Monday, January 14, 2013

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 2

Going down to 10 men so early was always going to prove a huge handicap against the champions, Manchester City. At half time, we were just hoping that the scoreline wouldn't end up too embarrassing or too detrimental to our players' confidence ahead of a run of crucial matches. As it turned out, Arsenal's spirited display in the second half brightened up our bleak Sunday afternoon. Although clear-cut chances were hard to come by, our midfield, led by Jack Wilshere in the absence of Mikel Arteta due to a calf strain, was battling hard to obtain possession, while our defence looked solid against Man City's counter-attack, recovering well after shaky spells in the first half. The numerical equilibrium was restored when Kompany was sent off for his challenge on Wilshere with 15 minutes left. However, playing with one man down for such a long period had started taking its toll by then. We were unable to take advantage of the sending off of their talisman and fell to a 2-0 defeat.

Some question Wenger's team selection, but we are not going to go into that argument. Whichever the boss picks, Mertsacker or Koscielny, there is always criticism afterwards. Wenger chose Koscielny, probably based on his heroics in the reverse fixture earlier this season. It is unfortunate that the France defender could not reproduce the performance.

Obviously the referee's two major decisions were the centre of post-match talking points. Koscielny's foul on Dzeko was utterly stupid and there was no denying a penalty, but many argue that the sending off might have been a harsh decision. On the Sky Sports site, Chris Kamara called for a change in the rule book, claiming that when a foul that denies a clear goal-scoring opportunity takes place, you are given the goal-scoring chance back with a penalty kick. So the law should be changed so that the player should be sent off, only when such a foul takes place outside the box, because you don't receive a free shot at goal.

The defeat was a blow for our top-four aspiration as we failed to take advantage of Tottenham, Everton and West Brom all dropping points and now we trail fourth-placed Spurs by 7 points with a game in hand.

However, we can take heart from Arsenal's spirit in the second half. They gave absolutely everything. If only Giroud had buried his chance with a free header and Walcott's effort hadn't been cleared by Lescott off the line, we could have conjured up a miraculous comeback. Although we lacked the killer instinct in the final third, nobody could question our spirit and desire.

Another positive from the game was Jack Wilshere's performance. He battled hard to win possession and drove the team forward whenever he could. He even saved Garcia's goal-bound effort off the line. His contribution to the team has been impressive since his return from the long-term injury which kept him on the sidelines for 14 months.

Also, Diaby came through the game unscathed. He completed 65 minutes in the U-21 game against West Brom in midweek, his first game since September. This game was thought to have come too soon for him, but Arteta's injury had left no choice for Wenger but to turn to the France midfielder. Although he appeared rusty in the first half with a few passes going astray and wrong decisions for the final ball, he made his presence felt as the game wore on. Diaby believes he had no reaction to his thigh injury from Sunday's 62-minute exertion, which is good news for us.

There is no time to feel sorry for ourselves. The crucial FA Cup replay awaits us on Wednesday night. This is a must-win game for us as the FA Cup is our only realistic chance to win any silverware this season. Arsene Wenger blamed his side's allowing the opponents to dictate the game for their defeat to Man City. Hopefully, the team will have learned lessons and take the game to Swansea from the moment the kick-off whistle has blown.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Made a couple of great saves, including a penalty save.

Sagna: 6
Much improved display compared with his recent performances.

Koscielny: 4
The hero of the reverse fixture earlier this season turned to the villain. There is no doubt his dismissal swung the game hugely in favour of Man City.

Vermaelen: 7
Solid in the second half, but he should have done better as a leader in defence when Man City took a free-kick quickly.

Gibbs: 6
His losing of the battle against Zapaleta led to the free-kick, which eventually resulted in Man City's goal. Otherwise, did OK.

Cazorla: 6
Not as eye-catching as he was earlier this season, but did his job.

Diaby: 6
Encouraging performance in the second half, considering his long lay-off. Withdrawn in the 63rd minute. Hopefully, he will have a longer run of games this time. Keep fingers crossed for his fitness.

Wilshere: 8
He has been targeted by the oppositions because of the battling nature of his game and his well-known feistiness, but he has been coping very well. Great to see him making his trade-mark "bursts".

Oxlade-Chamberlain: N/A
He was replaced by Mertesacker, following the sending off of Koscielny, before he had a chance to assert himself.

Walcott: 6
He didn't do very much as a lone striker. His best chance came when he had moved to the right wing and was unleashed by Ramsey's pass, only to be cleared by Lescott off the line.

Podolski: 7
Worked hard.


Mertesacker: 7
Came on the pitch at the expense of the Ox in the 12th minute to replace Koscielny who was sent off.

Giroud: 6
57th-minute substitute for Podolski. Headed over the bar when he had received Cazorla's curling free-kick. It is disappointing to see his inability to make a difference in this kind of situations.

Ramsey: 7
Replaced Diaby, who was never expected to last for 90 minutes, in the 62nd minute. Had a decent game in his natural position in central midfield.

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