Fernandinho’s Drive Essential to Man City’s Attack against Arsenal

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In Manuel Pellegrini’s last ever home game as Manchester City manager, his players came out with intent. They pressed high up the Etihad Stadium pitch in a bid to win the ball back quickly against Arsenal, and for Gunners’ manager Arsene Wenger, this wasn’t exactly what he anticipated. “I was surprised by the intensity of City’s start,” he said. “We expected an intense game but they really came out with strong pressure.”

The Sky Blues showed a real enthusiasm to send their manager out in style. Pellegrini described the first 25 minutes of the game as “some of the best here this season,” and on the back of that strong pressing game, City generally tried to attack down the right-hand side. They aimed to isolate Arsenal left-back Nacho Monreal in one-on-one confrontations with the jet-heeled Jesus Navas, something made even more difficult for the Spanish fullback by the likes of Bacary Sagna and Fernandinho leaping forward to create overloads.

This alone, however, wasn’t always enough to truly penetrate the Arsenal defence. They needed another ingredient to assist their build-up play, especially given the fact that Kelechi Iheanacho and Sergio Aguero, City’s two centre-forwards, didn’t really display much in the way of slick combination play. That additional ingredient, as it turned out, would be the late runs provided by their holding midfield duo.

Brazilians Fernando and Fernandinho lined up at the heart of Pellegrini’s 4-4-2, and although the aggression usually came from the latter, who played a more energetic box-to-box role, Fernando also had his moments in attack. This was particularly apparent once the score had moved onto 1-1, where the burly holding midfielder latched onto a ball from the left-hand side, nutmegged a lunging Aaron Ramsey and created a shooting opportunity for Aguero. The Argentine would see his effort deflected wide by a diving Laurent Koscielny, but only a few minutes earlier, Aguero had made no mistake from a Fernandinho assist.

In truth, the move came about in a pretty similar manner. Fernandinho retrieved possession in a very advanced area, played a sharp pass into the feet of Navas and surged into the box. Navas took his time initially. He waited for his powerful Brazilian teammate to take up a dangerous position and, once Fernandinho had done so, the ex-Sevilla winger clipped a ball in from the right. Fernandinho, in typically powerful fashion, rose above Ramsey to knock the ball down for Aguero, something which enabled the lethal finisher to do the rest.

City’s goalscorer-in-chief punched the ball into the bottom corner, but in order to create the opportunity in the first place, the Manchester-based club needed some energy from the centre. This trend continued into the second period, as Fernandinho sprinted in behind a high Arsenal backline to have a shot on goal. He may have fired wide from a tight angle, but regardless of that, the ex-Shakhtar Donetsk midfielder showed the kind of hard-running dynamism that was often absent from City’s attack.

Fernandinho might argue that he could have showcased his box-to-box qualities a little more regularly throughout Pellegrini’s tenure if not for the presence of Yaya Toure, his usual central midfield partner, alongside him. With Toure in the starting line-up, he usually has to take on a slightly more defensive role, largely as a means through which to counterbalance the Ivorian’s forward-thinking approach. But when the Ivorian is out of the side, Fernandinho, released of some of his defensive responsibilities, tends to thrive.

In other cases, too, when Pellegrini has fielded a central midfield trio featuring Toure, Fernandinho and Fernando, with the latter as the holder, Fernandinho has enjoyed an added degree of freedom. One of the most emphatic examples of this came earlier on in City’s recently concluded UEFA Champions League campaign, when the club travelled to Spain for a group stage clash with Sevilla. In that match, the Brazilian produced an incredibly dominant first-half performance, and within the first 11 minutes alone, he had assisted a Raheem Sterling goal and scored one of his own.

In an individual sense, it was one of the most impressive starts to a game you’re ever likely to see, and though Fernandinho would perhaps prefer to play in this role more regularly, he is currently more concerned with helping City to secure Champions League qualification. “We need to win the last game then see what happens in the other matches, but of course we are disappointed today because we played well [against Arsenal] but then conceded two easy goals and this cost us a lot,” he lamented. “We will go to Swansea to win and things could look a lot better by this time next week.”

With City having to rely on crosstown rivals Manchester United botching one of their two remaining fixtures in order to acquire that coveted Champions League place, it’s not entirely up to them now. However, they still have to show up for the game against Swansea, and with Fernandinho offering up his typical brand of all-action football in Pellegrini’s engine room, there’s still a chance that Pep Guardiola will come to a Manchester City competing in Europe’s top club competition.