Man City 6-3 Arsenal | Title credentials called into question

Despite what the league table shows right now, we aren’t the best side in the country. Man City ruthlessly exposed that fallacy and reaffirmed many people’s belief (including mine) that they will be crowned champions in May. We played our part in an extraordinarily open and entertaining game, but the gulf between ourselves and what is required to win the league was on show for all to see today.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. I don’t have the time or inclination to relive all nine goals and numerous other chances in a typical match report, so here are some thoughts now I’ve had time to digest the day’s events.

OUR SQUAD IS LOPSIDED

What may prove more costly than the loss of three points is the loss of Koscielny with a nasty laceration to his knee. I doubt we’ll see him until the New Year which is bad news considering this season’s new-found defensive solidity has been built on the Koscielny-Mertesacker axis. Vermaelen is a more than able deputy, but doesn’t seem to have the right chemistry when paired with either of our first choice centre halves. What’s even more worrying is should one of Vermaelen or Mertesacker pick up a knock/suspension, Sagna is actually our fourth choice centre back. Playing a right back out of position is not ideal and also has the knock-on effect of bringing the inexperienced Jenkinson into the team. I think Jenkinson has a chance to become a good defender in the future, but he lacks the quality right now and weakens our side considerably when he plays.

Bottom line — if your fourth choice centre back is going to be Sagna, you MUST have a better back up than Jenkinson.

We are also short at the other end of the pitch. Now I am a huge fan of Giroud — the guy works hard every game, puts himself about and has grown into the role of a lone centre forward very well. Playing up front on your own in this Arsenal side is trickier than doing so for Stoke for example, where physical strength and prowess in the air are the main requirements. For Arsenal, this must be allied to an excellent touch and the ability to exchange fast, intricate passes with our technically gifted midfielders. It’s a demanding role. In the past year Giroud has developed that part of his game and is an excellent Premier League striker. The trouble is, to win titles and Champions League trophies we need a world class striker up there. Giroud would be a brilliant back up to Suarez, for example, but the chances he missed today show that he doesn’t quite cut it.

To be fair to the guy he also badly needs a breather. He may be mentally as well as physically fatigued and hasn’t scored in his last five matches. It’s been said many times before, but we really should have a better trio of central strikers than Giroud, Bendtner and Sanogo (remember him?) at the club.

In contrast, we are overflowing with midfielders/wingers and Theo reminded us of the unique attributes he can offer us. His first goal was a tad lucky (surely Hart would’ve saved it?) but his second was pure class — Henry himself would’ve been proud of that finish. But it’s not just his goal threat we’ve been missing. For the first time in a long time we had a wide player playing off the shoulder of the defenders, looking to dart behind the backline and make forward runs beyond Giroud.

While Theo and the Ox have been injured, we’ve generally seen two of Cazorla, Wilshere, Ozil, Ramsey and Rosicky playing out wide. All five are central midfielders by trade. As a result they are rarely inclined to make runs beyond Giroud and get on the end of through balls. They prefer playing the killer passes than running onto them whereas Theo is the opposite — he adds an extra dimension to our attacking play and it’s great to have him back.

So in summation, not enough defenders or strikers and too many midfielders — Wenger needs to redress his squad balance in the summer if we are to sustain a season-long challenge for honours.

WENGER WENT FOR IT TODAY

Wenger sprung a surprise (to me at least) by playing Ramsey in the middle with Flamini instead of Arteta. By dispensing with our double defensive midfield pivot, he was going toe to toe with the best attacking side in the league on their own pitch. A fortress where they’d won all seven home matches, scoring an incredible 29 goals in the process (it’s now played eight, won eight, scored 35, conceded five — wow!)

It was brave, but I see why he did it. On Wednesday we went to Napoli with Arteta and Flamini in tandem and created virtually nothing. At Old Trafford it was the same story as we hardly put a decent move together in the whole match. We lost both games with a whimper. We have had our best performances with Ramsey playing from a central position next to Arteta or Flamini, giving our player of the season so far the chance to influence the play more. Wenger fancied we could expose their weakness at the back and he was right — we scored three and should’ve had six. Unfortunately, we aren’t yet good enough at the other end and conceded six which should have been ten.

To be honest I was more disappointed at the listless defeat to a poor Man Utd side than today’s loss. At least we had a go at Man City and scored some goals — if we’d put on that performance at Old Trafford we’d have beaten them. Unfortunately for us, City are very, very good on their own patch and punished every mistake we made (which there were far too many of — Koscielny ball-watching for the first goal and Ozil’s slack pass for their third spring to mind).

Where I take issue with Wenger is hauling Flamini off on 70 minutes for Gnabry, leaving us with neither Flamini or Arteta at a time when our exertions on Wednesday (and the runaround Everton gave us on Sunday) caught up with us. We pushed forward gamely but when City broke they did so unchallenged every single time until they reached our exposed back four. Our players looked like they were running in treacle during those last 20 minutes. I know we were chasing the game, but we were a boxer out on it’s feet who you feared could be seriously damaged as the contest wore on. Whether that’s the case remains to be seen, but hopefully we have more mental strength than in seasons past when we have often collapsed at the first big setback. Wenger should’ve known better than to expose us to that possibility.

