midfield. Too often, Kevin de Bruyne was able to pick the ball up deep in his own half an burst forward as if he was an unstoppable combustion engine. Each time he drove up the Emirates pitch, it felt like it was going to result in an away goal.

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The midfield that was blown away that day consisted of a Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira double pivot with Mesut Ozil as the No.10. Despite all three being very talented, they didn’t mix well as a trio as the distances between themselves were much to far apart and the indecisiveness on the day helped the Belgian run the game.

Although Arteta has predominantly played with the same 4-2-3-1 system, he has fixed the issue of spacing in the Arsenal midfield with Granit Xhaka slipping in on the left and Dani Ceballos roaming around the right side of the pitch. Weary of the damage de Bruyne can cause, however, opting to change to a 4-3-3 with Xhaka anchoring Guendouzi and Joe Willock appeared to be a way to restrict the space he had to operate in.

In possession, Xhaka would have continued the ‘quarterback’ role he has impressed in to release Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Bukayo Saka down the wings. Out of possession, Guendouzi and Willock would shuttle back and forth to ensure he wouldn’t become isolated but also close off the half spaces where City’s midfielders love to drift into.

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When Xhaka was forced off due to his injury, the plan didn’t appear to change, and although it may have seemed to be the way forward on paper, it left Arsenal open to be exploited more.

Why these plans were counterproductive (Without possession)

Following Xhaka’s departure, it was Guendouzi who shifted to the base of midfield with Willock and Ceballos either side of him. Considering how…