Monday, December 16, 2013

Manchester City 6 Arsenal 3

This was always going to be a tough game. Arsenal had played two arduous games in the previous five days and had to travel to Manchester the day after they arrived from Naples. This game could have been played on Sunday, but was arranged for the Saturday lunch-time TV viewing. Some may argue that our opponents also played a midweek away game, but they had an extra day of rest and didn't have to go back on road. Besides, our midweek game was much harder with qualification at stake, while Man City could afford to rest key players after having secured their place in the knock-out stages with a game to spare.

Although Arsene Wenger was adamant prior to the game that he would not use the fixture congestion as an excuse, it was clear that fatigue was an issue as the Frenchman made as many as five changes from the side that started in the 2-0 defeat to Napoli in midweek. Fit-again Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal replaced Carl Jekinson and Kieran Gibbs, respectively, in the full-back positions. Aaron Ramsey started in place of Mikel Arteta, who publicly criticised the schedule. Jack Wilshere came in for Santi Cazorla, while Theo Walcott started for the first time since September at the expense of Tomas Rosicky. It was a mystery to us why Wenger did not use Theo in midweek even for the last 20 minutes or so as his pace could have made a difference, but probably the boss wanted to keep the right winger fresh for this match.

Only those who actually watched the whole game know how flattering the scoreline was for Man City and that the game was nothing like "thrashing" as the scoreline may suggest. Not all the match reports mention our two disallowed goals and penalty claim, but with those lost opportunities, the result could have been totally different. In particular, considering the timing, the potential penalty could have changed the whole dynamics of the game. At the Rendezvous bar, we were all incensed by the poor decisions of Martin Atkinson and Co. In fact, some say that they had never seen decisions as one-sided as in this game. Two perfectly good goals were ruled out for offside and a strong case of a handball was turned down (there was an intention, when Zabaleta lifted his arm. Man City fans may say that the ball hit his thigh and then bounced off his arm, but Tottenham have been given a penalty twice in the same situations this season). Furthermore, the penalty Man City was given was extremely soft as Milner was already going down and his trailing foot might or might not made a contact with Szczesny's foot. The ref looked as if he couldn't have waited to give a penalty as soon as we had scored a late goal through BFG's header. It's difficult to win a game when the officials make so many mistakes.

We admit that Arsenal gave away soft goals and made many mistakes, but they didn't play too badly. Stats show that they were not outplayed by their opposition with a 47% of possession (Man City's average possession is 56.8% vis-a-vis 53% in this game), 416 passes made against City's 476 with a better passing success rate of 85.1% in comparison with City's 84.5%. Arsenal registered 6 shots on target with a 54.5% shot accuracy rate, while City had 7 shots on target with a 38.9% accuracy.

Some question if Arsenal should have been more cautious, going to the Etihad, but we can see why Wenger didn't use two defensive midfielders as double pivot. Such defensive set-up was not successful at Old Trafford nor in Naples. Also, some question the substitutions, stating that a 4-2 scoreline would have looked better than a 6-3 defeat. It was a gamble to replace Flamini with Serge Gnabry, but Arsene must have thought we had a better chance to win the game by opening it up, seeing the fragility of the Man City defence. Had those four decisions gone in our way, Wenger's tactics might have just worked. It was good to see Arsenal have a real go, especially just after their disappointing display in Naples.

It was a tough game as we had to chase Man City all the time, but we never gave up. That was one of positives we can take from the game. Another one is Theo Walcott's return to full fitness. The England right winger had a good game on his first start in more than 3 months, scoring 2 goals. His performance highlighted what we were missing while he was sidelined. We needed somebody to get behind the defensive line, which Theo did in a number of occasions.

Koscielny's injury is obviously a blow as his partnership with Mertesacker was one of the key factors behind our excellent start to the season. Wenger confirmed that the France international suffered a deep cut on the knee and would be sidelined for a while. But look on the bright side. Vermaelen will have playing time he desperately wanted before he goes to the World Cup. We will be no longer bothered by those rumours about the Belgian international's wish to leave the Emirates. We have 9 days to prepare for the next game. It will be certain that BFG and the Verminator will have good drills beforehand with the rest of the back five.

This time the media wasted no time to pounce on the Arsenal "meltdown" story as Jack Wilshere's rude gesture and the "bust-up" between Mertesacker and his compatriot Özil dominated the back pages of the Sunday papers. Wenger condemned Jack Wilshere's alleged behaviour and stated that he hoped the Englishman would be banned if the report was found accurate. Although it is regretful to see an Arsenal player behaving badly, the midfield is an area we can afford to lose a player for a short term (Luis Suarez was landed with a one-match ban and fines after a similar case) and he shouldn't be a big loss. Santi should be fully recovered by the next game and Poldi's return is imminent as well.

On the other incident, some blame Mertesacker for his berating of Özil in public, but we appreciate his enthusiasm to keep the Club tradition and do the right thing. If somebody had to tell the £42 million star how to behave as a Gunner, it could only be his friend. Asked about the incident, Wenger answered that the Germans would sort it out themselves and he was right. Özil later apologised to the travelling fans on Twitter and Facebook: "Sorry I didn't thank the fans at the end of the game! You have been brilliant to me and I know you had travelled a long way and spent your money to support us. I was upset with the result and know I should have come to you to say 'thank you' and I know it is a big Arsenal tradition win, lose or draw."

We have always bounced back from disappointment in the past and we believe that this is no exception. The next game against second-placed Chelsea is another massive test, but considering that it's a home fixture and that we have plenty of time to recover and prepare this time around, the game is definitely winnable. Besides, Chelsea are still trying to find their feet under Mourinho and struggling to find any consistency in their performance.

Nothing is decisive at this time of the campaign as there are still 22 games to play, including a home game against Man City. We have been top of the league for 13 weeks and after all we are still top of the table. If we beat Chelsea, everybody will be asking "Crisis, what crisis?" once again.

Players rating

Szczesny: 6
We believe that he was innocent for the penalty. Some brave saves.

Sagna: 6
He was guilty of making a poor pass to Flamini, which led to a goal. On the other hand, he set up Mertesacker's goal.

Mertesacker: 7
He was guilty for one of the City's goals, but scored a goal.

Koscielny: 6

He was responsible for City's first goal by losing his mark, Aguero at the far post.

Monreal: 6
Lost the ball in a dangerous position and struggled to contain runners on the flank.

Flamini: 6
He unfortunate slip, combined with Sagna's misplaced pass, led to one of the City goal. He allowed his counterparts too much space.

Ramsey: 7

Set up Walcott's second goal with an incisive pass and was heavily involved in the build-up to Walcott's first.

Özil: 7

Set up Walcott's first goal, extending his assist tally to 7.

Wilshere: 6

Missed a glorious goal-scoring chance by mishitting the ball. Made a good effort, which forced a powerful save from Pantilimon. Had a defensively poor game. He was too slow on the ball, which allowed the City players to rob the ball.

Walcott: 8
Scored two goals.

Giroud: 6
We appreciate his work rate, but his finishing left a lot to be desired, missing 3 goal-scoring chances. On the other hand, he was unlucky his perfectly good goal was ruled out for offside. Walcott might have been in an offside position, but he did not affect the play and Giroud was definitely on side.


Vermaelen: 6

Replaced injured Koscielny in the 41st minute.

Gnabry: 6
72nd-minute substitute for Flamini. It was Wenger's massive gamble to bring him on for a holding midfielder. He lost the ball in a dangerous position.

Bendtner: 6

74th-minute substitute for misfiring Giroud. Made a brilliant effort, which was ruled out for offside.

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