So, January got off to a bad start, at least in terms of the Premier League, with a 1-1 draw against Southampton. And after the distraction of the FA Cup it has continued badly with 2-0 defeat to Man City yesterday. There was, at least, some spirit shown during the second half but ultimately it matters little as the game was lost in the first half. A combination of odd team selection, a moment of idiocy from Laurent Koscielny and some poor defending is what did for us.
I thought it was an odd decision to select Koscielny over Mertesacker. The German has been our best defender this season and while he didn’t have his best game of the season against Swansea in the cup, for me we’re better and more balanced with him and one of Vermaelen/Koscielny. But for the second time this season, against top four opposition, Arsene Wenger decided on his two more mobile, nippy defenders and, like in the Chelsea game, it turned out to be the wrong decision.
He lasted less than 10 minutes, shown a red card by Mike Dean for a foul on Edin Dzeko in the box. I don’t really know why there’s any debate about this, despite the fact that Dean is a unctuous little toad of a man, the decision was correct. If you’re going to put two arms around a player as he’s going for the ball 6 yards from goal you need to hope the referee is unsighted. He wasn’t, he was looking right at it. No choice, red card, penalty.
I read a lot of Gooners on Twitter suggesting had it been up the other end Dean wouldn’t have done the same thing. Straw man conspiracies really aren’t worth dealing with but it really doesn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t have done if a City player had committed that foul, it was an Arsenal player who did and he dealt with it within the letter of the law. Plus, I don’t remember too many Arsenal fans complaining about decisions like the one which saw Bassong sent off for Wolves last season for simply touching Walcott on the shoulder as he went through on goal. Bottom line: don’t hug a forward in the box and you stay on the pitch.
Although Dzeko missed the penalty we couldn’t take advantage of that bit of luck. Instead our big old self-destruct button got pushed again. We switched off from a quick City free kick, Thomas Vermaelen especially culpable, allowing Milner to find space to execute a really fine finish across goal and in off the post from a tight angle. And when Kieran Gibbs was out-muscled in the tackle by Pablo Zabaleta (a horrible bastard of a player but the kind I’d love to see in this Arsenal team), he set up a move which saw Szczesny parry a Tevez toe-poke into the path of Dzeko who had a tap in to make it 2-0.
City dominated the first half, as you’d probably expect due to the man advantage, but I don’t think team selection helped us here really. Of course Arsene Wenger can’t legislate for one his players doing something stupid and getting sent off early in the game, but even so I thought the decision to start Abou Diaby was the wrong one. The guy hasn’t played a minute of Premier League football since September, a midweek run out in an U21 game is hardly enough preparation and even with 11 men I think he’d have been a weak link, with 10 it was just too much.
I wonder what Francis Coquelin, in the circumstances the most obvious replacement for Arteta, must be thinking this morning. If Diaby was fully fit, then sure, I could see why that decision would be made but the words ‘fully’ and ‘fit’ when related to the Frenchman are usually prefaced with words like ‘hopefully’ or ‘one day’. He was off the pace, which is only natural, and his passing was that of a man who hasn’t played much football. That Coquelin was overlooked for Diaby probably tells us something about how much faith the manager has in him.
Personally, I’d have started Aaron Ramsey alongside Jack Wilshere. I know he’s not the most popular guy in the world but he rarely gets a chance in the centre of midfield, his natural position, and when he came on yesterday I thought he played very well. He certainly created the best Arsenal chance of the game with a lovely ball through to Theo Walcott whose shot was cleared off the line. I have to say when I heard Arsene admit before the game it was a ‘risk’ and a ‘gamble’ to start Diaby my heart sank a little because he could roll loaded dice and still not win.
As for Theo Walcott up front against a team like City, no thanks. Let’s not do that again. I know there are mitigating circumstances but I have to agree with @gunnerblog’s assessment and you need more from a centre-forward in a game like this than repeated ill-timed runs to try and get in behind. He rarely came looking for the ball – highlighted by the fact that Giroud in 32 minutes had more touches than Walcott in 90+ – and it was easy for Kompany and his mates. Giroud’s physical presence gave them far more to contend with and, for me anyway, the sooner we put an end to this ego massaging experiment the better.
As for Kompany’s red card, there are pictures here there and everywhere which show him with only one foot off the ground and so on: but watch the footage again. He jumps in, both feet are off the ground for a time, and he wins the ball with his studs. I like Kompany a lot, he’s a great player and seems like one of the nice guys in the game, but again under the letter of the law Dean was right. I also find it a bit odd that fans who have seen players with legs snapped in bits are so quick to defend a player who *could*, if the timing was off just a little bit, have inflicted a similar injury. Just my 2 cents, I know not everyone agrees, but who says everyone has to agree?
So, three points dropped at home, it’s 1 from 6 in the Premier League so far this month and the result was given a nice vomity topping with the news that Mikel Arteta is going to miss three weeks with a calf strain. That means he’s out for Swansea in the cup, plus league games against Chelsea, West Ham, Liverpool and possibly Stoke. Not good news, and there wasn’t much encouragement from the manager about the possibility of going into the transfer market to augment a squad that shows why it needs it more and more as each game passes:
We are in the market. To find players of a calibre of Arteta, available in January, I wish you good luck. We try very hard, believe me. We have a team around me who analyse everything. We select targets, I watch them, but it’s difficult to speak about any names.
Is it difficult to speak about names because you don’t want to jeapordise any deals or because there simply are no names? For me the worry is that it’s the latter. If we’d genuinely wanted to buy players we had plenty of time to arrange signings between Sept 1st and Dec 31st. Business could have been done once the window opened. We might have won an FA Cup game against Swansea, saving us an energy sapping replay this week ahead of a trip to Chelsea, and we might have had enough in terms of options to rescue something yesterday in the second half, especially when the numbers were evened up.
The idea that we have to find a player of the calibre of Arteta is a nonsensical argument too. For one I don’t accept we can’t find good players in a rush (let’s not forget Arteta, Mertesacker and Benayoun were brought in at the last minute of a summer transfer window – so much so that the Spaniard was signed without a medical), and secondly the results and performances show that the players Arsene has so much faith in might not be as good as some of the ones he refuses to sign. Still, our transfer market inactivity isn’t a surprise, but it gets more depressing with each poor result.
Finally, a word for Jack Wilshere. While I think almost every Arsenal player tried hard yesterday, especially in the second half where there was no lack of effort (from most), Wilshere’s bravery and determination stood out a mile. He gets kicked all over the place, he dusts himself off, gets up and goes again. What I’d give to see somebody alongside him who could offer him a bit of protection. The nature of Wilshere’s game is that he’ll get stuck in, he’s combative, but I just wonder if he had something of an enforcer around him if opposition would be so willing to kick him time and time again.
I can’t be the only one who has heart in mouth moments every time he goes down. But he was an example to the rest yesterday. His spirit and character ought to be the minimum standard from any Arsenal player. If you give that much and lose a game, you can’t complain that much. It’s when we fall short, and when players go missing, that it really frustrates. I love Jack.