Arsenal 0 – 2 Manchester City
0 – 1 Milner (21)
0 – 2 Dzeko (32)
Koscielny sent off (10)
Szczesny saved penalty (11)
Arsenal’s ability to self-destruct never ceases to amaze. Ten minutes into the game and Laurent Koscielny was correctly dismissed from the field of play for a professional foul. It was a moment of rank stupidity which made an already difficult fixture, extraordinarily hard. It was an utterly incomprehensible decision by the defender; why would he grapple with the forward that close to goal? He has not done so in the past to prevent goals, why choose such an important match to act so rashly? As it was Szczesny saw the gods smile on him, deflecting the ball onto the post and then having the quick wits to grasp it as it rolled along the goal-line.
With Arsenal down to ten men, the pretence of a contest disappeared. Within twenty minutes, the contest was over as slack marking by Vermaelen allowed Milner the time to lash home a superb shot across Szczesny. Mitigating circumstances of the dismissal and a need to regroup there might have been but when the freekick was quickly taken, no Arsenal midfielder reacted nor did the Belgian stay close enough to his opponent. It was a bad afternoon all round for the Belgian national team in their defensive duties.
Surprisingly Arsène opted for Koscielny and Vermaelen at the back when all season, Mertesacker has been the stable influence. That backfired with the dismissal but even stranger was the choice of Diaby for the injured Arteta. I know that the manager has great faith in the abilities of his midfielder but having missed so much football in recent years, it was folly to include him from the start, especially with more viable alternatives on the bench. Ramsey is by no means popular but is considerably better than he is given credit for and also match fit. Diaby’s touch in those circumstances was wayward and he looked off the pace at times. All of those things are entirely understandable, which is more than can be said for the decision to start him.
Matters got worse with half an hour played, Zabaletta proved stronger than Gibbs initially and from then on the defence was stretched. Szczesny did well to parry Tevez’s close range effort but if fell to the unmarked Dzeko, who atoned for his penalty miss by scoring. Wilshere subsequently cleared off the line with the interval approaching. Although the match was over in terms of the result before half-time, it is to the credit of those who remained on the pitch that the second half offered hope of salvaging a point.
The introduction of Giroud offered a different type of threat up front from Walcott. The younger of the pair had been isolated through circumstance and tactics employed but the Frenchman had the first genuine opportunity to reduce the deficit with a header from cl0se range. The miss extinguished hope of a tremendous fight back. That may have happened moments earlier but for Szczesny’s decision to dive at the feet of Tevez, preventing what seemed a certain third. The Pole played well in spite of the defeat.
With fifteen minutes to go, Kompany jumped into the tackle with both feet off the ground. It was correctly called as a straight red card. It doesn’t matter if he wins the ball, the action in itself is deemed to be dangerous. Like Koscielny’s dismissal, there can be no complaints. Where referees are open to criticism is on consistency. Kompany made a worse challenge at Carrow Road and play continued with a goal resulting. Why was that not deemed a foul when yesterday’s was? Fifa were heavily criticised for removing the element of interpretation from refereeing decisions some years ago. It was, the critics claimed, taking away commonsense but it also tried to introduce consistency. This is the root of poor officiating; it always has been, it always will be.
Post-match, the manager observed that Arteta would be out for three weeks which is an obvious blow. The sands of the transfer market requirements are shifting, time is running out for action. The problem is finding people of quality, the manager is right to observe that men of Arteta’s knowledge and ability are few and far between. But he shouldn’t be looking for them in January, there is enough time outside of the transfer window to put deals in place before it opens. The limitations have not suddenly been exposed, they have been apparent for some time now. I know that he is managing expectations but it is not working.
The inactivity is not being seen as unfortunate, there are no credible excuses offered in that respect. It is being seen as incompetence and that is genuinely worrying. The man deserves better than that but obtuse statements to the media do not help. Once more, PR is proving to be a weak spot and one he seems disinclined to do anything about.