Mikel Arteta says Arsenal must be prepared for Manchester City’s tactical versatility but insists his side will also need to impose their own game when the two sides meet at the Etihad tomorrow.
Thanks to Pep Guardiola, the Blues have been one of Europe’s most tactically innovative sides in recent years, constantly tweaking on-field roles and responsibilities regularly to adapt to injuries, player form and the strengths and weaknesses of opponents.
Nobody knows this better than Arteta who having sat in the City dugout for three seasons, learned at first hand the power of being unpredictable.
“Obviously we have worked on their threats,” Arteta told his press conference on Tuesday morning.
“As well we have worked on their weaknesses and we know where they are. The issue with a team like City is that it starts with the goalkeeper and he’s a threat when the ball is with him and you have to control every single one.
“But just focus on us. We know what they want to do, what they’re going to try to do. They can do various things. They can play with a box inside, they can play with a diamond, they can build a game with three, they can be asymmetric on one side, they can put Bernardo [Silva] on the right and then play a diamond there and put [Kyle] Walker higher.
“They can do so many things that you have to be able to adapt. So I think you have to focus on certain principles to try to take the game where you want.”
When it was put to Arteta that the clear playing philosophy he’s implemented at Arsenal means he can now afford to be less concerned with how opponents set up against them, he was quick to clarify that a balance is required.
“No, I said that we have to focus a lot on us,” he said.
“We need to understand what they can do and we have to be prepared for those changes, which is a lot because they can do it in the beginning, they can do it after 20 minutes, at half time, in the last 20 minutes and you have to be really prepared for that.
“But this cannot absorb your energy to be constantly adapting to it. We have to focus because we have a lot of strengths, in our strengths as well, how we can cause them problems.”
Having netted 48 goals this season, it’s clear that Erling Haaland will be a huge threat to Arsenal’s chances of securing a positive result on Wednesday.
Arteta has been impressed by the Norwegian’s impact but also the way his recruitment has given City new wats of breaking down stubborn opponents.
“When you look at the numbers, there’s no comparison with anybody else,” said the Spaniard.
“As well, he’s able to produce that [goal tally] because the set-up is done in the right way for him, the players that he’s got around him, the way he’s coached, obviously the qualities that he has. So it’s a lot of things that have to be in their way.
“They have, even with him, a capacity to play in different ways, because when they play really far from your goal, they have the capacity to play in different ways.
“When they play really far from your goal, they have the capacity to exploit open spaces and when they are attacking low blocks, now they have a different threat because they are a very physical team right now.”
In the absence of William Saliba – ruled out again with a back injury – it has been suggested that the Gunners might change shape to better cope with Haaland’s threat.
Arteta wasn’t giving anything away. “We will see tomorrow,” he joked.
He also said that having to change the approach in-game isn’t something new.
“That’s what we do every game, you know, in certain areas,” he said.
“Are you talking in ball possession? Are you talking out of possession? In transition moments? Are we talking on the restart? Are we talking on set-pieces? Are we talking on the emotional state? You have to shift it all the time.
“Every opponent demands and questions you different things and gives you different opportunities, and there’s no difference with that team, obviously the quality of the opponent is as good as he gets anywhere in the world, that’s for sure.”