Why Arsenal Will Be Chasing the Game Against Manchester City
Arsene Wenger via Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports
Arsenal and Manchester City will square off for the second time in less than a week Thursday. After getting drubbed 3-0 on neutral ground in the Carabao Cup final Sunday, Arsenal gets another shot at the Premier League leaders, this time at home.
But the venue change probably won’t matter.
The reality is that the North London side simply isn’t in the same class as Manchester City, and it’s hard to see how Arsene Wenger’s team will trouble the fire-breathing behemoth that is Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City.
Habitually, people think of the Premier League as fundamentally consisting of two groups of teams: the elite contenders and everybody else. In recent years, that’s broken down into a big six competing for titles and Champions League spots, and 14 other teams vying for crumbs. But that framing obscures just how far ahead of the rest of the top six Manchester City is, and to a lesser extent how far behind Arsenal has fallen.
Manchester City (-145 per Bovada) has a whopping 72 points through 27 games. Arsenal (+365 per Bovada) has 45. That 27-point difference is larger than the difference between Arsenal and 20th-place West Bromwich Albion, which has only 20 points. Arsenal, in sixth place, is closer to dead last than first.
City is not only miles ahead of Arsenal, they’re miles ahead of everybody. The difference between City in first and United in second is 13 points; the difference between United in second and Arsenal in sixth is 14.
There isn’t a big six. There’s a big one, City, and everybody else.
Arsenal, meanwhile, is barely hanging with the five teams ahead of them. They’re perfectly between fifth-place Chelsea and seventh-place Burnley, eight points away from each of them. Keep moving away from Arsenal and the rough symmetry holds. They’re 10 points behind fourth and nine ahead of eighth, 12 behind third and 11 ahead of ninth. Arsenal isn’t part of a big six; they are, by themselves, a somewhat above-average sixth.
It’s tempting to cast this matchup as a clash of titans, but it isn’t. It’s simply a great team against one that’s significantly worse. And that’s a major issue for Arsenal, because while they may not be that good, stylistically they play a game predicated on being better than their opponent. Their 58.8% possession is the second-highest percentage in the league. The problem is that City is first with a whopping 66.5%.
Defensively, Arsenal tries to press and get the ball back. They allow only 9.02 passes per defensive action in the opposition half (PPDA) (a stat which is a good proxy for defensive pressure). That’s the third-most aggressive press, though of course Manchester City is first.
Some good teams are happy to play without the ball. Sides like Chelsea or Atletico Madrid in Spain or even Juventus in Italy will happily cede possession when the matchup calls for it (and sometimes even when it doesn’t). That means that when they square off against other elite opponents, they don’t have to change their preferred tactics to win.
That’s simply not Arsenal. The Gunners are only at their best when they have the lion’s share of the ball. That just isn’t going to happen against a team like Manchester City, which isn’t only the best possession side in England, but possibly all of Europe.
Arsenal may have home-field advantage Thursday, but that’s about the only edge they’ll have. Not only are they significantly worse than City, but the way they play is almost comically vulnerable to being exploited by a team that does everything that they do, but simply better.
Odds and stats current as of Wednesday evening.
Top Photo: Arsene Wenger
Credit: Jerry Lai-USA TODAY Sports