Saturday, October 7, 2023

Mikel Arteta must follow Arsenal striker blueprint against Man City with brave team decision

Arsenal’s record against Manchester City has been abysmal in recent years. The Gunners have failed to record a Premier League win over the Citizens since December 2015 – before Pep Guardiola had even arrived at the Etihad Stadium.

If Mikel Arteta wants to compete for the league title this term, that run needs to end this weekend when his side welcome City to the Emirates Stadium. Last season, the Citizens won 4-1 at home and 3-1 away against the north London outfit, although the two English heavyweights played out a 1-1 draw back in August during the Community Shield – which Arsenal eventually won on penalties.


That match saw Arteta deploy summer signing Kai Havertz upfront, a position that he hasn’t played since, with the German international utilised in a deeper role since then. The former Chelsea playmaker has struggled in midfield, often letting the game pass him by whilst struggling to create any meaningful opportunities when he does get time on the ball.


But Sunday’s highly-anticipated clash is the chance to show his undeniable talent, especially if he is used further forward. In the Community Shield, Arsenal regularly played it long to the 24-year-old given his aerial strengths.



City’s suffocating press could be bypassed because of his prowess in the air, a trait that goes slightly underrated when Havertz’s attributes are discussed. In fact, Havertz boasted a 57.2% success rate in aerial duels last season, as per fbref, ranking higher than the likes of Tomas Soucek, Harry Maguire and Ivan Toney in the same category.


When the Gunners welcomed Pep Guardiola’s men to the Emirates last season, the away side frequently played a long game themselves, a clever tactic to disrupt the Gunners’ man-to-man pressing structure. Guardiola’s side registered just 36% possession that day, the lowest of the Spaniard’s tenure with the club but it was effective because of Erling Haaland’s ability to get on the end of his teammates’ long balls.


“Erling helped us a lot because being man-to-man against them, so aggressive, the only man free is the keeper and of course long balls against (William) Saliba and Gabriel (Magalhaes) is not easy,” Guardiola said after the game. “He used his power to win those balls, to make runs afterwards, and that’s why we won the game.”


Arsenal gave City a taste of their own medicine at Wembley, often playing a more direct game to Havertz, impressing Arteta in the process. “He was superb,” the Spaniard said of the versatile playmaker after the match.

“The way he pressed and how intelligent he is to try and understand certain spaces and the timing, he was great and got in great positions to score. He was unlucky not to score but he was very physical when he needed to be.


“I was very pleased with him.” On Sunday, there will be times when the Gunners are struggling in the build-up phase, with a long ball their only option.


Considering the likes of Ruben Dias and Josko Gvardiol are very strong in the air, it makes sense for Havertz to be the one battling with them.

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