I’m struggling to properly put my feelings in to proper context this morning, with regards to yesterday’s defeat to Man City at home, because I have a mixture of disappointment and acceptance of what we all watched.
When I write about Arsenal in a post match review of what went on I tend to view games in a very binary way. I either feel positive about the performance or negative. Often the result has a big bearing on the side of the line I tend to fall on, but this morning I feel like I’m wandering through some sort of footballing ‘No Man’s Land’ because I feel both negative and positive at the same time. I can also kind of compartmentalize this game against a team who have won 18 games in a row, look like they are romping their way to the title, who have swept aside everyone in the league including going to Anfield a couple of week’s ago and smashing up the current champions Liverpool.
I also look at the situations the two clubs find themselves in for the build up to this game and it feels like a bit more mitigation for Mikel. Man City played Everton – a short trip to Liverpool for them – on Wednesday night. We traveled to Rome on Thursday. Man City welcomed back De Bruyne. We still have Partey missing. Man City have the money and the squad to rotate on a large scale. Mikel had players he said were struggling in training because the toll this season has taken on them. So it feels to me like there were a few elements that were working against us.
Which is why I could understand the rotation in the team yesterday and why I understood that Arteta felt he needed to mix it up a bit. Personally I didn’t think there was any hope of us picking up a result against a City team in this form at the best of times, but when you are naming players like Elneny in your starting line up then you are always going to be in trouble.
And so it felt that way in the first ten minutes. Man City have scored in the first 15 minutes of games against us in each of their last five matches so perhaps it should have come as no surprise that we went behind within two minutes. But what should come as a surprise is the manner in which they scored. Raheem Sterling is five feet seven inches tall. Rob Holding is six feet two inches tall. That’s a difference of six inches and there is no way in hell Holding should be so unaware of Sterling in the box for that goal. It was a mistake of a goal in which three of our back four were culpable; Tierney shouldn’t have let Mahrez have so much time to cross the ball in and stopped it at source, Holding’s positional awareness should have been better and Bellerin, who can see Sterling, should have moved to make life more difficult.
One down in the first couple of minutes and the following 15 saw a shell-shocked Arsenal team get caught out on a number of occasions. We went into ourselves for the opening exchanges and there were moments in which I noticed our defensive line as a flat seven. That allowed City to make their runs in behind and they probably should have got a couple of more in that period. Mercifully though we rallied after that and managed to regain a bit of possession as the halftime period drew closer. But as I had wondered in my pre-match ramblings, I wondered if we could actually ‘lay a glove’ on Man City in this game and in the cold light of the next day it is clear the answer was ‘no’. That’s what it felt like to me, anyway. There are people who have pointed out that losing to this City side 1-0 is nothing to be ashamed of given how they’d smashed so many sides in their current run, but to me it feels like we never really forced them out of second gear at best and that adds to my frustration this morning.
We were just so passive at times and when we did get the ball in to good positions our decision making in the finall third was either off or just ruined by poor passing accuracy. All players were guilty of it. Hector Bellerin passed the ball out of play under no pressure. Tierney blazed a cross into the stands with nobody near him and Aubameyang miss-controlled, miss-hit and miss-passed ball after ball all night. And then behind them you had Mo Elneny, who didn’t do anything massively wrong, he just…well…didn’t do anything. Any time a simple forward pass is on he will opt for a backwards ball for one of his centre halves. It is depressing that we have had to rely on him so much this season. It is time we moved on from him and I hope he’s on his way out in the summer because you can’t progress as a club when you are relying on average midfielders like the Egyptian.
But that is Arsenal this season. We are average. We sit 10th in the league and our form is patchy. We have one win in our last six and have been beaten by average teams like Villa and Wolves. We go to Leicester next weekend in the league and I don’t hold out much hope for that game either to be honest. Not unless Partey makes some kind of recovery so we don’t have to see the likes of Elneny again.
I haven’t even mentioned Odegaard, who seem to have let the game pass him by but against the best team in Europe right now I guess that is understandable for a new player still adapting. Whether he plays against Benfica on Thursday I don’t know, but I suspect there will be more rotation for that game and hopefully that means starts for Gabriel, Luiz, ESR, etc.
On final point to note before I clock off for the day, which is that Mikel left his subs a little late, I felt. Dani Ceballos could surely have come on earlier than the 85th minute, for example and I wonder if Arteta will be thinking whether he needs to be getting better at his decision making with subs. Often they can change a game and it felt like we left it a little too late to make our changes. But hey, it’s done, it’s over, we don’t have to worry about conceding early goals to City and playing out similar frustrating games against them and not scoring until at least next season. So That’s something.
Catch you all tomorrow with more random thoughts.