Saturday, December 14, 2013

A good result for the doubters

I’ve taken a bit of time to write this blog rather than just blurting something out because, to be honest, I wasn’t really sure how I felt after watching Arsenal be beaten 6-3 at Manchester City.
There is obvious frustration because, despite the high score line, Arsenal really could have got a positive result in the game. There were good chances squandered. There were moments in the game that could have gone the Gunners’ way on a different day. There were individual errors that gifted City goals. There were periods of the game where Arsenal look laboured, however if they’d maintained the higher tempo style the whole game, Manchester City would have struggled to contain the visitors to the Etihad.
Much has been made of the Manchester City’s front-line, however for the first time this season, they came up against a team that really attacked their defensive weakness. When Arsenal did get the ball forward and add some pace and invention into their forays forward, they caused the hosts numerous problems.
Although, however many problems you cause the opposition at one end, conceding six won’t win you games. Arsenal’s defence has been the rock on which the good start to the season has been built, so to see it opened up so many times was unexpected. What made the mistakes look worse was that Manchester City were clinical in punishing them.
Hesitancy from Koscielny led to Aguero opening the scoring. Zabaleta was left free to set up City’s second. Ozil’s pass to Flamini was poor, allowing Fernandinho to curl the ball in. Silva was able to ghost in between Mertesacker and Vermaelen for the fourth. Fernandinho was able to walk through too easily late on to score a fifth and Szczesny misjudged Milner’s run into the box to concede the late penalty.
These individual errors just haven’t been happening in recent weeks, so hopefully this game will just be a blip in Arsenal’s season, rather than the start of a decline. Whilst there were too many errors, that didn’t stop Arsenal still attacking and making chances. It wasn’t until Fernandinho made it 5-2 that it seemed like the Gunners were definitely out of the game because they always looked capable of scoring. Within the game, there was a spirited response to conceding goals, before another error always allowed City to get away.
Those mini-responses within the game have to be built up to a large one when Chelsea come to visit the Emirates next Monday. If those errors are cut out, I see no reason why Arsenal can’t beat the Blues.
Some of the lethargic periods in the game from Arsenal could be partially attributed to tiredness after the short turnaround between the trips to Naples and Manchester, but Arsene Wenger was able to make five changes to the starting line-up from that game, meaning it became less of a factor.
Arsene Wenger has to take the positives from the game and use them as a way of making the team believe they can beat one of the big teams. Whilst these matches alone won’t decide the title, they can have a big effect on Arsenal’s confidence and belief that they really can maintain this title challenge.
The major positive was Theo Walcott, who scored two and was the genuine pace outlet that the team have missed since he got injured. His running with the ball still had the look of a man who had just returned from injury, but his goals were well taken, especially the second one. As with most of his play, when Walcott made instinctive runs in behind the Manchester City defence or had a chance around the area, he looked very dangerous. With Giroud having a slightly rough time in front of goal, Walcott’s return to scoring form will be very handy over the Christmas period.
Some of the chances Arsenal created were good ones and some of the passing combinations were much sharper than they were in Naples on Wednesday, and against Everton last weekend. With the addition of Walcott looking to make runs in behind the defence, there is now an extra attacking option for the Arsenal players around the opposition penalty area.
As mentioned earlier, it was the individual errors that cost Arsenal the points in Manchester. However it’s impossible to write something about the game without mentioning the officials. It felt like every key decision, and plenty of minor ones, went against the Gunners. Two goals were harshly adjudged to be offside and there were other attacks forward for Walcott and Monreal that were incorrectly flagged with the Gunners about to create a chance. The referee also had a clear view of a handball in the second half that should have been a penalty. You can’t expect to get anything from a match when you concede six goals, but some correct decisions would have aided Arsenal to do just that. After this game and Arteta’s sending off in Naples, hopefully Arsenal’s luck with officials will turn soon.
Those who have doubted Arsenal and claimed they haven’t faced a big team will be delighted with the 6-3 result. The defeat, and the particularly the score line, will go down as more proof that this Arsenal team are fragile and don’t have the guts to maintain a title challenge. But the league isn’t won in these matches alone. If Manchester City were that good, they wouldn’t still be three points behind Arsenal. The game came at the end of a tough week, so at least the Gunners now have over seven days to get ready for Chelsea.
The defeat will only be a decisive blow in the title race if the Arsenal players allow it to be. They clearly do have more guts this season, just look at Mertesacker’s reaction to Ozil not thanking the fans after the game, so they have the perfect chance to show it next Monday. The doubters will enjoy this for a week, but a win against Chelsea and they’ll have to begrudgingly take Arsenal seriously.