It was a frantic Premier League weekend two weeks ago, as Manchester United lost 6-1 at home to Tottenham, while their Merseyside rivals, Liverpool, did them one better by losing away 7-2 to Aston Villa. The two big losses snatched away a lot of the spotlight from the other good results from that weekend, two of them being; Arsenal’s win over Sheffield to keep their strong run going, and Leeds holding Manchester City to a draw at Elland road.

In this analysis, we take a look at the possible tactics both Arteta and Guardiola could employ in the match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad on 17-10-2020. This is the tactical preview of Manchester City vs Arsenal.


Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics

Ederson will start in goal for Manchester City, with Benjamin Mendy, Aymeric Laporte, Ruben Dias, and Kyle Walker starting ahead of him from left to right respectively.

Rodri will be starting in the defensive midfield position, with Kevin De Bruyne and Bernardo Silva starting as 8s ahead of him.

Because of the unavailability of both their first-choice strikers, City will probably continue with Sterling, Mahrez and Torres upfront from left to right respectively completing the line-up for Man City.

Bernd Leno will start in goal, with Kieran Tierney, Gabriel, David Luiz, and Hector Bellerin starting ahead of him from left to right respectively.

Thomas Partey and Mohammed Elneny will start in the double pivot ahead of the defence.

Bukayo Saka, Dani Ceballos and Willian start ahead of them from left to right respectively.

Pierre Emerick Aubameyang starts in the number 9 role completing the Arsenal Lineup.

City will look to cut through Arsenal every chance they get

This could arguably be the worst start to a season for Guardiola at Manchester City, if not in his entire coaching career as his side sit in the bottom half of the table three games into the season. A win at wolves was a convincing one, but what followed next, would highlight the reason why City couldn’t go on to complete their hattrick, as Vardy and his Leicester side dismantled the 18/19 champions at home highlighting their need to find a Kompany replacement.

The next game away to Leeds was a matchup of two tactical idealists as Bielsa went up against his alleged successor in Guardiola. One of the few matches highlighted at the start of the season, as one of the best in the upcoming season. An open and tight game in different respects, as the two tactical set-ups aimed to derail the other, which explained why it was going to be an open game. As City came away with a draw, Guardiola would be fuming, as he needs to find a way to make his team unbeatable in a season where the lower sides are looking extremely like to pack a big punch.

Like any other Guardiola side, he always sets his team up in a 4-3-3 to play one of the most fluid systems in football. One of the pioneers of the pressing game, his teams have been known to tactically press their opponents into making an error from which his teams look to double down on. Their pressing intensity has been very good as they have maintained as average passes per defensive action (PPDA) per 90 at 9.76. City press on the front foot, and all over the pitch, but smartly as they look for opportunities to isolate and capitalize on any potential errors. They retain the ball very well as they continue to push for a possession heavy set up frustrating and drawing the players out of position, luring them in like a cuttlefish.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
Their frontfoot play allows them to maintain pressure on opposition.

The midfield seems to be gaining the balance it has been looking for since last season as Rodri has started to settle in convincingly at the base of midfield. With options like Foden, Silva, Gundogan competing for a place alongside the un-droppable KDB. Kevin has been playing as a creative 8 but also steps up as a 10 whenever he finds the opportunity, but usually sits around the halfway line when City are developing play from deep, only arriving late in and around the box to be a threat from the mistakes and clearances. His physicality and passing are one of the key reasons why not many people have found a way to mark him out of a game.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
Ederson steps up to act as an extra defender when the two centre-backs are the only players behind.

The defence still needs time to adjust, as Dias may need a bit of time to settle in comfortably alongside Laporte. With the left-back position still under surgery as Pep still hasn’t found his first choice, playing close to 6 different players in that position since his arrival. The full-backs overlap very often, as it allows City to lock the opposition in their half, as they tend to stay quite high, even when the play is developing to open a running and passing opportunity. Ederson usually plays as a third centre back when the rest of the team pushes up, looking to clean up and provide an extra man when defending. The whole team aids in defensive duties as they aim to get the ball back quickly and hit the opposition on the counter.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
The wide players maintain width even when defending.

