This tight, pulsating encounter was settled by a scrappy goal which owed much to the lack of natural full backs in a red shirt and ultimately denied Arsenal a point they might have nicked on another day.
Going into the match without Gibbs, Santos, Sagna and Jenkinson, Wenger had no choice but to field centre backs Djourou on the right and Vermaelen on the left. We were coping well, despite some close shaves, before Djourou hobbled off just after half time and young Miquel had to be introduced. The Spaniard is also a centre back, but had to play left back, with Vermaelen moving to the centre to partner Mertesacker while Koscielny moved to right back. Confused? The reshuffled Arsenal defence certainly was for a good 10 minutes and it was during this period that City scored the vital goal.
Balotelli drifted out to the left flank and Koscielny — who had a fine game up to that point — took up a terrible position next to Mertesacker instead of covering the obvious through ball to Balotelli. Then instead of running alongside Balotelli to challenge him as he ran down the line, Koscielny drifted into his own area as his centre back instincts took hold and it was Song who had to come across to try and stop the Italian. Being on a yellow Song was too cautious and Balotelli got by him very easily, getting off a shot which Szczesny did well to save, only for the loose ball to eventually be tapped in by Silva. As the Spaniard slotted home, young Miquel was marking nobody in the centre of the box — a good full back would’ve sensed the danger and been tighter to Silva.
Even though Koscielny and Miquel were culpable for the goal, it’s hard to be too critical as they were forced to play out of position and in fact, the goal aside, they both did very well. Koscielny was our best player in the first half, making good interceptions and tackles. At one point he even burst from his own half past three challenges to set up a good chance for us, but the move to right back meant he couldn’t maintain his performance.
Miquel’s first involvement was to nervously give away a corner, from which he made a brilliantly timed challenge on Silva in the area. From then on he was good without being spectacular, although in the latter stages when we were pushing for an equaliser we missed the swashbuckling Santos.
Two players who weren’t good were the wide men, Walcott and Gervinho. They were as poor today as they were impressive at Chelsea. Walcott in particular had no impact whatsoever and Zabaleta had to get him out of his pocket so he could be subbed.
It says much that Zabaleta didn’t even have to break into a sweat to stifle Walcott, yet when he played against Oxlade-Chamberlain in the Carling Cup game the Ox gave him the runaround. Theo isn’t going to get much better, whereas the Ox is improving fast and realising his massive potential far quicker than even Wenger thought. Theo really needs to be more consistent if he’s to keep his place in the side.
As for Gervinho, he got into some fine positions but once again his final ball and decision making were poor. In fact the goal came when he lost possession cheaply and apart from a snapshot in the first half and a good pass to RVP for a chance our captain hit Hart’s legs with, the Ivorian did nothing. Again, more consistency is required.
None of our four centre backs can stop Silva poking in the winner
Still, nothing was at least more than Arshavin produced and it really must be time to get rid of him now. His body language and effort levels are woeful and get worse with every passing match. He snapped at a couple of good chances and with his first touch could’ve played a ball across the area for two waiting Arsenal players to tap in, but he scuffed it straight to Hart. It pains me to be advocating selling him, but how long can we excuse his performances and attitude because of those four goals at Anfield? I’d rather have seen Benayoun come on to be honest.
The other sub, Chamakh, did what most Gooners expected him to do — nothing. Ok he only had eight minutes, but seriously, what was the point? He is woefully out of form and is now eyeing the exit door because he can’t get a regular game. Sell him along with Arshavin and bring in Podolski — simples.
It says much for the chances we created that Hart, Kompany and Zabaleta were City’s standout performers. If we had more of a cutting edge we could’ve penetrated them, but if RVP doesn’t score then we don’t look likely. In fact Vermaelen carried more of a goal threat than anyone else, forcing Hart into a great tip-over on 90 minutes and then curling a long-ranger just wide in injury time as Hart flung himself desperately across goal. Hart was also on hand to deny van Persie, Ramsey and Gervinho in the first half and was busier than Szczesny, who also made two superb stops from Aguero.
On a side note it made me chuckle when the stadium announcer revealed that Nasri was the Man of the Match. You what?! He did nothing except for a five minute spell around the time they scored and played a terrible pass when one on one which my daughter could’ve made to let us off the hook. I suppose when you’ve been mugged by Arsenal to the tune of £25m for a one-season wonder who spends most of his time picking splinters out of his arse, you have to try and save a bit of face where you can.
So all in all a good display but a pointless one, which is hard to take. Wenger complained that Silva was offside but replays showed he was fractionally on. Van Persie also had a goal ruled out because he was fractionally offside, but on another day, with a kinder linesman, one or both of those marginal decisions would’ve gone our way. I’m not saying they were wrong calls because they weren’t — it’s just with all the poor refereeing decisions we’ve seen in the Premier League recently, trust us to get two linesmen with 20-20 vision!
Still, one small crumb of comfort is that we’ve now played the top four away from home. In the New Year they all have to come to us. I really feel the fixtures could’ve been kinder — if today’s match was at the Emirates I’d have really fancied us, especially the way we played. But if we have some patience we will certainly pick up some points against the top four when they come to north London and we have the likes of Sagna, Santos and Wilshere back in the side. And that’s when the table will reflect more accurately that we are definitely a top four side.
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