View From The North Bank: Man City 1 Arsenal 0
Arsenal have long been a team happy to go toe to toe with anyone but, in recent years, we’ve looked vulnerable under an opponent’s barrage. Yesterday showed that our stomach for a fight is back. We may have been beaten, but it was only a narrow points verdict.
It was one of those games that pundits describe as being “great for the neutral”. To me that translates as “terrible for the health of Arsenal fans”. It was a game played at a breathless pace, in which both goalkeepers made first class saves, we had a goal contentiously disallowed for offside and could – probably should – have had a penalty. The fact that Sky gave Man of The Match to a City defender tells its own story.
In the end, we could have lost by three or four but just as likely was the possibility that we could have won by the odd goal. A scrappy opener after half time could have been a knock out blow for previous Arsenal teams but this side left it all out there in the hope of salvaging something; better to give everything than to wonder what might have been.
Vermaelen, Ramsey and Arteta exemplify this new Arsenal. In fairness, to pick them out does a disservice to the others, everywhere you looked there were players giving their all. The past couple of months have proved that we have a very good first XI and, in truth, we have some pretty useful deputies too. There is very little you can do to mitigate against a glut of injuries in a specific position.
Playing with no full backs and then having to replace one of the stands ins with another was never going to help. Full backs play a pivotal role in modern Football, whether their overlapping runs pose a direct threat or serve as a decoy. We had neither Sagna nor Santos bombing down either flank which simultaneously took away a key threat from us an ceded ground to City, inviting them to double up. A lot of the early pressure from the home team came from that route.
We were under the cosh at times but just about coping due to the extra exertion from midfield. That was until Djourou’s injury meant that Miquel had to come in. You could argue that this led to the goal. Not only did we have yet another deputy centre half at full back, we also had to reorganise the existing personnel in the back four.
The immediate disruption offered City some space to exploit. As Balotelli gained a yard on Song, Arteta tracked Silva all the way back into our box. When City’s playmaker hit our back line Arteta was right to pass him on however the newly introduced Miquel didn’t tuck in alongside the centre halves and Silva stooped to put City ahead.
The ball was bouncing around like a pin ball and repositioning the stand in left back wouldn’t have guaranteed a clearance but, when you lose a game by one goal, it’s always tempting to look at what could have been done differently.
It’s easy to compare our team and bench with City’s and assume we have a problem with squad depth. In my view that’s only true to an extent. Any team would suffer without four full backs. Elsewhere on the pitch our midfield, which have been central to most of the good things we’ve done in the past couple of months, will soon be bolstered by Diaby and Wilshere returning.
It’s up front where the problems persist and the case for reinforcement gets stronger with every passing week. Against a team who started yesterday with one of the leagues top five goal scorers on the bench our lack of options were shown up a little. Chamakh came on and made a nuisance of himself without ever really looking like he had a goal in him. He also lacks the craft or physical conviction to create an opening for someone else.
Arshavin was also introduced to replace Walcott. At the time this looked like an odd call to me on the basis that Theo’s pace was useful in a game that had become so stretched. Arshavin looked bang out of form and bereft of confidence. His passes were sloppy and his solitary attempt at goal, which fell in a decent position, would have shamed an amateur. The ball broke to the left of the box and instead of adjusting his feet to drive at goal he simply froze and swung unbalanced with his right foot. Arshavin is a player of huge talent but this season his introduction to games has been more in hope than expectation that he’ll revisit his mercurial best.
Gervinho and Walcott are both in good form and, with continued improvement, will offer an extra match winning option to supplement Van Persie however, an addition to that triumvirate is sorely needed. If one or the other has an off day we don’t have that player on the bench who can come on with the belief that they can alter the game. It would be interesting to see Benayoun given a bit more of a chance to do that. He’s played in top level matches before and despite not being the glamour player many of us wanted he does have that bit of quality that could conjure a goal.
Wenger’s open dismissal of transfer targets is common practice so it’s best not to be too dismayed when he tries to throw the press off the scent. I’m certain we will be looking. It will be especially difficult to recruit in January, especially for a player of the quality we need. That said, efforts need to be made and options need to be evaluated to try to provide an extra push in the New Year.
Wenger’s post match conclusion was that we are now out of the title race. Now the battle for top four is paramount. The race is wide open and it will be nip and tuck every week from now until May. I have every confidence that we can still get higher up the table. Yesterday’s defeat wasn’t dispiriting so there is nothing to suggest our confidence should be shaken significantly enough to stop us rediscovering our recent good form.
Next stop Villa Park to play against a side that looked woeful in their 0-2 defeat against Liverpool. Another three points on Wednesday and a run of winnable games ahead should mean that yesterdays result is only remembered as another epic battle for a side who are now prepared to scrap it out against even the most heavy weight of opponents.