Manchester City v Arsenal: How do Carabao Cup finalists compare in defence?
By James Walker-Roberts
Last Updated: 20/02/18 5:06pm
Which defence will come out on top when Manchester City and Arsenal meet in the Carabao Cup final on Sunday?
Both sides have scored plenty of goals over the last few seasons - and they boast two of the best strikers in Europe in Sergio Aguero and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang - but their backlines have come in for criticism at times.
Whose defence is in the best shape ahead of the final on Sunday, live on Sky Sports? We take a look…
Can Arsenal rise to the occasion again?
"Sunday League" was how Jamie Carragher described Arsenal's defending earlier this year after they had drawn 2-2 with Chelsea in a game where Alvaro Morata spurned several clear chances to score.
"They're not good enough and that's been a thing for a long time," added Carragher. "The defending is so poor and basic…You can never be confident with Arsenal defensively."
Arsenal did attempt to strength their defence in January with a late move for Jonny Evans, but that didn't materialise, while Arsene Wenger has looked for improvements by changing between a back four and back three at times this season.
In the Carabao Cup, the Gunners have largely played with four at the back, as they did in the two legs of the semi-final against Chelsea, when they only conceded once over 180 minutes.
As impressive as that achievement was, it is not something Arsenal have been able to repeat on a regular basis. Against Tottenham they were also well organised defensively, for 45 minutes, then the floodgates opened in the second half and the Gunners were fortunate not to lose by more than just one goal. In the Premier League this season they have kept only nine clean sheets and have conceded 36 goals, the same as Brighton and Newcastle and 16 more than Manchester City.
Even Wenger has not been able to hide his frustrations at times. "Defensively we were very poor and made big mistakes," he said after a 3-1 defeat to Swansea in late January. "It's better not to talk about the second or third goals…We were not good enough, we were not disciplined enough."
So what are the positives for Arsenal?
Perhaps that it is at Wembley where they have produced some of their best performances in recent seasons. Despite several absences they were strong at the back when they beat Chelsea 2-1 in the FA Cup final in May and also when they beat Manchester City in the semi-finals with a three-man defence. Going further back, Aston Villa did not manage a shot on target against the Gunners in the 2015 FA Cup final.
And, since losing the Carabo Cup final to Birmingham in 2011, the Gunners have won nine straight games at Wembley, excluding their recent league defeat to Tottenham. They also have a respectable record against Manchester City in recent years, losing only two of their last 10 meetings in all competitions.
Man City v Arsenal defences in numbers (expected back fours in final)
|Minutes played in PL||Tackles made/won||Aerial duels won||Interceptions||Passing accuracy|
No Kompany, no problem?
While Arsenal's defence has stalled, and maybe even declined at certain times and in certain areas, City's looks to have improved. Significant investment has played a part, but Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones have both looked more secure in Pep Guardiola's second season in charge.
This time last year, Jamie Carragher said there were "seven or eight" teams in the Premier League with better defences than Manchester City. That was in a season when City were beaten 4-2 at Leicester and 4-0 at Everton, as well as losing 3-1 at Monaco in the Champions League.
However, this season City have only conceded more than one goal in a game on six occasions - one a 7-2 thrashing of Stoke and one a 2-1 defeat at Shakhtar Donetsk in a dead rubber Champions League clash. They have let in 20 goals in the Premier League this season, a total only bettered by Manchester United (19), and have also kept the third-highest number of clean sheets (12) behind Chelsea (14) and United (15).
That's also largely without Vincent Kompany, who many predicted would be key to City's chances of success this season. The centre-back has only played 10 Premier League games so far due to injuries and is yet to feature in the Carabao Cup.
Pep Guardiola said in late November - almost a year after their 4-2 loss at Leicester that led to criticism of the City boss and his tactical approach - that the key to improvement this season has been "not making any mistakes".
"We conceded a lot last season from stupid mistakes," he said. "We're defending great, not conceding a lot of chances and have continued playing good football at the front."
But City still do have defensive flaws, as highlighted in their 4-3 defeat at Liverpool in January and their two most recent Carabao Cup matches in the semi-final against Bristol City.
"They have got little chinks and weaknesses," said former City goalkeeper Shay Given after seeing Man City come from behind to snatch a 2-1 win over Bristol City in the first leg of their semi at the Etihad. "People will watch the game tonight and think you can get at this Manchester City defence."
Eliaquim Mangala looked particularly nervous when pressed, but he has now left for Everton so will play no part in the final. Instead it is likely to be Otamendi with either Stones or new signing Aymeric Laporte at the centre of defence.
If Arsenal are looking for inspiration they may well look to Liverpool's recent performance when they caused City major problems by pressing them high up the pitch. Liverpool's aggressive pressing provoked mistakes throughout the game and Guardiola's side misplaced 33 passes in their own half in total - 50 per cent more than in any other away game this season.
Which defence will come out on top on Sunday? If you are using skysports.com, you can comment below to get involved in the debate, but please adhere to our House Rules. If you wish to report any comment, simply click on the down arrow next to the offending comment and click 'Report'.
Watch the Carabao Cup final live on Sky Sports from 3.30pm on Sunday, February 25