It has been five years since Manchester City lost back-to-back Premier League games, and on Sunday, that streak came to an end.
The 3-1 win away to RB Leipzig in the Champions League put a buffer between Sunday’s loss and the shocking loss to Wolves last weekend. Their loss to Newcastle United in the third round of the EFL Cup, which ultimately knocked out Pep’s team, means that it is now three domestic defeats in a row for the title defenders. They have scored just once in all three games combined – Julián Álvarez’s stunning free-kick goal against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Just how important is Saka to Arsenal?
It felt almost inevitable that City would beat Arsenal, especially with Bukayo Saka not involved at any point whatsoever – a player that up till Sunday’s game, had been involved in most of Arsenal’s goals so far this season.
Saka’s absence against Manchester City ended a run of 87 consecutive Premier League appearances. Evidently, the Gunners were missing having Saka involved in the game. A lot of the attack was played through to the right side, a position where Saka is mostly always available to receive through balls and to frequently rattle the defense.
In Sunday’s game, Gabriel Jesus and Ben White, who both played on the right, were often given the responsibility of penetrating through City’s defense from that position. This was oftentimes too unsuccessful, as both Arsenal and City proved why the two teams might have the strongest back lines in the Premier League.
Fortunately for Arsenal, despite the attacking balance that Saka tends to provide for the team, Arteta’s substitutions seemed to make the difference. Brought in towards the end were Thomas Partey, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kai Havertz and Gabriel Martinelli.
Martinelli has been another key factor in Arsenal’s attack has missed a few games due to injury hamstring. The Brazilian however, is fit in just the nick of time, with his presence on the pitch making all the difference for the Gunners.
To Arteta’s delight, all four players that he subbed in were involved in the run to Arsenal’s winning goal, with Martinelli scoring and Kai Havertz claiming the assist.
Are De Bryune and Rodri the key to City’s attack?
In the summer, the recent treble winners sold İlkay Gündoğan to FC Barcelona and Riyad Mahrez to Al-Ahli. This was not too much of a cause for concern, as Kevin De Bruyne and Rodri were still available to the team.
Unfortunately for Guardiola, De Bruyne sustained a hamstring injury during the Premier League opener against Burnley. The Belgian is expected back towards the end of 2023. With De Bryune out, Rodri was able to prove himself an important asset to the team. yet, to add to Pep’s woes, an outburst of anger by Rodri earned him a red card in a recenr Premier League clash against Nottingham Forest.
Rodri served his final match ban during the Arsenal game and will be back when the Premier League returns after the summer break when City face Brighton.
As was Saka’s absence evident in Arsenal’s gameplay, so was the same for City without Rodri and De Bruyne. Both players often deliver brilliant passes, essential to any team’s attack. De Bruyne’s ability to see ahead and deliver the perfect through balls and Rodri’s ability to win possession would have been ideal to break through Arsenal’s press. Instead, when City had the ball, they were a lot more cautious with their possession.
Just like Arsenal, City committed less to the attacking play. Without Saka, Rodri or De Byune, there seemed to be a lack of momentum throughout most of the game. However, defensively both teams were strong, and the high press from both sides made it all that much harder for opponents to make something of their counterattacks.