Arsenal Vs Manchester City: 5 key players to watch — Doing what he does best
Arsenal travel to Wembley to face Manchester City in the final of the Carabao Cup on Sunday afternoon.
Here are five key players to watch ahead of the first domestic cup final of the season.
Manchester City are a daunting task. Just three losses all year, one of which came in a meaningless Champions League and another of which came just this week in a game that the opposition, lowly Wigan Athletic, had just 18% possession and two shots on target, even if Pep Guardiola believed to only one, and a relentlessly winning attitude in the league that has seen them extend their advantage at the top to 15 points with a game in hand are proof of that.
Arsenal will not find Sunday’s Carabao Cup final easy going. But they have given themselves a chance, and that is as much as anyone could have asked for.
So, here are five key players to watch ahead of the trip to Wembley.
5. Mesut Ozil
These games often don’t suit the possessionally-obsessed Mesut Ozil. We saw as much last time Arsenal traversed across London to wade onto the Wembley pitch. That time, it was in the Premier League. A North London derby, no less, but one that saw Spurs control the game through a dominance of the ball. Ozil, subsequently, slipped into the peripheries.
That is something that cannot happen on Sunday, but it is likely. For all of Ozil’s wondrous and vast talents, prying his way through midfields, unpicking defences, sliding through passes and, of course, assisting goals, he does have a tendency to quietly seep into the cracks of the game when Arsenal do not win the battle of possession. This could very well be one of those games.
The first time that these two teams met earlier in the year, Ozil was very quiet. Playing on the right flank, but given the freedom to drift inside and float from pocket to pocket, Ozil was unable to ever influence the game, immediately pressured whenever he received the ball, starved off options around him, unable to drive the Arsenal attack forward. On Sunday, the very same could well happen. Ozil will not get many opportunities to create, but when he gets them, he must be clinical and accurate.
4. Sergio Aguero
Somehow, Sergio Aguero might actually be underrated. Criminally, he has never been named in the PFA Team of the Year, he has never quite been seen on the same standing as a prime Robin van Persie or Luis Suarez, and his reputation has often been damaged by the rounded success and quality of the City team as a whole, slighting his own individual exploits.
But make no mistake about it, if Arsenal give the pocket-rocket Argentine even an inch of space, and there are few players who are as intelligent and conniving as Aguero as he slips the attentions of the defenders and seeks out that space, then it will not end well for them. Aguero is a ruthless, uncompromising, quick-strike goalscorer.
Aguero proved his goalscoring prowess last year in the FA Cup semi-final. Released from the halfway line as City broke from an Arsenal corner, with Nacho Monreal raring down, Aguero first showed the speed to outrun him and then the composure to dink his finish over the onrushing Petr Cech. Arsenal need not look far to see proof of the danger that Aguero poses. He’s also scored 21 goals in just 20 Premier League starts. Stopping him will not be easy.
3. Shkodran Mustafi
Arsenal will have to defend. A lot. That is not something that they are comfortable in doing.
Wenger is an offensive coach. He wants his team to dictate games through their attacking creativity and their possessional control. He does not delve into the defensive details; he does not instil resolve and discipline his players; his teams do not have structure and shape. But, on Sunday, that is not something that his team will be able to do.
Communication is key in defending for long periods against relentless waves of attacks. Defending is not an individual venture. It is very much a team game, and that takes a shared understanding and execution, which requires communication. For Arsenal, that communication often stems from Shkodran Mustafi.
Now, Mustafi has his faults. He is rash, naive, and can be caught out of position. But in comparison to his teammates, he is most definitely a talker. He commands, marshalls and orchestrates, he instructs those around him, he is always pointing out issues and threats, he is talking consistently, ensuring that each individual is aware of their responsibility within the whole. This communication will be vital on Sunday, because City will not stop coming.
2. Kevin de Bruyne
There is not a better player in the Premier League than Kevin de Bruyne. As a well-rounded, complete midfielder who can do every aspect of the game, even the less glamorous side like charging into tackles, pressuring opponents, tracking runners, remaining disciplined, the Belgian has elevated this City side to a historically great level.
Stopping him is not easy. He has the physicality and attitude to deal with defenders trying to ‘rough him up’. He is a wonderful passer of the ball, from wide areas, from a deep, quarterback-like position, or from in and around the penalty area. He is even a deceptively athletic player, with the energy and speed to outmanoeuvre opposing players. There is very little that he cannot do.
If Arsenal allow him to dictate the game, then they could see themselves pulled this way and that by his piercing, probing distribution. But if they choose to press him, then he has the awareness, speed-of-thought and quality to slip a pass around the corner and expose a now and vulnerable defence. If there is one player that Arsenal need to keep a hold of, it is de Bruyne, but that is much easier said than done.
1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang
Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was signed for games like this. £56 million demands performances when it matters most, and there are few games that matter more than this one this season. Thankfully, he is built for this type of game.
Aubameyang comes from a high-pressing style at Borussia Dortmund. Thanks to his searing pace and incessant athleticism, he has both the engine and natural speed to hound and harass the City defenders. If Arsenal are to recover possession high up the pitch and exploit wayward, errant passes, it could well come through the pressure that Aubameyang can exert.
Similarly, Aubameyang is an expert of the counter-attack. Not only does he have the quickness and long-speed to break free from opposing defences with space to scamper into, but he has great timing and direction with his runs, seeking out the channels to exploit, not allowing himself to be caught offside time and time again.