When Arsenal last met Manchester City in January, there was an unlikely result. The dancing feet of Santi Cazorla and the flying tackles of Francis Coquelin secured the victory in what was essentially a battle won in midfield. The 2-0 scoreline suggested domination, the truth however, as we came to see throughout the season, lay in the combination of Cazorla and Coquelin. The unlikely partnership was the base upon which Arsenal achieved their late run of results in 2014/15, which ended with our FA Cup victory.
Overlapping runs from Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin created space down the flanks, which Coquelin did well to step up and fill. Safe passes were required in midfield, and although he is no Mikel Arteta, the Frenchman did save our midfield from various counters, while also managing to slow the game down when necessary.
Before Coquelin’s emergence we had a midfield set up primarily to attack, and there was a real lack of balance without a defensive midfielder. Arsene Wenger has combated the absence of a Patrick Vieira-esque figure in the starting XI by dividing the role into two, each being handed to two very dissimilar players. One of them is Francis Coquelin, the other of course is Santi Cazorla.
In the pair’s absence, the makeshift midfield partnership of Mathieu Flamini and Aaron Ramsey has been providing the team with a decent platform to build upon. Flamini’s experience allows him to step back when required and attend to his duties at the back. However, Ramsey’s defensive ability has been questioned by many and his attacking mindset takes him to positions where he is caught out defensively.
The recent string of results has been achieved only because of our goal output, and Arsenal must therefore rely on a ‘Rambo’ performance from Ramsey to combat the Citizens.
Our 3-0 win against Olympiacos in Greece has since been turned into an ode to Olivier Giroud, however, the contribution of Ramsey to our build up was second to none. His positioning on the pitch consistently creates numerical advantages for Arsenal in nearly every region of the final third, and he makes us far more of a threat going forward.
The short passing and neat interplay favoured by Arsene Wenger is only possible when players are available to receive the ball at all times. Ramsey makes it possible for his teammates to make themselves available by peeling away on runs, taking defenders with him. This tactic must be utilised to the full versus Manchester City, who are without many stars themselves and will not be the juggernaut they are known to be.
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Since the close dribbling of Cazorla and the athletic ability of Coquelin will be unavailable, Arsenal must utilise the engine of Aaron Ramsey to get the win. A defensive masterclass cannot be expected from him, and therefore he must be entrusted with the permission to go all out in attack. The possibility of outscoring City is more realistic than hoping that a makeshift midfield can keep them at bay.