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Guardiola finds De Bruyne replacement in experimental Man City win vs Arsenal

Confusion is the best form of defence

For once, Pep Guardiola named a relatively straight forward Manchester City starting XI against Arsenal. It looked like Joao Cancelo would replace Benjamin Mendy at left-back, with the other ten players taking up their natural positions within a 4-3-3 formation.

Except they lined up with Cancelo AND Kyle Walker on the right-hand side (plus Riyad Mahrez), with Nathan Ake at left-back, Walker dropping into the centre out of possession, and a front two of Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero as a fluid front two. Walker and Ake had played in their unnatural positions for their countries, but it was Cancelo’s position as a roaming central midfielder from the right flank that had Arsenal confused as much as everyone watching. And for the first half, City had the advantage as Arsenal didn’t know who to pick up as City attacked, rewarding them with the goal that proved to be the winner.

Bernardo takes on De Bruyne responsibility

With Kevin De Bruyne missing for ‘the next games’ according to Pep Guardiola, he needs to find someone to provide a similar spark in midfield. Against Arsenal, it looked like Bernardo Silva was the man tasked with bringing the ball forward and encouraging runs into space.

The Portuguese has not got the same passing range as De Bruyne, but his direct running stretched Arsenal and was the trigger for his teammates to turn defence into attack. Bernardo had a difficult season last year, but his tactical understanding of the game has come on significantly to add to his raw energy in attack. And with De Bruyne warning about being overplayed this season, Bernardo could be the player to step up when the Belgian earns a rest.

Jesus influence clear

City have clearly missed Sergio Aguero since June, but one positive that did come from his unfortunate injury was the progression of Gabriel Jesus. Now, with Aguero back and Jesus out, City were able to play one of their main strikers for the first time in a month.

This was a different kind of Sergio Aguero performance, though, showing he’s maybe been watching Jesus over the last three months and realised he’s got to offer more in attack. Instead of the usual on-the-shoulder performance of Aguero, against Arsenal the Argentine put in a performance more often associated with Jesus – coming deeper to meet the ball and allow runners beyond him.

It was the most selfless Aguero had been in a long time, with a lot of that down to how City were set up to get Foden, Sterling and Mahrez more forward whenever he gets the ball. It resulted in the first goal, too, with Aguero driving forward, feeding Foden to shoot with Sterling converting the rebound.

Title race implications

Last season, City only had one opportunity to close the gap between themselves and Liverpool before the Anfield club established an unassailable lead that meant defeat to Watford and a draw with Everton were irrelevant. This season, however, Liverpool have already dropped five points following their Merseyside derby draw on Saturday.

That allowed City to move within three points of Jurgen Klopp’s men, with a game in hand, and they did exactly that by beating Arsenal. City are still six behind early leaders Everton, but they would prefer that situation than Liverpool being top. In a season where it already looks like no side will be able to run away with the league, this was a big win for City to put themselves back in the early title race.

The weakness that remains

Even with Aguero back, City were guilty of failing to take their chances when having the better of the play. It cost them against Leicester and Leeds, and but for three impressive saves from Ederson, it would have cost them against Arsenal.

City did have chances to grab the second goal that would have put daylight between themselves and Arsenal, but often made the wrong decision in the final stage of attacks.

After a solid defensive performance, Guardiola will now be looking to increase the momentum and rhythm in front of goal to make sure games are killed off early.



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