Arsenal v Manchester City

Scouting Report - Manchester City

Before every Arsenal fixture, we'll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners' next opponents.

Arsene Wenger's side take on Manchester City at Emirates Stadium, to find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox and journalist Stuart Brennan.

Since Manchester City’s evolution into genuine Premier League title challengers, this hasn’t been a particularly exciting fixture - the previous four meetings between Arsenal and City at the Emirates have seen just three goals.

However, City are now a more adventurous side under Manuel Pellegrini, and Saturday's match will be packed with creative potential and attacking talent.

Pellegrini hasn’t significantly changed the shape of the side since succeeding Roberto Mancini. He’s generally used a 4-4-2 formation, a shape that Sergio Aguero forces City to play, as he needs to be fielded up front alongside a big target man, Alvaro Negredo or Edin Dzeko.

"Pellegrini has attempted to solve this problem by playing a high defensive line, but the centre backs have often looked uncomfortable with this system"

Michael Cox

However, City’s movement has improved under Pellegrini, with the forwards often making clever ‘reverse’ runs towards the flanks when the wide players drift in, retaining width and stretching the opposition.

In the absence of Aguero, Pellegrini has modified his formation and played a 4-2-3-1. This features Samir Nasri and David Silva rotating positions, drifting across the pitch freely, often helping to overload the opposition in the full-back positions. Nasri is careful and reliable in possession, with Silva more likely to attempt penetrative through-balls.

Despite a plethora of attacking options, City’s top league goalscorer is Yaya Toure, who registered the first hat-trick of his career in the 5-0 thrashing of Fulham last week, and has suddenly developed the ability to score brilliant direct free-kicks.

He loves charging forward on the ball powerfully from deep central midfield positions and can utterly dominate matches – although the attack-minded nature of his role means City can be exposed in midfield when moves break down. Fernandinho has enjoyed a fine campaign as the more cautious midfielder, but he’s not naturally a holding player and City can concede too much space between the lines, allowing opposition attacking midfielders freedom.

Pellegrini has attempted to solve this problem by playing a high defensive line, but the centre backs have often looked uncomfortable with this system. Both Martin Demichelis and Vincent Kompany have been sent off in recent weeks for denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, and playing so high up the pitch means their decision-making needs to be excellent.

At full back, Pablo Zabaleta is a good all-rounder - positionally reliable and aggressive going forward, while at left back Gael Clichy and Aleksandar Kolarov have both featured. Arsenal need no introduction to Clichy, who continues to impress with his anticipation skills and reliability, but Kolarov has been preferred - partly because of his superb crossing and set-piece ability.

It's been an incredible season for Manchester City so far, not just in terms of chasing trophies, but the quality of the football that the fans have been treated to as well.

In terms of the Premier League, you would always prefer to have the points in the bag than the games in hand at this point of the season. Going into the recent derby match, there was probably a bit of doubt among City supporters because they have got some tough away games to come, with trips to Anfield and Goodison Park in addition to the game at the Emirates. The way they set about their work at Old Trafford has filled everyone with confidence that they can win it. Saturday's game is big and if they come through that with a win, I think the title could definitely be in.

"Toure is extremely important - for me, he's the No 1, the stand-out player"

Stuart Brennan

City have a team that have been through a title run-in before. Chelsea have too but Liverpool haven't. When it gets to this stage of the season, you look to the big players in the dressing room for guidance and leadership. City are stocked up with those, with the likes of Vincent Kompany and Yaya Toure having done it all before, along with most of the squad. They know what it takes and what the couple of months holds. Toure is extremely important - for me, he's the No 1, the stand-out player.

It could be a great game on Saturday. Arsenal have had a couple of bad results but they are still a terrific team with many good players. They are an attacking team so it could be a good, open and entertaining game. Mind you, last time I said that, it ended up as a dull 0-0 so hopefully that won't happen again!

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