If you were to tell somebody to write a script that embodied the current Arsenal team, then play out that script in the form of a football match, it would resemble something very similar to what we witnessed last night with the 3-0 defeat at the Etihad. It had all of the component parts:
- David Luiz stupitiy
- Couple of refereeing decisions go against us – I thought the lack of a foul on Nketiah by the Spanish City defender was a really poor one, especially as it was just him and Nketiah or Eddit was through on goal
- A Mesut Ozil saga with him not even in the squad
- Lapses of concentration at the back.
That is absolutely Arsenal in a nutshell. We imploded last night and by the end of the game, having spent three months desperate to see Arsenal again, I think almost unanimously every Arsenal fan realised what we weren’t missing.
The team news itself was a fairly big surprise. Now, if you’d have told me before Arteta would rotate with a view to Saturday’s game away to Brighton in mind, I’d probably have been less surprised. But I’m not so sure that this was a game in which Arteta was doing that, more rather a match in which some players have just failed to impress him in the training since the resumption of football.
In came Mari, Guendouzi, Willock, Saka and Nketiah and I was surprised to see all of them start to be honest with you. I thought he’d go stringer than that but I feel like i’ll only be able to properly comment on selection decisions like this if we see a different team up against Brighton at the weekend. But for now it feels like Arteta wanted fresh and young legs to try to counter the obvious possession-based game that City would deliver.
Unfortunately the plan was blown out of the water with two injuries within the first 25 minutes. First Xhaka within a couple of minutes, then Mari on around 20 minutes and at that point, you have to admit that whatever it was Arteta was planning it had to change. Mari had started ok, but Xhaka has been an important part in how we set up under Arteta, so to lose him so early on meant a shuffle. Ceballos came on and I thought looked busy enough, but he is not the same player as Xhaka and that’s an example of how ‘best laid plans…’ and all that.
Ceballos coming on wasn’t the hammer blow that Mari coming off for Luiz was though. He was on the field for 27 minutes and in those 27 minutes we got the worst end of the spectrum David Luiz. For the goal before halftime it was a lapse of concentration that let in Sterling, but for the second goal and sending off he received from bringing down Mahrez…well…that was just stupid. When you go down to ten man against any of the big teams then statistically the game is usually decided, because the best teams in the division control possession, probe and eventually find a way. That we were already one down when Luiz was sent off, well, that essentially ended the game and an opportunity for us to even imagine we could get anything from it. It was reckless, it was stupid, it was David Luiz. He fronted up afterwards but you have to question whether it is worth dropping another £200k-per-week on a player who literally costs you football matches.
Before that it looked like we were at least keeping our shape. As Gary Neville said in commentary we were pushing City out wide and trying to keep them there so they didn’t waltz through the middle of the team. But with the second half a non-entity, tactics didn’t really matter. For City it was just about getting the win and keeping the ball and for us I suspect it was just about keeping the score down.
It is therefore hard for me to work out this game. It is hard to say how poor individual players are too when you’ve got such a disadvantage against you against such a good side. So although i’ll name a few players now, I’m caveating that by saying that I understand the circumstances so I’m pretty much happy to ignore this match as an isolated ‘friendly’ anyway. I watched the game in relative silence as it is so that actually helped me a bit.
So, to individual performances. I’m not going to talk about Luiz because we know what a car crash he was. But I was hoping for something different from some of the young players. Like Willock, for example, who at the start of this season when he was fresh, dropped a few solid performances. But last night I barely heard his name and when you’re playing in the middle of the park you simply can’t have that. Nketiah had a couple of early glimpses but had the performances of a player who looks like he isn’t ready to step up although, having said that, Aubameyang was pretty anonymous too. Saka was quiet and then moved to left back to tuck in and Guendouzi had another one of those games where I wonder if all the hype last season was even remotely justified.
But conversely to that, we saw some decent stuff from Leno in making plenty of saves…again….and I thought Kieran Tierney looked excellent. Mari did ok for his 22 minutes but if his injury is long term then you wonder if the club really have enough data to make a decision on a player who has barely played for us, in terms of his loan deal, so if he’s out for a prolonged period of time you have to wonder about what our options should be.
That’s pretty much it in terms of the half decent news, because the only other stuff that clouded the overall evening was that once again Ozil was not fit. Apparently it was “tactical” reasons but if you’re naming a 20 man squad and your highest paid player doesn’t even get into position 20 on the bench, then those tactical reasons most likely amount to attitude, which in itself is a “tactical” reason for omission. But to me it feels like Ozil’s days might be numbered. Arteta has played Ozil regularly since he arrived. He’s given him a shot. If Ozil has been one of the players supposedly showing a bad attitude, then that’s him finished. Which is not the best position to be in because he still has a year left on his contract and clearly he has no intention of moving on in the summer. It all points to a rather grizzly situation and one in which yet another manager has got the hump with the German. With Emery there were those who could side with Mesut. But those people will probably be few and far between because Arteta has won a lot of followers since his arrival and I feel like this might be a fight Ozil won’t win. Or certainly outlast Arteta I hope.
We’ll know more with more data points and another one is not far away. We go to Brighton on Saturday and Mikel has to pick those players up.
Catch you all tomorrow.