The game was always going to be about a reaction to the result from midweek against Everton. Chelsea’s result from Saturday meant Arsenal needed to win to keep fans on their side and more importantly keep within reach of the top. 9 points behind the leaders in December is not unassailable, but it’s best avoided.
Bar Oxlade, the Manager, went with the same team that started against Everton. Personally, I think we should be doing more to integrate Lucas Perez into the team especially as none of the players who currently play down our left have done enough to cement their positions. I wonder if this might be due to defensive responsibilities with playing there. I have not seen enough of Lucas to know how capable he is defensively but if the bar is Iwobi, then he doesn’t have much competition in that regard.
Speaking before the game Coquelin talked about how important it was to score first and sometimes when you listen to these players you get an inclination of what the manager tells them. Little surprise then that we started with high intensity that was rewarded with a Theo Walcott goal in the 5th minute. For someone who did poorly when given the opportunity to lead the line from the front, Theo has found a knack for scoring a lot of his goals from the middle. Sanchez did a great job of finding him too. Life is better when you have a playmaking striker leading your line.
City’s response was almost immediate with Sterling missing a glorious flying header. Yet another poor defensive display from our right side allowing City to put an excellent ball in. Expectedly, City gained momentum and dominated the half without really threatening. The best chances to force the issue fell to Arsenal and it was crucial that we did not concede before half time like we did against Everton.
Our lead was cut short almost immediately the game resumed by Sane scoring his first goal for the club. Replays show the goal should not have stood as the player was offside and it is hard to take when your team seems to be on the losing end of wrong decisions. Against Everton, the header that led to the corner they scored from was not from an Arsenal player, the tackle on Sanchez at the end was a clear penalty and to concede from an offside position again against City really sums up our luck. You never know how things would pan out if that goal had not gone in but the onus always lay with Arsenal to show they can react and on the day, we failed to do so.
Just to dwell on the goal further, the move that led to it came from a Petr Cech goal kick. One of the most frustrating parts of the game for me was how much of his kicks just turn to possession for the opposing team. To be fair to him, the chances of him getting an Arsenal player are slim given the height of Sanchez and Theo up front. Iwobi is not known for jumping, and the only option would be to move Xhaka there when those kicks are taken, but that also leaves us short in midfield if possession if lost chasing a header. I guess it’s the tradeoff we have to make for Sanchez keeping Giroud out of the team.
City kept piling the pressure and at some point, similar to the game against Man United, we struggled to get the ball out of our half. We did not help ourselves with our penchant for perpetually trying to play the ball out of defence. At some stage in the game, Sanchez was livid as he had made the run only to find Coq and Xhaka still trying to dribble out. Expectedly, City grew in confidence and we conceded a second goal down an angle Petr Cech should have had covered. The number of goals he concedes close to him is a cause for worry.
From then on, it was always going to be a hard task getting anything from this game. Ox came on for Iwobi with yet another poor performance only Ox himself to suffer a hamstring injury thereby wasting the substitution. The decision by the manager to bring in Elneny instead of Lucas Perez given we were chasing the game is one I don’t understand. If Xhaka was trusted to hold the fort alone with the Coquelin substitution, what purpose was Elneny coming in to serve? We did look better with him on the pitch as we gained back some control, however, when you need a goal to get you one point, I would assume the logical thing to do would be to look at your striking options.
After the game, Wenger bemoaned the referring decisions that led to both goals we conceded, but he would need to take a harder at look at himself and the team he put out there. Why are they struggling? Are players giving up on the cause? Is he making the best use of his squad? Are his tactics working?
Thierry Henry speaking about both managers earlier in the week summarized their approach to coaching stating
‘The first thing Pep made clear when he started at Barcelona was that his job was to help us get the ball to the last third. Then it’s up to us to use our magic within his framework. But we had to stick to his plan.
‘In his first season, in a Champions League match at Sporting Lisbon, Pep took me off at half-time. We were 2-0 up and I’d scored the first! But I had not stuck to his plan. ‘That night in Lisbon, I’d drifted in too much for his liking. ‘I don’t remember Arsene substituting anyone after 45 minutes for tactical reasons, even if things were going horribly wrong, let alone if they’d scored.
‘Arsene gives players more freedom to express themselves. The wingers can stay wide or tuck in early. But Arsene is a big believer in his pre-game plan. ‘He gave us our instructions before kick-off and trusted that was the answer. He was no fan of changing tactics or formations mid-match. ‘He was more rigid. He still always makes his subs around 70 minutes. ‘Pep changes tactics or formations often, sometimes in one game.
I don’t know how much of this played out in our defeat to them, but City really did look like a different unit in the second half. Something must have changed. I also noted during the game, most times when the ball went dead for a free kick, Pep would seize the opportunity to pass a message across to someone. If Pep has been this successful with his approach, constantly tweaking things, maybe Wenger’s “I trust you to remember what I told you yesterday during training approach might need some serious refining”.
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