City set up in a very wide and compact set-up as it allows many one on one opportunities to isolate their opponents and get the better of them. With runners out wide, both the full-backs and wingers to look to run at defenders and get closer to the byline for a cutback and late arrivals into the box. The players match intelligence allows the team to successfully switch formations in-game to get through a phase. They are susceptible to quick counter-attacks as they get too involved in ramming the opposition, many players are left out of position to get back in place in time.

Arsenal are decent defensively, but their attack is what they depend on the most

Arsenal look a side rejuvenated under Mikel Arteta, as they sit pretty in fourth with 4 wins in 3. Their business in the transfer window has been nothing short of a masterstroke. The disciple of his next opponent, Arteta was assistant to Guardiola since he took charge at city back in 2016, only leaving back in the middle of 19/20 season to take charge of his current side, Arsenal.

He has had a revolutionary impact, as arsenal look a side that now has the vision and the capacity to go a mile further than the previous two managers after Wenger departed in 2018. The side looks tactically adept, and their recruitment matches the faith the board has put in him, signing in almost every position he had marked out at the start of the season. With players like Gabriel, Ceballos, Willian, and Partey joining the club, and many others departing as Arteta continues his rebuild.

His set-up is similarly different to what Guardiola has been building around his clubs over the years. Smart press, possession heavy, silky football with a solid defence to back the fluid attack. Although there are still a lot of tweaks and adjustments that need to be made, for Mikel to successfully emulate Guardiola, it looks like he is on the right path. With the 4-2-3-1 formation, it allows flexibility to his side to switch and endure different spells of the game in different aspects.

As his defence hasn’t fully come into the mould he expects them to, his side usually creates a back three, with one of the pivots dropping in as the third centre-backs, and the other pivot playing as a deep-lying playmaker or a box to box midfielder. There is still a lot of work to be done in defence, but it should sort itself out over the next couple of years, as they’ve two of the brightest prospects at centre-back in Saliba (right-footed) and Gabriel (left-footed), as they had already brought in Tierney last season at left-back who can play both wing-backs as well as centre-back and adds a dynamic that Arsenal seemed to have been missing for a very long time. They’ve Bellerin down the right-hand side who has been at the club for almost 10 years now.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
Everyone falls in behind the ball to aid their teammates in defending.

Arsenal set up in a compact shape and everyone gets behind the ball to defend as a unit and engaging in a press, only when the opposition have played themselves into trouble in their half, and engage in front foot press close to the opposition penalty area. The full-backs usually provide the width in attack, as the wingers tuck in and play in the channels to flood the midfield in attack. One of the defensive midfielders plays as a destroyer and is usually sitting alongside the centre-backs in defence and acts as a ball carrier.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
The full-backs push up, and one of the two DMs, drops in along the centre-backs while the other stays just ahead of them.

Their attack is stacked and primed, as they’ve options in every department, and on the bench, and the players on the team sheet are also capable of interchanging in-game to get at their opposition in a different and potentially successful manner. And a defensively aiding forward line is always a plus point for any team, with Arsenal forwards happy to chip in defensively to get the better of their opponent.

Premier League 2020/21: Manchester City vs Arsenal - tactical preview - tactics
The wingers tuck in and stay close to the striker in the channel while the full-backs provide width.

But their defence still needs time to adjust as they’re capable of being caught out and are open to being cut through the middle of the pitch if their opposition has the quality to do it. With the possession heavy gameplan, they’ve no problem patiently waiting for an opening rather than going at their opponents with a gung-ho approach. The lack of creativity is a problem for them, as they don’t have an out and out creator in the middle of the park, and will have to rely on the brilliance of their forwards.


A battle of the two tiki-taka virtuosos, it is one of the few season deciding games, even at this stage, as it could be a springboard, or a roadblock for either or both the teams, as they look to build on their contrasting start to the 20/21 season. With an average XG of 1.89 and 1.4 for Man City and Arsenal respectively, it indicates the lack of potency that their teams have been enduring this season so far in the league.