Ok, so I’m gonna deal straight away with the two contentious incidents that ocurred in the Manchester City penalty area and then we can move on. First, Robin van Persie’s chip that would have been an equaliser had the linesman’s flag not gone up. He looked offside on all the replays I have seen, so I don’t have any argument with that decision. But there seems to be a strong belief amongst more than a few Arsenal fans that someone in the right back position was playing him on- so perhaps I haven’t seen enough replays. Second, of course, the handball in the City penalty area when Koscielny’s cross hit Micah Richards arm. And I think that’s exactly the right way to word it, so for me it wasn’t a penalty. Two riders though; I do think it would have been given at the other end (and we’d have all gone ballistic- which says it all) and it was definitely more of a penalty than either of the two Phil Dowd gave against us in Newcastle in February.
Now we’ve got that out of the way, we can talk about an absolute banger of a match in which a patched up Arsenal side narrowly failed to keep an unbeaten run that began at the beginning of October going. But boy, did they give it a real go. Of course, we could have lost by more, with the excellent Szczesny making fantastic saves from Aguero and Balotelli and City just messing up their final ball on more than one occasion. But equally, Arsenal- despite the near total anonymity of one T. Walcott esq.- had more than enough chances to get something out of the game. The best chance we had was probably the one Gervinho, in a rare feat of decision making excellence, created for Robin in the second half. Unfortunately, that trusty left foot of his could only find Joe Hart. Too used to scoring with his right, these days.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I found it amazing that, for the great discrepancy in the amount spent by Arsenal and Manchester City on the respective squads, the game was basically decided by a bit of luck- Huh, what? you ask. Well, in the first half, Gervinho’s shot to the near post is totally fumbled by Joe Hart. The ball runs under his body, off his leg and out off the post for a corner. Hart will then make a fantastic reaction save from the resulting corner and Aaron Ramsey’s shot. Fast forward to the second half and Balotelli’s shot that is spilled by Szczesny (and I don’t attach any real blame to the Pole for that, it was a fierce effort), lands for Sergio Aguero before ricocheting to David Silva to tuck away the only goal of the game. You can plan any match as much as you luck but, as in any sport, you can never legislate for the bounce of a ball.
That said, Arsenal’s case wasn’t helped when our already significantly rejigged defence was rerejigged as Johan Djourou’s groin gave up on him. In fact, I’m not sure it would be stretching it to say that had he not departed just 3 minutes into the second half, that goal doesn’t happen. Because it was only minutes after Vermaelen had moved from left back to centre back, with Miquel taking the left back position and Koscielny moving to Djourou’s right back beat that Koscielny was caught too narrow and too high up the pitch for the move that led to the goal. After the goal, as you all saw, we totally lost our shape for about 10 minutes. With a slew of games to come, and Alex Song out of Wednesday’s match with Aston Villa, that is yet another headache for the boss. I’m guessing Miquel starts with Coquelin coming into midfield for that one, although perhaps Keiran Gibbs may grace us with his presence?
I think the Arsenal did magnificently well yesterday, particularly to pull themselves back into a contest in which City had threatened to overwhelm them in the first ten minutes. My criticism of them, and as they lost I do have to be slightly critical, would be our decision making around the box. I think we could, and should, have been more decisive, more direct and needed players to take responsibility- like Thomas Vermaelen did with his two wonderful efforts in the last minutes. My stand out example of this was when Gervinho went one on one with Kolo Toure and rather than try and take him on in a pace burn out which I feel sure he would have won, he stepped over the ball and checked back, losing the momentum.
In a way, I thought Gervinho embodied the Arsenal performance yesterday, willing, hard working but just lacking that little bit of quality we needed. There’s no doubt in my mind that, as soon as he gets his decision making right, he’s going to be a hell of a player for us. Likewise, with Arsenal able to look forward to a second half of the season with Wilshere, Sagna and the other full backs to return and a list of grounds ticked off the schedule that includes; Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, the shithole and now Eastlands, there’s no reason to think that 2012 can’t still be a good year for us. Particularly if we can replicate the intensity of yesterday’s performance on a regular basis and, maybe, add a little bit more quality in January.
Speaking of which, despite Walcott’s poor performance, I suspect Gooner hearts everywhere sank when Andrei Arshavin replaced him in the last twenty five minutes. The little Russian’s fall from grace has been quite staggering and the list of things he seems unable to do on a football pitch now seems to be growing by the game- beat a man, run, pass, cross, shoot… He must surely be on the way out in January as he barely even qualifies as a liability anymore. For me, the busy, but efficient Benayoun would surely have been a better option and then there is that young tyro we have who didn’t even make the bench- what’s his name again? Would someone like to remind Arsene?
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