Manchester City 3 – 1 Arsenal
After conceding the opening goal inside the first thirty seconds, feeling frustrated at the manner of defeat is something new. Yet, as much as we were beaten by the better side, we were also our own worst enemies. Familiar failings – Keystone Kop defending, poor game management – add an unnecessary degree of aggravation to the outcome.
Pessimistic as I wrote yesterday’s preview, my mood sank when I saw the line-up. It was one which begged for the inclusion of Ramsey or Ozil. The creative link between defence and attack was missing; as much as Ozil frustrates, he might have made a difference to our ball retention. He could hardly have been as ineffective as Kolasinac or Iwobi. Or at least he would have been a different kind of ineffective.
Then again, would a different XI have contrived the same failings and conceded the same goals? I think so.
We were undone before we’d started, loading the pistol and shooting merrily at our feet. Iwobi did his familiar soft shoe shuffle on the right edge of the penalty area and lost possession. From the resulting cross, Aguero stole a march on Monreal and scored the first of three simple goals.
It was avoidable in every respect. Why did Iwobi fanny around with the ball and why was Mustafi so deep in the penalty area, keeping everyone onside? He ambled around with no positional sense whatsoever. It’s beyond a joke to the point where I question whether he should ever wear an Arsenal shirt again?
Strange Things Happen
Mustafi was at it again minutes later when he blatantly pulled back Aguero but inexplicably, no penalty was given. Wait, it was Martin Atkinson which explains it all. Thank god. But it begs the question of why Wenger and Emery persist with him? Without a doubt, he is the most expensive flop we’ve ever bought; a panic buy which damns the scouting network which thought he was up to scratch.
Unai Emery tried to explain afterwards that Mustafi was injured. However, I’d have cut him off mid-sentence as he’d explained everything succinctly:
No. I think last week he is with some problems also in his head
No argument from me.
Thereafter, a strange thing happened: we started to play. Not fluidly but gradually we didn’t turn to jelly defensively. For a while at least, things got brighter. The catalyst was an equaliser straight from 1989. A
During the remainder of the first half, Torreira and Guendouzi fought hard, won the ball and particularly young Mateo, distributed the ball with some aplomb. Yes, there were mistakes but he’s 19-years-old and showed more heart than some of his more experienced team-mates. There is an outstanding player in him screaming to be unleashed.
Shamefully, our game management proved askew once again. Getting to the interval all-square made the game tricky for the home side but we couldn’t manage that.
Shoot! Shoot! For Crying Out Loud, SHOOT!
City’s second goal was exquisite from a footballing point of view, begun by Gundogan’s delightful flick pass to Sterling. Yet defending was from another defensive dud. Lichtsteiner abandoned the pretext of being a right-back as he guiltily watched the ball while Sterling hugged the touchline. The Swiss followed the ball as the England man ran behind to latch onto the pass while Aguero lost Koscielny at the far post to tap-in.
A minute before half-time. All it required was concentration and ball retention, to calmly see the half out. The collective mentality was not to retain possession but to attack and nick a lead. It’s not a lack of experience because we have that in abundance; it’s a lack of application, a complete abandonment of footballing principles and a chronic lack of discipline.
Unai Emery bears some responsibility for that but the players are the ones on the pitch. There isn’t a leader among them who commands enough respect to be listened to. None of them is a genuine captain; not one of them.
Don’t expect me to talk of attacking play any more either. The 39th-minute is passed and that was the last time we managed a shot on target. No wonder we lost; the second half saw us robbed of momentum while the stuffing knocked out of us by the second goal couldn’t be sewn back into the bodies during the interval. We were a ragged teddy bear whose seams burst, sitting in a puddle of water in a torrential downpour. Downbeat, downcast and despondent; no fight left in us nor a shred of self-belief.
City’s third came from a familiar source: the Arsenal right. Lichtsteiner…what’s the point? He really is proving a costly free transfer. Aguero scored off his arm as he slid in. So what if it was handball, it made no difference and in the great of ‘football evens itself out’, that kind of made up for the non-penalty.
There is a lot of criticism of Emery for the defeat but I think it is a clear exposing of our weaknesses. This wasn’t a lesser side where we could score more to cover our deficiencies; this was a very good side which barely broke sweat in making us look worse than distinctly average.
People wonder why we aren’t showing any improvement on last season but where is the investment to make us better? Kroenke’s obsession with LA Rams means we won’t ever see a penny from him to make this club great again. After sinking $1.5bn into their stadium, he isn’t parting with any money for us. Ever.
I find a modicum of joy in the Rams
That isn’t going to help us any time soon. Chelsea face City next weekend while United face Liverpool after the FA Cup 5th round. Big games for them while we face ‘routine’ matches. We’ll scrape through and be back in the ‘race’ for fourth. Somehow, this ragtag bunch may yet claim a Champions League place.
God knows how.