Manchester City 3 – 1 Arsenal
Defeat was no surprise. Manchester City, the best Premier League team by some distance, against a pale shadow of Arsenal. Even before the bizarre team selection was announced, we were cast as lambs to the slaughter.
It sort of turned out that way. City were profligate in front of goal and in their build-up play. It meant that come half-time, only Kevin De Bruyne’s goal separated the two sides.
The scoreline could – should – have been better. Edersen’s save from Ramsey at the death – quicker reactions from a younger, nimbler goalkeeper – preserved the lead but De Bruyne’s goal was avoidable. Laurent Koscielny, slow to close down the shot, proved to be the perfect cover to fool Cech.
Arsenal woke up in the second half. A brief surge of promise early in the game developed into a slumber as City dominated. In the second, we improved as the half wore on. Or at least until the officials intervened.
Michael Oliver saw Raheem Sterling’s lean into Nacho Monreal as a penalty, the sort we are routinely denied. I don’t blame Oliver for awarding it; there was nothing unusual in the decision per se but we need consistency with the interpretation of those situations.
Arsenal’s game picked up. Alexandre Lacazette reduced the deficit with a cracking finish.
Until incompetent officiating stepped in. Level with play, the lino didn’t spot two City players offside. The first, David Silva, picked out Gabriel Jesus with the perfect pass; 3 – 1, game over. How can an official spot Lacazette’s toe being offside at Stoke but not see Silva and Jesus both being offside with half their bodies?
Yet we were architects of our own downfall. Sanchez played Kolasinac into trouble and both were staggeringly slow to try to recover the situation.
You can see why Arsène was upset. But…
Things Are Never Quite That Simple
He didn’t help himself. Nor did Mertesacker’s illness or Rob Holding’s thigh strain. Francis Coquelin played better than against Red Star but that bar was set so low that it is no commendation. The unanswered question is why Coquelin and not Elneny who has experience of playing there.
Should we be grateful he didn’t shove Kolasinac into the centre, Bellerin to the left and Coquelin – or Maitland-Niles – on the right? Even Debuchy. Small mercies don’t always explain situations away.
However, the most contentious decision was not included Alexandre Lacazette yet again, for a big match. This is a £52m striker, the club’s record signing. If he didn’t want to play the French international in big matches, why the hell did he sign him? If he doesn’t trust the striker in big matches, why the hell did he sign him.
That he scored underlines the sheer folly of Wenger’s decision. He’ll no doubt come up with the excuse that he had to fit Alex Iwobi into his side, and that Lacazette is still adapting. It’s rubbish; smoke and mirrors.
The real reason is that he sense Mesut Özil might stay so he has to play him in these big matches but the German isn’t enough of a goal threat or guaranteed to work hard on the flank, so Sanchez retains his place. Lacazette was the easiest to drop because he’s the new boy.
In short, Wenger doesn’t trust Özil to work hard enough but not losing him next summer on a free probably earns the Frenchman another three-year contract. The narrative will be set as Özil signing for Wenger, rather than the reality of no-one meeting his wage demands bar Arsenal.
Meanwhile, £52m-man sits on the bench wondering how he can’t get into this Arsenal side.
The manner of defeat is distorting the perception of the game. It’s easy to point to the officials and say that’s the reason we lost. Pep Guardiola nailed it when he dismissed their intervention and declared “we won because we were better.”
You can’t argue with that. However, did we lose because of Wenger? The team selection begged for 4-2-3-1 but he doesn’t trust Xhaka and Coquelin as a defensive midfield pairing. If he did, then going toe-to-toe with City might have brought more reward such was their own weakness at the back. It might have brough a slaughter…
The danger in all this is that Wenger looks at the game and thinks ‘my team is as good, why don’t we get the praise?’ We’re a long way from City’s level and not only that, their consistency.
Theirs is an expensively assembled squad which is built with a plan. Ours is partially built, always one or two players short. This is the Billy Beane world, the one with which Stan is so enamoured; the one Arsène is perfect for.
I’m not expecting any change to this situation any time soon.