Why Yaya Toure's absence may actually help Man City overcome Arsenal

Alex Keble explains why the Ivorian's absence might not be such a bad thing after all...

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Considering the previous fixture between Arsenal and Manchester City saw 808 successful passes, 30 shots and 36 dribbles, it's safe to say this should be another aesthetically satisfying match between two sides heavily favouring short-passing football and high-tempo pressing.

Except this time, with no Yaya Toure to drive them forward, Man City will adapt their system to focus more intensely on the wings. It is news Arsene Wenger will not want to hear.

As City calmly steamrollered through 2014 there was no doubting it was Toure who powered them, storming through the centre of the pitch as the beating heart of every move.

Such a dominant influence can, however, contain within it a hidden flaw, as dependability becomes over-reliance; worryingly, it has been 11 months since City last won a match without him in the side.

In City's last two matches without the Ivorian, Pellegrini – without a like-for-like replacement – has fielded an extra defensive midfielder in Fernando.

Clearly, his attacking impetus is nowhere near comparable: Toure makes 88.4 passes per match (the division's highest), while Fernando makes 42.7; Toure has 3.3 shots per game, Fernando 0.3.

Note how high up the pitch Toure plays; his passing back and forth clearly shows that this game – like most – revolved around him. Fernando simply cannot live up to this, as Man City look to other routes of attack.

To address this deficiency, City played the ball into wide areas far more frequently in the draws against Burnley and Everton; as a consequence, Jesus Navas is seeing more of the ball.

He averaged 58 passes across these two games, up from a season average of 39, while Man City's general play clearly favoured the wings.

Jesus Navas was superb against Burnley  his creativity is given higher priority when Toure is out of the team.

Not only do Man City move the ball in deeper areas without Toure in the team, but as the patterns of these passes suggest, they also use central areas less frequently.

Unfortunately for Wenger, it's from wide areas that Arsenal are particularly vulnerable, partially as a result of their attacking instincts leaving them exposed on the flanks, and partly due to their defensive chaos.

With no discernible leader at the back, and with Per Mertersacker in poor form, it is unsurprising that Arsenal have conceded 15 league goals from crosses this season, a staggering 60% of their total.

Man City's preferred, Toure-led approach would have suited Arsenal far more than the approach they will face on Sunday. With Navas tearing down one flank, and Samir Nasri's trickery (cutting inside to release the overlapping Gael Clichy) on the other, Arsenal will need to work extremely hard to avoid another demoralising away defeat.

Note how often Nasri passes the ball to his left; in most instances this will be to Clichy, who loves getting to the byline.

There's no question City will miss Toure while he's away at the Africa Cup of Nations, but in this particular fixture it may work in their favour.

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