Arsenal FC

Mikel Arteta wasted Bukayo Saka in Arsenal's loss to Manchester City

Feb 22, 2021, 11:15 AM GMT
Saka was largely ineffective on Sunday
Saka was largely ineffective on Sunday | Marc Atkins/Getty Images
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Arsenal suffered their eleventh Premier League defeat of the season at the hands of Mikel Arteta's former club Manchester City on Sunday.

The league leaders went in front inside two minutes, and although the Gunners kept them at bay for the rest of the match, they themselves offered very little in an attacking sense.

Arteta made five changes from the side that started against Benfica in Rome on Thursday night, but the 19-year-old Saka kept his place, played the entire 90 minutes and was wasted.

The winger's best form this season has come when playing on the right-flank, but the boss took the strange decision to switch him back to the left and deploy Nicolas Pepe on the right instead. Both of the aforementioned players have been far more effective on the opposite flanks this season, so why did Arteta switch them?

Having worked with Pep Guardiola and many of the current Manchester City players between July 2016 and December 2019, Arteta has tried to spring some kind of tactical surprise whenever facing his former side.

In the reverse fixture at the Etihad Stadium back in October, he selected Willian in the starting lineup and asked the Brazilian to play as a false nine, and Arteta's obsession with trying to get one over his former boss has led to some strange tactical decisions.

Guardiola's sides have become famed for pushing one of their fullbacks into the midfield when in possession in order to create an overload, and it seemed the reason for switching Saka back to the left was for him to step inside and contend with the movement of Joao Cancelo.

Saka and Cancelo duelled on Sunday
Saka and Cancelo duelled on Sunday | Marc Atkins/Getty Images

When faced with a team as strong as Manchester City, it makes sense to try and identify areas in which you can disrupt their game, but Arteta's obsession with winning the tactical battle has prevented Arsenal from playing their own game this season, and has left them carrying little threat of their own.

Arsenal under Arteta have at times lacked bravery and the belief to go and impose themselves on their opponents. The fact they've failed to score in six of their home league fixtures this season and now lost more games than they have won is proof of that.

Despite the switch of position, Saka was still arguably Arsenal's best player, but you can't help but feel he'd have been more effective playing in his best position and running at Oleksandr Zinchenko. The England international has the ability to shine in most positions and that versatility has seen his journey to becoming a key starter accelerated.

Arteta got it wrong against City
Arteta got it wrong against City | Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

However, regardless of Saka's ability to play on either flank and even cover at left-back, he is certainly at his best when operating on the right-wing. The statistics prove it - four goals and three assists in his last ten league appearances when deployed there tell the story.

Very few gave Arsenal a hope in the lead up to the fixture but having defended well for much of the match, the lack of attacking threat which was partly down to Saka and Pepe playing on the wrong flanks, and that's incredibly frustrating.

With Champions League qualification via the Premier League looking highly unlikely now, all eyes will be on how Arteta's Arsenal fair in the Europa League - they face Benfica in the second leg on Thursday.

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