WE CONCEDED SIX BUT WE WEREN’T THRASHED

I’m a bit annoyed at the amount of headlines that contain the word ‘thrashed’ in them. A three goal victory is convincing, but not a thrashing. Nobody is ever ‘thrashed’ 3-0 for example. This kind of negative thinking can seriously effect a team with a history of having a brittle mentality. This was a far different game to the 6-0 they beat Spurs by — now that was a thrashing, a match in which Spurs were never in with a shout of getting anything from the game. We were second best today, but nevertheless still creating chances and definitely in the game at 1-2, 2-3 and even 2-4 — right up until those last 20 minutes in fact. Man Utd conceded four at the Etihad, Spurs six and I wonder how many Jose ‘one clean sheet in eleven’ Mourinho’s team would get battered by. We won’t play a better attacking side all season unless we draw Bayern, Barcelona or Real Madrid on Monday and scoring three at the Etihad shouldn’t be glossed over either. There are plenty of positives when put into perspective despite the misleading ‘thrashed’ headlines.

I’M FASCINATED TO SEE HOW WE’LL REACT

We are lucky in some ways that we have an ideal opportunity to get back on track straightaway against another top side. Chelsea are leaking goals and we have nine days to regroup, prepare our tactics and rest some weary limbs. It’s a pivotal match, make no mistake about that — lose and we could slip to third. We were five points clear of 2nd this morning but all of a sudden we’re five points clear of 4th placed Liverpool, who have a game in hand.

It’s time to cross your fingers and hope that today was a temporary setback, not the start of our annual dogfight for fourth place. If we’re being honest with ourselves though, the league is surely beyond us this year. A more realistic target is a comfortable top four finish, a proper go at the FA Cup and a good summer acquiring the players we need to challenge next season. Considering where we were after the Villa defeat, I’d happily take that.

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Comments
  1. Red Digger

    A nice write up, I agree with many of your comments especially theo being different to the central midfielders we have being playing on thew wings. Its a very valid point and will help us a lot now he is back

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  2. Nizam

    MC scored simple goals. They don’t try to play complicated stuff like Arsenal.
    When there are gaps they take advantage and try to shoot instead of making that
    extra pass. That ,imho,is the crucial difference between other sides and Arsenal.
    The problem is the gunners are forever trying to weave a ball through the tightest of corners and get punished as in previous similar games against Mu and Chelsea.
    When Stoke scored their winner,the forward was one to one with Ivanovich.
    He took advantage of the gaps.Arsenal attack gives defenders time to regroup .Don’t believe me. Watch videos of games where Arsenal get beaten by MU/Chelsea and even Hull.

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    • Gooner Steve

      I don’t think we’ll see Arsenal play any other way under Wenger. It hasn’t worked out too badly on the whole, though I agree I’d like to see us shoot more from outside the box.

      Hopefully Theo’s presence will improve the pace of our attacks, particularly on the break.

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  3. Broadis

    As a City supporter for over 60 yrs It’s good to read a genuine fan write sense. I watched today’s game with a constant nervousness until the end. – A truly great contest & I hope you finish 2nd !

    Agree or Disagree?   Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

    • Gooner Steve

      Thanks. Sort out your away form and the title will be yours by March!

      There don’t seem to be many top quality teams this year, hence Arsenal are top merely by being consistent rather than brilliant. At least it makes for a fascinating title race though.

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  4. Hitul Thobhani

    Hmmm sobering and humbling experience this afternoon. Fair shout overall from you, but a tad negative and pessimistic IMO. Sure we have lost to some big teams but lets not write off our chances just yet.

    The squad imbalance is crazy. Wenger is like a shoe-holic girl in a shoe mega mall when it comes to attacking midfielders. He just can’t resist buying more – and at the expense of other areas of the squad. Fair play he went after Liverpools Lecter like a crazed stalker, but landing another world class striker not in the top 3 in the world would have been a huge step up for us and a massive gap plugged.

    My worries are…
    -We are shot after big UCL games. No one else seems so vulnerable
    -The solidity is showing chinks. Today aside, we were impenetrable, and this seems to have faded
    -Ramsey’s gone off the boil a tad – he can’t keep scoring a goal a game but the sparks missing
    -Özils problem is he is judged by his own standards coz he’s that good. I love him but is the swagger what it was? Maybe this one is premature – I hope so
    -Santi is a shadow of the player he was last season. Does he feel overshadowed by Rambos form and Özils arrival?

    I don’t want to over react, and there is a long way to go. The riches of Chelsea and City’s benches are more of a concern at this tough and testing mid winter point. One things for certain – we will see what we are made of in the next few games – not least our toughness and team spirit

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  5. hassan

    Bitter arsenal got whopped cant take it in defeat as per usual excuses are running a wonderful day at the etihad why cant you ever give credit to the opponent when beaten typical goons

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  6. Drew

    “This kind of negative thinking can seriously effect a team with a history of having a brittle mentality.” Yes, the press are thinking its Christmas all over again. For the first time since the opening game they have the chance to get stuck in. We looked tired, misplacing passes, second best in tackles, players ran past ours. But, we basically had two days less rest than them and there were incorrect decisions that should have given us maybe two goals (three dubious offsides when we had men up and the handball). MC were absolutely the best team, we had no answer for Toure, Giroud’s legs are clearly going, the midfield were spraying passes at half speed, Monreal had his worst game I can remember, and I don’t think “we deserved more from the game” (just the press) but I think we still did OK considering city could probably beat any side in Europe at home. We still took the game to them and exposed them a few times, and I have confidence against Chelski.

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  7. Shanzu

    Yes correct Drew we did look tired etc but that just demonstrates exactly what the press, ex arsenal players, the media and indeed us the majority of fans have been saying all along for many years now that we need to have a strong and experienced squad that can cope with the intense seasonal football programme imposed by the game. Look at MC they made three substitutions and each time they reformed into a stronger and different tactical team. We do not have this luxury and consequently we will suffer during the season particularly when the Champions league resumes in February. Wenger must buy in January if we are to win a trophy this year.

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