Ahh man, do I feel frustrated this morning, after that result yesterday.
Going up to Man City and being in the game, losing by the odd goal, is nothing to be ashamed of. But I can’t help but think there was a real element of us not rolling the dice at times yesterday against last season’s runners up.
City have spent millions. They have a massively talented squad of quality players. But yesterday we were a match for them and Arteta he can certainly keep us in these games more than we’ve been used to. But ultimately we all still wake up this morning with yet another away day defeat. The numbers are eye-watering. They’re probability and ‘law of averages’ defying. I think 90% of the Premier League teams have a better record away at the ‘Big Six’ than we do. So the fact that we went up there and played a bit within our selves yesterday I thought, well, I kind of stings a bit.
We had a bit of bad news from the start with Holding injured in the warm up, but given I’m not his biggest fan I’m not going to pretend that I think it had a profound impact on the outcome on the game. Arteta went with what some would call a back three whilst others would attest is a back four, but either way we kept things similar to the last six months when playing those big teams. The inclusion of Luiz instead of Holding made little difference in the end and actually I thought he had an okay game.
But therein we probably see the nub of yesterday’s problem for Arsenal; too many players were just “okay”. We looked better in possession, we looked structured out of possession and the space between our lines was compact when we didn’t have the ball, which was good. But whereas in the FA Cup Semi Final we sprung the traps well I thought yesterday it seemed like we laid them all down but just didn’t activate those traps.
We seemed to play within ourselves. We controlled the ball at the back, we passed around nicely, but in the final third we didn’t really create very many chances at all and that is a very real worry in these games. You don’t go from “ooh we were in this and the gap has narrowed” to “get in! a valuable three points” unless you create and convert more chances. We didn’t create too many and that has to be something Arteta looks at.
Saka did plenty of creating yesterday though. I thought he was excellent again and he must surely be getting to the stage where Arteta has to include him every week now. He had the beating of his man – whoever he was one-v-one against – and even created our best chance of the game which drew a smart save from Ederson. But we needed to see more from more of the senior players. I thought Pepe did his defensive duty and closed down space well, but we just didn’t see enough of him in the attacking third of the pitch. Aubameyang was quiet all night and Willian…well…he was anonymous. Arteta chose to deploy the Brazilian as a false nine and whilst afterwards Arteta admitted the plan was because he thought Willian would help with overloads, the reality was that he did very little throughout. When Lacazette came on in the second half he too offered nothing going forward and at times was essentially playing as a central midfielder. If you are going to play a tactical approach which draws out your opponent on to you so you can spring beyond them as they entertain a high press against you, then you need to be able to have your forwards higher up the pitch or at least with the pace to get in to those attacking zones. I did not feel that Lacazette did that in the slightest and I just hope yesterday just gave another bit of evidence to Arteta that in a game like this it is better to turn to somebody like Nketiah with his pace, more than anything else.
I think the midfield didn’t quite work either and I honestly thought we’d see the introduction of Partey a little sooner than we did. Perhaps that was just the risk-averse nature of Arteta in this game, but it does feel like we left the subs a little late, which again adds to the frustration. Ceballos was poor, Xhaka did already, but getting Partey on for Willian, shifting Auba central and pushing Saka further up wide left would have allowed us to test a City team who – whilst better than us still gave us respect – would have been a move i’d have looked to have made on the hour mark to give the team enough opportunity to settle in to those new roles. As it was we left it a little late and City ran down the clock with possession that stifled us and ensured we didn’t create too many chances as the clock ticked down.
It feels like we missed a big chance yesterday, especially with the players the had missing, but I’m also super frustrated once again with VAR. The high foot from Walker on Gabriel in the box from the corner right on the stroke of halftime would have drawn a foul on any other area of the pitch. So why not in City’s penalty box? It was dangerous and reckless and yet the ref did nothing. It is not as if Gabriel is a small bloke and it’s also not as if he was stooping down there. Walker’s foot was six feet in the air and afterwards when Mikel questioned it he was told VAR didn’t even have a look at it.
Why does this keep happening to us? We had the Mane incident – a fist in the face – and now this? We also had that terrible tackle by Berge from Sheffield United on Auba before the international break which could have seen him pick up a serious injury. I am going to be super livid the next time we go to VAR in one of our games because a player had a nipple offside and VAR takes five minutes, yet in instances where we have classic ‘endangering an opponent’ situations VAR is just shrugging its shoulders and ignoring. Totally pathetic. We might as well not have it and go back to bitching about the terrible referees we have in this country. At least then we can caveat it by saying that these things happen in a split second. Now VAR gives the shoddy refs the opportunity to review and nothing happens.
Anyway…that incident aside I think whilst we can take heart in the gap we are narrowing to be competitive, ultimately I go back to our lack of chance creation, which is doing us in at the moment. Mikel has ticked the ‘keep things close and structured’ box in these big games. Now we need to move to the next level and turn those defeats into wins.
Catch y’all tomorrow.