Sunday's FA Cup semi-final, available on Betfair Live Video, is a meeting between two teams desperate to rescue underwhelming campaigns so far. Michael Cox looks at the tactics and Alan Thompson assesses the betting...
"Guardiola has largely stopped his tactical experiments and shouldn’t need anything special to ensure City are in control of this contest."
Arsenal v Manchester City
Live on BT Sport 1
Match Odds: Arsenal [4.3], Man City [1.9], The Draw [4.1].
Arsenal and Manchester City drew 2-2 at the Emirates earlier this month, but with Arsene Wenger's side in a particularly poor run of form, Pep Guardiola's City start as strong favourites.
The major tactical interest here, unusually, concerns Wenger. Rarely a manager to surprise opponents with an unusual formation, for Monday night's trip to Middlesbrough he selected a 3-4-2-1 formation, at least partly inspired by Antonio Conte's formation at Chelsea. This was the first time for 20 years that Wenger had used a three-man defence.
The experiment had mixed success - it seemed designed to fight against the possibility of Middlesbrough using two target men, but instead they used one upfront and Wenger spoke about needing to 'adjust' even before kick-off. The system worked reasonably well, with Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil getting into dangerous positions between the lines, but overall there's little to think that Wenger will continue with that shape here.
Instead, we're likely to see a return to a 4-2-3-1 formation, with Hector Bellerin coming into the side as the right-back. Shkodran Mustafi is out, so Gabriel will play alongside Laurent Koscielny.
In midfield, Granit Xhaka has been playing well, and will probably be supported with the presence of a second holding player here. Mohamed Elneny is a solid, neat and tidy player who could work well against City's playmaking duo of Davild Silva and Kevin De Bruyne.
Out wide, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain deserves to keep his place after a decent run of form. On the left, Wenger will surely look to deploy a direct attacker considering Jesus Navas may again be fielded at right-back, and he struggled in the first half of the clubs' recent 2-2 draw against Sanchez, who is the obvious bet to be fielded there again.
With Mesut Ozil as the number 10, Wenger then has a decision to make upfront. Olivier Giroud will hope to lead the line, but a speedier striker makes sense against a high line. Danny Welbeck could be used to run the channels, while Theo Walcott is another option but hasn't started upfront all season.
Guardiola's team selection seems comparatively straightforward. At the back, Navas is likely to continue at right-back and Vincent Kompany has re-established himself as a regular.
In midfield, Guardiola must decide whether he wants to deploy Yaya Toure to provide extra strength in midfield alongside Fernandinho, but it's likely he'll return to the system with Silva and De Bruyne pushing forward.
City will stretch the play and use plenty of width, which is another reason to discourage Wenger from using the three-man defence. Expect Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling to start on the outside of Arsenal's centre-backs, and engage in one-against-one battles out wide. City might play more directly than usual, especially if Arsenal's full-backs push forward aggressively.
Sergio Aguero has a fine record against Arsenal and will lead the line here, running in behind rather than dropping deep to link play. Runs in behind Gabriel might be particularly useful, as Laurent Koscielny tends to cope well against speed.
Guardiola has largely stopped his surprise tactical experiments in recent weeks and shouldn't need anything special to ensure City are in control of this contest. They've quietly been in good form recently, with both Silva and De Bruyne playing excellently, and the return of Kompany making the defence more secure too. City look better value here, and I'll back them even at the surprisingly low price of [1.9].
The Betfair Trader's View - Alan Thompson
When I first looked at the prices in the second semi final, I honestly thought I had loaded the wrong game, Arsenal [4.4] who are sitting sixth in the Premier League against Man City [1.9] who are sitting fourth having played a game more. When these sides met at the Etihad in December, Manchester City were priced at [2.24] with home advantage, now they're [1.9] at a neutral venue!
Of course much has happened since that meeting and Arsenal certainly look like a side who have many problems and that has shown in their results with just three wins in their last nine games. Confidence is very low. When you consider those wins have also come against sides in the bottom half of the league - Middlesbrough, Hull and West Ham - you can start to see why their price is where it is.
While City are far from certain of a Champions League place, apart from playing United at the Etihad Stadium their remaining games certainly look winnable and with Arsenal seven points adrift, I don’t see them not finishing top four.
Therefore, I think Pep Guardiola will see this as a great opportunity of making the final and securing a trophy in his first season. City are in decent form with just one defeat in their last 10 Premier League starts and that was at Chelsea - Arsenal certainly would be the team you would want to face at this stage out of the sides remaining.
The prices on this game make a bet very difficult to construct as while value is definitely the name of the game when punting then at the prices alone Arsenal would be the call. But, the way they are performing and the issues around the club at the minute, I couldn’t bring myself to back them at any price. But the short price of City makes siding with them difficult in the Match Odds and also the Asian Handicap having to give up a goal to get a price I would expect to see off levels.
I will be going with a couple of correct scores and a first goal scorer, in the quest to find a better return on a City victory. I will be backing them to win 2-1 at [9.8] and 2-0 at [13.0] as well as backing Sergio Aguero to score the first goal at [5.5].
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