How Should Manchester City Line up Against Arsenal on Sunday?

A beleaguered Manchester City have a lot to play for, against Arsenal this Sunday, as they will be aiming to put their 2016/17 campaign back on track after what has been a tough 76-day period since the 2-0 defeat at White Hart Lane.

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The reason I say “beleaguered Manchester City” is because they are indeed without three of their most indispensable personnel who are among the first names on the teamsheet when fit.

And Pep Guardiola, speaking in his customary pre-match press conference ahead of Sunday’s showdown with Arsenal, confirmed that a total of five players are unavailable for selection: Fabian Delph (groin injury), Fernandinho (serving the last of his three-game suspension), Ilkay Gundogan (cruciate knee ligament injury), Sergio Aguero (serving a four-game suspension), and Vincent Kompany (knee ligament damage).

Owing to the absences of three of the aforementioned quintet—Fernandinho, Gundogan and Aguero—and the threat carried by Arsenal’s pacey attackers, Guardiola has a couple of major selection calls to make.

According to Cricfooty,

The Manchester City manager should, ideally, set his side up in the 4-1-4-1 system, which was integral to the Blues’ blistering start to the ongoing campaign. The 1-2 victory in the 172nd Manchester Derby is a prime example of City’s dynamism whilst being deployed in the 4-1-4-1 system by their manager.

A team lining up in the 4-1-4-1 system can switch to the 4-2-3-1 system as well, instantly, by having one of the two advanced midfielders drop alongside the solitary pivot, also known as regista, who is often a good passer and who can build up play from a deep-lying position. So, City, if they line up in the 4-1-4-1 system, will have flexibility to switch between systems.

Now, Aleksandar Kolarov has featured regularly in the Manchester City starting XI this season, at the start of which the Serbian was expected to be shipped out by Guardiola and linked with a move to Besiktas as well. But, taking into consideration Kolarov’s considerable lack of pace and how that aspect of his saw him get badly exposed by the fleet-footed Jamie Vardy and Riyad Mahrez, I will not include him in my starting XI if I was Guardiola.

I will bring in the so far error-prone John Stones for Kolarov and stick with Gael Clichy, who started Manchester City’s game against Watford on Wednesday night. Clichy is pacier in comparison to Kolarov and with Theo Walcott expected to play on Arsenal’s right, Clichy is just the kind of left-back City need.

This is the solitary change I will make to my backline, from the one which featured against the Hornets on Wednesday night, for Sunday’s clash against Arsenal. Claudio Bravo, who kept his third clean sheet in his 13th Premier League appearance this season, against Walter Mazzarri’s men, should retain his place in goal.

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The engine room is where Guardiola has to pay a lot of attention to, before handing over the teamsheet to the match officials.

In Fernandinho and Gundogan’s absences due to suspension and injury, respectively, Fernando Reges, who has fared fairly well this season and is currently the only out-and-out defensive midfielder available to play, should be included in Manchester City’s starting XI v Arsenal this Sunday. This is a good opportunity for Fernando to show that he is capable of filling the void left by his pal, Fernandinho.

Gundogan’s absence, in particular, has made a midfield position vacant for Yaya Toure to slot permanently into and deliver the goods. He started alongside the now injured German midfielder on Wednesday and played as the deepest lying midfielder in Manchester City’s 4-2-3-1 formation. In the 4-1-4-1, he will not have as much of a defensive responsibility as in 4-2-3-1, and playing as one of the two advanced midfielders, Toure will have the freedom to get forward and cause havoc.

Learn:

Why Toure Might Not Have Found a Permanent Place in the Starting Line-up if Gundogan was fit?

David Silva had a pretty ordinary game on Wednesday, when he was making his 200th appearance for Manchester City, one of the evidences for which was his 82% pass completion rate. Guardiola, who is not afraid of making a big call for a big game (justified by his dropping Aguero to the bench for Manchester City’s clash against Barcelona at the Camp Nou), can actually relegate Silva to the bench and bring in a fleet-footed winger as Leroy Sane. The German winger is very good in 1v1s and had a brilliant game against Chelsea a fortnight back.

If I was Guardiola, this is the second change I will make to my starting XI for Sunday’s meeting with Arsenal. This change in personnel will allow Kevin de Bruyne to be played through the middle, more precisely alongside Toure, and the Belgian’s forte is his positional flexibility.

Sane, who in my opinion has been under-utilised by Guardiola, can be played on the left or right and his and Raheem Sterling’s blistering pace will keep the Arsenal fullbacks, Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, honest, with the 30-year-old Monreal not as pacey as his compatriot on the opposite flank.

Manuel Agudo Duran (Nolito), as he did for much of the game against the Hornets, can play as an out-and-out striker.

Closing Thoughts

As you can see, Manchester City, without Fernandinho and Aguero, two of their hugely influential players, are not the same force and Arsenal will feel that if they defend well, their current five-game unbeaten run against the Cityzens can be extended.

And, as far as Sunday’s hosts are concerned, they need the players who will be replacing the aforementioned duo and Yaya Toure, to step up to the plate and deliver. If they do and City beat Arsenal, Guardiola’s men will receive a significant boost in confidence. So, a major incentive is on offer for the Blues.

Number of days since Manchester City last beat Arsenal: 1099 (three years and three days). 

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