1. Arsene Wenger has not lost his tactical nous
It was quite unexpected for all football fans that Wenger had a trick up his sleeve for this away game. Arsenal fans did not have too much hope for this game, and pundits, like Gary Neville, were condemning Arsenal before the game had even started. Based on history, it was easy to see why, but after watching the game, people were pleasantly surprised by Wenger’s tactics.
After conceding 17 goals in 3 away games at the Etihad Stadium, Anfield and Stamford Bridge last season, which was the difference between 4th place and winning the league for Arsenal, Wenger took a leaf out of, his rival manager, Jose Mourinho’s book and ‘parked the bus’.
Wenger has been criticised for being too open and predictable against rival oppositions, however, on Sunday, this was not the case. Manchester City’s attacks and chances were limited through the solid defensive performance that Wenger orchestrated through his choice of tactics.
By positioning Francis Coquelin as a vital defence mechanism in front of the four defenders, David Silva was unable to work his usual magic. With the pace, drive and flair of his other midfielders, Wenger played with a counter-attack philosophy, in order to expose Manchester City, as well as minimise their attacks.
Arsenal invited pressure from Manchester City, and then swiftly counter-attacked them, in a Mourinho-esque fashion, which, as we have all seen in the past, has worked successfully in tough away fixtures. Wenger has lost the confidence of his fans in recent years, but this weekend has shown that he can adapt in tough away fixtures. If he carries this belief forward, while making a couple of important defensive signings this window, it will help him gain the fans support again.
2. Francis Coquelin is not going down without a fight
Arsenal fans have been calling for Wenger to sign a defensive midfielder for years, especially since this past summer transfer window. After the away day demolitions that cost Arsenal the league title last year, fans and pundits have both expressed their desire for Wenger to bring in a defensive midfielder. Long gone are the days when Arsenal had a midfielder that could successfully intimidate an opposition, like Patrick Vieira or Gilberto Silva did. However, no fan realised that the potential answer had been at the club the whole time, in the form of 23 year-old, Francis Coquelin.
Recalled from the Championship draw specialists, Charlton Athletic, Wenger took a risk in starting Coquelin at Manchester City due to injuries to Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta. Coquelin played the best game of his Arsenal career, sitting deep and restricting David Silva’s creativity, as well as not being afraid to shout at his teammates, showing his leadership qualities.
Coquelin played the defensive midfielder role brilliantly, with a disciplined performance. By proving himself on the highest stage, away at the reigning champions, Coquelin has shown Wenger and the Arsenal fans that he is not one of the fans who wants Wenger to sign a new defensive midfielder. Coquelin’s contract expires this summer, but he is reportedly being offered an extension to this, much to the delight of Arsenal fans who tuned into the Manchester City game, many of who believe that he is the solution to Arsenal’s defensive midfielder problems.
3. Mesut Ozil has to prove his worth to regain his place in the starting eleven
Arsenal’s £42.5 million signing started his career at the club by bringing great belief to the team and fans, after a disappointing home defeat to Aston Villa in the opening game of the season. His influence saw the club bounce back from this defeat, as it created a confidence within the squad, which led to Arsenal’s most successful season since 2005, winning their first piece of silverware in 9 seasons.
However, Ozil seemed to suffer from fatigue in the second half of the season, looking tired and weak, which could have been due to the lack of a winter break. His dip in form and injuries has led to a media attack on him and a seeming loss of self-confidence on the pitch. This season, he shone in the number 10 position against Aston Villa, but then suffered a 3 month injury against Chelsea in October.
During this time of injury, Santi Cazorla has proved his worth in the number 10 position for the Gunners, picking up Arsenal’s December player of the month. Against Manchester City, he picked up the man of the match award and played one of his best games in an Arsenal shirt, questioning whether Ozil will be able to slot straight back into the starting eleven. I hope that Wenger does not feel the need to push either Ozil or Cazorla in a wide position in order to accommodate both, but chooses his eleven on form, which means that Ozil will have to prove himself to regain his place in the number 10 position.
4. Arsenal Spanish speaking players starred
Everyone watching the Premier League this season is in awe of the quality that Chilean superstar, Alexis Sanchez, has brought to the league and Arsenal squad. However, against Manchester City, his Spanish-speaking colleagues also proved themselves to the fans, with four others on show. Colombian goalkeeper, David Ospina, was brought in after starring in the World Cup, as a back-up for Wojciech Szczesny.
Due to Szczesny’s recent form, Ospina was given a chance in the first team and is showing Wenger why he should be starting every week. Quickly becoming a fan’s favourite, as they have already created a chant for him, Ospina has not conceded yet in his two league appearances. The two Spanish full-backs, Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin, played very well, with a brilliant balance of attack and defence.
Monreal has been criticised this season by fans as not good enough for Arsenal, as he has played centre-back due to Wenger’s lack of defensive additions in the transfer window. However, against City, he was defensively solid and won the vital penalty, as he seemed more comfortable in his natural left-back role.
Similarly, Bellerin offered his attacking and defensive qualities to the game, proving that age is just a number, and he should be the player to replace Mathieu Debuchy while he is injured. Spanish midfielder, Santi Cazorla was exceptional in the game, as he won man of the match, with a goal and an assist. He terrorised the City team, dribbling through them with ease at times, but also put in a hard-working defensive shift. He never stopped running and was the engine in midfield that managed to stand out despite a superb team performance.
5. The confidence from this game needs to be carried through to the end of the season
Arsenal fans are right to be jubilant after the result away at Manchester City, which saw the team beat the reigning Premier League champions for the first time since the 2001/02 season. However, the race for the Champions League spots is still as intense as ever, with all their rival teams winning this weekend. Southampton, Manchester United, Tottenham, West Ham and Liverpool all won on the weekend, which means that Arsenal’s win against Manchester City was vital in their chase for Champions League football. With 7 points separating these 5 teams, the competition levels are high, as Arsenal are 1 point off fourth placed Manchester United, and 3 off third place Southampton. The confidence from this game could spur the Arsenal team on, to finish third this season, which would be an improvement on last season’s fourth place finish.
As key players have come back from injury, the Arsenal squad is looking fuller than ever this season, and depth could be important, as they push for third place. Arsenal still have to face top level teams this season, visiting Tottenham in February, and an important mid-May clash at Manchester United. Luckily, the other matches against teams near to them in the league like Chelsea, Liverpool and West Ham, are at home. However, with Wenger employing unpredictable tactics, the new-look Arsenal side could be one that has a strong finish to the season, gaining a top three finish. This could create confidence for next season, and the foundations that are built now could lead to a real title challenge, subject to a strong start next season, which was not seen this time around.