From his early days into management it was very clear that Mikel Arteta was going to be influenced by Guardiola's highly effective way of setting a team up on the football field. But even back in 2014, as his playing career at Arsenal wound down, Arteta already had a clear vision of how the teams he coached would play 'I want the football to be expressive, entertaining. I cannot have a concept of football where everything is based on the opposition. We have to dictate the game, we have to be the ones taking the initiative and we have to entertain the people coming to watch us,' he said. He could not have chosen a better mentor to learn from.
During their time working together at City, Guardiola was always seen as the grand visionary with Arteta the training ground nuts and bolts man. He's taken aspects of the Guardiola blueprint and combined it with a practical edge depending on the opposition and the circumstances. Arsenal cannot rival City's squad, nor do they have the financial muscle at the moment to do so any time soon, but as their upturn in results and last season's FA Cup triumph are showing, they have found a good way to play with what they have and it is working for them.
One of the key tenets of Guardiola's philosophy that Arteta has adapted is the high press. Pep was the manager who once challenged his Barcelona players to win back possession inside six seconds or else drop 10 players behind the ball. Arteta has his team putting in similar amounts of leg work to put opponents under pressure. It was effective pressing by Nicolas Pepe and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang that panicked the City back line during the first-half at Wembley Arsenal couldn't take the particular chances that resulted but it eroded the confidence of City's defenders. A taste of their own medicine. But the press remains a work in progress. Arsenal's isn't yet as sharp but it's getting there.
Then there is Arsenal's new-found assurance when passing out from the back. thirty-two per cent of Arsenal's possession has been in their own defensive third so far this season. It's something that can go horribly wrong - and Arsenal twice gifted City chances during the early minutes of the semi-final. But their assurance grew and the opening goal, scored by Aubameyang from Pepe's excellent cross from the right side, stemmed from Luiz dribbling the ball out of defense after a succession of passes in their own box
It has been a tough start for Pep Guardiola and his troops. Unavailability of players due to COVID isolation and injuries have caused the team to fall short in certain key areas, most notably defense. There has been a steady rise with players coming back to fitness and recent performances (as noted in their last match against Leeds Utd) have shown a number of positives.
As noted in the first couple of fixtures, the Citizens have played with two pivots in the midfield (Rodri and Fernandinho). It is uncommon and forced clearly due to lack of options in defense. Gradually, as the players return to full fitness we can expect Pep to return to his traditional style of bringing in more creativity in the middle of the park. That could mean omitting Mendy, who has been poor at left back, and starting Nathan Ake. That could solve two problems. The first being defensive solidity (or lack of) which is very much needed. And that could answer their second issue which would be the midfield creativity. With a makeshift three at the back, Pep would not need two pivots in the midfield. That would allow either of Rodri or Fernandinho a rest.
De Bruyne's absence will have Arteta in two minds. Does he take the game to City, knowing they might not be able to dominate the midfield battle and weaker on the counter, or does he bank on the counter attacking, playing on the fact that City will be forced to pass side to side, without much central penetrative thrust... easy pickings for the counter press. I think it will end up somewhere in between which is what we have seen from Arsenal so far in the big games.
Whilst the Citizens will be without their key man, it will nevertheless be interesting to see how Pep manages his team. Gundogan might be given more responsibility in the midfield while Bernardo Silva might be given a key role. In defence, Nathan Ake might get the nod to play ahead of Mendy. We will gradually be witnessing the tactical strength that side from Manchester have especially with Pep needing a win more than ever.
For the Gunners, Thomas Partey is a welcome addition and the combination of steel and skill might be the answer to critics who believe they lack a cutting edge to dominate games. But Partey will most likely be starting on the bench for this one. The key will be the pressing from the front. Arteta's side will press zonally and make sure City's defense are forced to make errors. The Citizen's on the other hand, will try to dominate the game by controlling the middle of the park and playing aggressively out the flanks.
This is a game that will be dominated and won by the Citizens. Arteta's team will make for tough opponents but they are a work in progress and it will be fairly obvious.
Manchester City Ederson, A.Laporte, R. Dias, K. Walker, N. Ake, Rodri, P. Foden, Gundogan, R. Mahrez, R. Sterling, G. Jesus (Formation: 4-2-3-1/3-4-3).
Arsenal: B. Leno., Gabriel, Holding, S. Kolasinac, H. Bellerin, D. Ceballos, G. Xhaka, B. Saka, Willian, N. Pepe, P. Aubameyang (Formation: 4-3-3/3-4-3).
Predicted Outcome: 3-1 Citizens win