Saturday, 14 December 2013

Six thoughts on Manchester City 6 Arsenal 3

This was very unlike Arsenal this season
Since March, there's been a clear tactical shift from Arsenal from a possession-based game to more of a late 1990s swift counter-attacking style. For the first time in a number of years, the team has been happy to surrender possession in return for a good defensive shape and a tight backline.

Which is why I found the tactics today very odd. Without dominating possession like they used to, Arsenal still allowed the game to be very open. There was very little cover offered to the full-backs and this was compounded by giving the ball away in dangerous areas.

Normally, you might be able to moan about a team scoring six goals from seven shots on target but it's not as if Szczesny had a bad game - City repeatedly cut Arsenal open, leaving the goalscorers easy finishes. It was even worse after Flamini was withdrawn. There was no link play to get the ball to the attackers and Arsenal were even more under pressure.

Given City's obvious attacking strength, it would have made far more sense to keep it tight, as Arsenal ended up playing a very different style from how they've played this season. Unsurprisingly, they payed the price.

There will doubtless be a gross over-reaction to this result
It's not just that much of the Arsenal eleven played in Napoli on Wednesday night. It's that - like in so many of these games which finish with comedy scorelines - City scored two goals between the 88th minute and the end of the game. What made Spurs' defeat here so extraordinary was that they were 5-0 down after 55 minutes.

The implications for Arsenal's title challenge
With a tough and relentless run of games coming up, Arsenal are now one injury away from Bacary Sagna at centre back and Jenkinson at right-back. It's not good. I felt at the beginning of the season the squad was a defender light and a lack of injuries in that area has gone some way to covering that up.

More generally, this was certainly the hardest game of the season. If City can play like this away from home they will win the League - but they haven't managed that all season.

Removing Flamini was a terrible substitution
It's often easy to criticise these things with hindsight but I did actually comment at the time that it was an odd change. If you're being over-run in midfield with scant protection for the defence, removing the only protection they do have is just strange.

In a very similar situation in Manchester two years ago, Wenger removed a French holding midfielder for a winger and it ended 8-2. The way City dominated after Flamini went off, they could have scored even more.

If you're struggling because of a lack of defensive protection, all-out-attack is an odd response. It certainly didn't work.

Olivier Giroud is knackered
I don't expect him to be a brilliant finisher - he's not. I'm doubtful he ever will be. But Giroud's defensive work, off-the-ball and hold-up play was the worst I've seen it all season today. The guy's biggest asset is that he is a brilliant defensive striker, but that requires enormous energy, something he simply didn't have. He desperately needs a rest: I don't need the stats to tell you he is in the famous red-zone.

Mertesacker was in the wrong
You can debate at length whether players should go and applaud the away fans. I tend to think that even if it's a token gesture it requires very little effort and the reaction to not doing it makes it worthwhile.

But I think it's comparatively a lot worse to see two senior players having an angry argument on the pitch. It's the very opposite of what Arsenal have been about all season: a team with an enormous sense of unity. It brought back memories of Adebayor and Bendtner at White Hart Lane in 2009 and it gives people the impression there are divisions in the camp.

Perhaps Mertesacker was right. If he was, he should have told Ozil in the dressing room - there's no reason to air your dirty laundry in public.

Keep the faith.

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