Michael Cox uses Stats Zone to analyse what Manchester City and Arsenal can do to turn around recent league reverses against Chelsea and Liverpool...
When the draw for the FA Cup fifth round was made, we quickly realised were two standout ties – Arsenal versus Liverpool, and Manchester City versus Chelsea. We also knew that those two matches were both being played in the Premier League, midway between the draw and the FA Cup fixture itself. What we didn’t know, however, was that those two ‘warm-up’ matches would be so eventful.
Liverpool’s 5-1 thrashing of Arsenal featured the finest 20-minute spell of football England has seen this season, while Chelsea’s 1-0 victory at the Etihad Stadium was more understated, more controlled, but potentially the pivotal result of the 2013/14 campaign.
But what lessons can be learned by the losing sides, as they attempt to turn the situation around?
ARSENAL vs LIVERPOOL
Arsenal must defend set-pieces better
Arsenal were constantly opened up on the counter-attack at Anfield last weekend, but it’s worth remembering that the first two goals came from Martin Skrtel – both from set-pieces. Had Arsenal defended these situations better, they wouldn’t have been forced to attack at an early stage, and wouldn’t have left such space for Liverpool to charge into.
With 17 Premier League goals from set-pieces this season, Brendan Rodgers’ side are more prolific at dead ball situations than any other side. It doesn’t entirely fit with the idea Liverpool are purely about passing and movement, and Arsenal must ensure they’re not caught out again.
Arsenal dribbling rarely worked in final third
Liverpool’s pressing throughout the game seemed to trouble Arsenal, particularly German playmaker Mesut Ozil – who conceded possession cheaply for two Liverpool goals, and for another fine chance wasted by Daniel Sturridge.
Arsenal often had to dribble past the first wave of midfield pressure, and when they had space to break into, this sometimes worked nicely. But higher up the pitch, with Liverpool defending very deep, Arsenal’s take-ons were almost exclusively unsuccessful. The dribbles attempted by Jack Wilshere and Santi Cazorla tell the story.
Raheem Sterling must be handled
Arsenal remain the only team to have stopped Luis Suarez and Daniel Sturridge in the Premier League this season, in their 2-0 win over Liverpool at the Emirates in November. That was when Liverpool were playing a 3-5-2 system and therefore were only using two outright attacking threats, and it felt like Arsenal concentrated too much on the SAS last weekend – not that it worked.
The greater problem, though, was Raheem Sterling. Played on the left to stop the attacking threat of Bacary Sagna, according to Brendan Rodgers, he always seemed to be ghosting in unmarked at the far post, as Arsenal’s full-backs attacked. His five shots were taken from alarmingly close-range positions, and Sagna must play a more defensive role this weekend.
MAN CITY vs CHELSEA
Eden Hazard could win the tie single-handedly
Chelsea’s star attacker at the Etihad was Eden Hazard, who generally started in a left-sided position and repeatedly broke towards goal. His dribbling was incredibly dangerous, and City right-back Pablo Zabaleta seemed unable to cope with his sheer acceleration, even when giving himself a few yards’ head start.
What should concern City, though, is that Hazard’s end product was strangely lacking in that 1-0 victory – and as the Belgian’s hat-trick against Newcastle last weekend demonstrated, he can be an unerringly accurate finisher. He could punish City this time around, and Pellegrini might consider strengthening his midfield to allow more cover against the country’s in-form attacker.
Set-pieces could be crucial
The main feature of Chelsea’s 1-0 win was their sheer counter-attacking speed, but it’s unlikely Pellegrini will be so adventurous this time around, having seen his defence repeatedly opened up on the break. This could be a much cagier contest.
Therefore, it’s worth remembering that the game saw six good chances created from right-wing corners, and centre-back Gary Cahill was always Chelsea’s major threat as Willian produced some fine outswinging corners. City must pick up him more effectively.
City will get opportunities to find David Silva
Chelsea concentrated on nullifying David Silva, City’s key playmaker – but it’s interesting that the game’s most frequent passing combination was Yaya Toure to Silva, with the Spaniard often receiving balls in a position between the lines.
Although he was quickly surrounded, and his ‘chances created’ were not in any way incisive balls into attackers, it suggests City should be able to involve him this weekend. This time around, however, Pellegrini’s side must provide Silva with attacking variation and clever runs: the combination of Edin Dzeko and Alvaro Negredo appeared too similar to cause Chelsea significant problems.