Tis’ an odd feeling indeed to view an FA Cup defeat with so little despair, but as I write this morning I feel oddly fine about the fact that we went out by an odd goal to Manchester City at the Etihad last night.
What is also odd, however, is that looking at my Twitter timeline, every other Arsenal fan feels the same. It appears we’re all aligned to this defeat and are ok with it. It almost feels like the FA Cup is a little more like the League Cup and we were all ok with not having to pack in more games in to an already crowded fixture schedule. Just look at United; they are of course delighted they are on the verge of a cup final and they will probably win the League Cup so that’s a trophy and nothing to be sniffed at, but I’ve seen a couple of United fans talk about the fixture congestion they have and bubbling under the surface they are concerned with the thought of injuries and fatigue. They play Reading tonight and if they overcome them – as expected – that’ll be another game in which they need to add to the schedule and means they are playing every three days between now and the middle of March I think.
That is a fate that now won’t befall The Arsenal and where we would have played the next round on Wednesday 1st March in between Leicester away and Bournemouth away, now we have a full week of recovery time to prepare for that Bournemouth game at home. Let’s all remind ourselves of the opportunity we potentially have here: we are in with a shout of a league title if we can maintain our form.
And that’s another positive I took from yesterday’s game, because the performance itself wasn’t actually that bad, especially given the fact Arteta rotated and Pep kinda didn’t. Arteta bought the deputy full backs in, he played Turner in goal, he played Holding at the back and brought in Trossard for Martinelli. And in that first half it was us who had the better of the chances, stinging the palms of Ortega with Tomiyasu and Trossard efforts, as well as volley from Fabio Vieira – in for Odegaard – which went wide. What I saw from that Arsenal performance yesterday was a team who was heavily rotated, up against a very strong City side at home who didn’t batter us.
What did we learn from City? That they know and respect us and they didn’t try to win this game by going gung-ho and putting us to the sword. But what did City learn about us? Not a lot because we rotated out half of our team and hopefully we have all of those players fit for the game against them in a couple of weeks time. And I use the word ‘hopefully’ because the biggest worry was Partey coming off at halftime. He was apparently feeling his ribs and had discomfort, so they took him off as a precautionary measure, but Arteta was asked about him afterwards and just said that they’ll have to give him an MRI scan either today or tomorrow to find out. If he’s bruised or cracked his ribs, then we’re looking at a race against time for him to be ready for that City game on the 15th February. That is two-and-a-half weeks away and if he’s cracked his rib then the diagnosis is at least three weeks apparently. We’ve said it all season and we’ve lamented our reliance on him staying fit, but Thomas Partey is a guy who when he comes out we look a very different side and exert nowhere near as much control in the base of our midfield. The injury to Gabriel Jesus was tough to take, but there was always the chance that Eddie steps forward and does what Eddie does – score goals. But we saw yesterday in the second half that Sambi just isn’t on the same level as Partey and if we are havingto rely on him in that City game, then we might be handing them a slight advantage.
That’s not to bag on Sambi though, because I think he’s a decent player, but he’s just not as aware as Partey, his ability to pressure spaces isn’t as great and he does tend to drift in and out of games when we are without the ball. That’s a big problem against a team like City and might be one small part of the reason as to why we lost yesterday.
But it wasn’t just Sambi, because there were one or two other players who didn’t exactly play splendidly on the night. Saka was marshalled really well by Ake and you can bet your bottom dollar that when we play them at the Emirates, Pep will charge Ake with replicating that good performance. This is what I mean by saying ‘what did City learn about us?’ though, because that game will be very different. Fabio Vieira did ok, but he’s no Odegaard and our captain takes up positions closer to Bukayo that will mean he has quicker and easier passing lanes to exchange with his teammates. I think the relationship and overlapping of White also helps to draw out defenders too and Tomi wasn’t doing that last night, which meant Saka was hardly afforded time to be one-on-one isolated with Ake and City very much doubled down on Saka at times. At the Emirates my hope is that Odegaard, White and Saka all closer together will give our starboy more time to shine.
I wonder what Pep is thinking about Arsenal this morning. The media narrative will be simple: “Arsenal never beat City”, “Round one to City”, “Advantage City in the psychological race”, as well as “how will big a blow will this be to Arsenal’s season?”. But what I saw yesterday was a team that could easily go toe-to-toe with a side who has dominated domestically for the last five years. I saw us instantly look better when Holding went off for Saliba and we started to get a little bit of control back when some of our first teamers came back on. So from where I was sitting, I don’t see there being any psychological victory for the current reigning champions.
I do see why Arsenal are looking to move fast for Caicedo though. It will be tough because Brighton appear to be very clear that they aren’t letting the player go and his statement may have left the door ajar for it to happen this January, but only if Chelsea or Arsenal pay up some pretty big bucks for the guy. I don’t see us dropping £80million-odd, but I could see Chelsea doing that, so I’m not paying too much attention to this situation until it really hots up.
Anyway, that’s all from me for today I think, so have a good one and if you’re like me don’t sweat the weekend. Because that was a defeat that was a lot easier to swallow.
Catch you all tomorrow.