By Dan Ferguson
Man City 3 Arsenal 1
This was not quite your bog-standard ‘Arsenal caving in to better team’ game.
There are so many different sub-texts to this game.
Firstly, Arsenal did cave in to a better team. Miles better. But before the game, Myles P was right to point out Wenger’s demeanor in the press conference. Something wasn’t there. His regular hubris, aloofness, or humour was not present. He was not good media. And Wenger is always good media.
The team selection was a patchwork.
He picked Iwobi, yet kept Ozil. He played Ozil and Sanchez in the same side. He dropped his most expensive player. He started Coquelin for the first PL game this season, as a sweeper in a 3-5-2/4-3-3 mash up. Xhaka and Ramsey both played when we all knew they couldn’t protect a shaky defence.
So it was always going to be bumpy.
In the first 90 seconds Aguero gave us a warning.
That’s not to say it was all City. In the first 10, Arsenal cut City to ribbons at times down Delph’s right hand side. On 11 minutes, Ozil’s awful flick in a really vulnerable area allowed another crazy passage of football bloopers. Sane’s cross/shot from the turnover and attack should have been turned in by Sterling, only for Kolasinac to push him in front of the ball and end up in the back of the net. It should have been a goal, or a penalty, but it was neither.
On 18 Kolasinac made a poor clearance pass under some pressure, deep in his own territory. The ball came back and Iwobi had a chance to pass and move, but as he was for the whole game, his timid touch exposed us and allowed the ball to be worked out to De Bruyne. His first shot was parried, and his second shot from a tougher angle was palmed into the net by Cech. Many people have said Cech should have saved it. It didn’t look like a fizzer to me. A well placed shot that beat an ageing keeper.
Arsenal still showed plenty of creativity and guile going forwards, but too often the final ball was poor, or ended up at the feet of Ramsey and Iwobi who were both too indecisive, slow and/or error-prone today.
City were wasteful and are by no means as good as they think they are. What is interesting is they won’t get better over the season.
The best teams do, but they have peaked early. Their defence cannot improve. They have no Kante in the midfield, and Fernandinho though versatile, is no snuffer of great attacking teams. If a rampant Chelsea, Spurs, or even Liverpool take it to them, they will roll over. PSG, Barcelona and an even weak Munich will intimidate their artisans.
The rest of the first half became quite an exciting exchange of attacking visions, punctuated by errors from both midfields.
Arsenal made more errors and should have been punished further, yet they still asked questions of the City back four. There were a few last ditch challenges, some bookings, a couple of laughable errors and flicks, and often when Ramsey, Ozil, Iwobi or Xhaka got caught out, (mainly because of Sanchez’s poor positional sense, work ethic and inefficiency in possession), the Arsenal back 4 or 3 were often presented with a 4 on 4, or 4 on 3 counter-attack. It stoked up those ‘just a matter of time’ feelings.
Arsenal started too slowly as they often do. Iwobi could not get the ball under control, even when not under that much pressure. The turnover deep in our territory lead to Monreal playing Sterling onside and then taking him down for a penalty. It was soft, but they are given and one of the more reliable Arsenal players should have known better. As Wenger intimated, Sterling is good at diving and will do it if invited. 2-0 Aguero.
After Ederson dropped Iwobi’s fizzing(ish) shot, Wenger finally replaced him with Lacazette.
Arsenal reverted to a 4-4-2(ish) formation and for a while regained their composure. They started taking the game to City and poking their weak-spots. It worked well and on 65 Lacazette scored a lovely goal from a really well worked Arsenal move.
Arsenal pressed effectively after the goal for a whole 90 seconds, and then punched themselves out, turned the ball over a couple of times, and Cech had to make a terrific last-ditch block on Jesus’ point-blank shot. The warnings were returning.
Ramsey, Ozil and Sanchez were still taking big risks in the Arsenal half getting caught in possession, and Sanchez was looking so lost, bored, injured or slow, that he could barely conduct himself, let alone the team.
The game’s biggest talking point was City’s third goal. It was blatantly offside.
But that doesn’t mean Arsenal should stop playing. They did, City scored, game over. A shame because the underdogs were just about fighting, but the favourites were just biding their time. It did not need a rubbish intervention by the Assistant Referee to swing the game for City. Some people claim it was onside. They will get their own comeuppance from the Football Gods who are supposedly meant to even everything out in the end. I will say this, on 79 mins against Stoke, 1-0 down and desperate for a goal, the Lacazette ‘just’ offside that everyone ‘agreed’ to made this onside look like an abuse of the rules. Yet Silva was ‘on’. Funny.
Arsenal were robbed, and Wenger now had his excuse. The game petered out, and no amount of graft was going to turn this around. I waited for the end because nothing more was going to happen and
I knew that Wenger was now going to milk it, try to get himself in trouble, take the focus off the team (yeah right!), and show how hard it is to play when the referees are so bad.
He did himself proud and is now facing the inevitable fine/ban. Yawn.
I said last week that Ozil should not have started. He was no worse than Iwobi, but his standards should be higher.
Sanchez ran the least of all outfield players on the pitch. He was crap. Simple as that. A waste of a decent player. He lacked all the professionalism that Wenger highlighted, and looked like a loser on Bullseye when they bring out the boat that he could have won. But he cannot and should not be relied upon any further. Nor Ozil. They are outdated and irrelevant re-runs of their once-pertinent selves,
Arsenal was given excuses when there weren’t any needed. City was the better team, and Arsenal worked them well in patches, but to no avail. The weaknesses remain, and picking flair players who want to flick the ball for no good reason will often result in being punished.
Now there is another international break, followed by Spurs on the 18th.
I wondered about the cost of the Spurs defeat of Madrid, and currently, Lloris, Alderweireld, Alli are all injured, and Kane is in the Red Zone. It will be interesting. But if a weakened Spurs XI can come to the Emirates and win, Wenger will not see out the season.
Not if he starts to lose the club more money.