Before the game Arsene Wenger said it was an opportunity for his team to show they could compete with the best side in the league – something Man City clearly are. Leaving aside some unhappiness over the offside decision for their third goal, it was hard to look at that game and think we’re anywhere close to the level they are.
The team selection was something of a surprise. Not simply because of the presence of Francis Coquelin in the back three – because both Rob Holding (thigh) and Per Mertesacker (illness) were unavailable – but because of Alex Iwobi being brought in ahead of Alexandre Lacazette. If the young Nigerian was going to start I thought it would ahead of Mesut Ozil, but once again in a big game away from home this season the manager left his record signing on the bench.
Having been caught on the break from our first corner – will we ever learn? – I thought we started quite brightly, to be fair, working well together to press City and try and force them into mistakes, and there were some moments we caused them problems.
Slowly they began to exert control though, and after Petr Cech had made a good save, Kevin de Bruyne bypassed Aaron Ramsey with a one-two and his low shot beat the Arsenal keeper to put them ahead. My initial thought it that he could possibly have done better but it was a good finish from a hugely in-form player, and Cech saved our bacon more than once subsequently – along with City’s sloppiness in the final third.
Their second was, it’s fair to say, a soft penalty. Sterling went down very easily, Arsene Wenger labelled it a dive, and referee Michael Oliver pointed to the spot. Sergio Aguero just about scored it in off the post, and it was going to be an uphill struggle from there for Arsenal. It prompted Wenger into a change, putting on Lacazette for Coquelin and going to a back four.
Having a striker on the pitch paid dividends when the French international got us back into the game with 25 minutes to go, cracking home a low shot after being played through by Ramsey. It’s almost as if having players who can score playing up front is a thing we should try more often.
City were still on top in general but at 2-1 the game is still there. However, the linesman failed to spot a clearly offside David Silva and he squared it for Gabriel Jesus to seal the three points for City. The Brazilian’s finish was made all the more easy by the fact the Arsenal players stood around with their hands in the air rather than closing him down, something we had time to do.
It’s the old adage of ‘play the whistle’, and it’s possible to be unhappy at the poor decision from the officials and the way the Arsenal players reacted to it. Had we kept going I think we could have prevented him scoring, and that’s the thing we had control over, not the official. It’s a rubbish decision, no doubt about it, but we can’t ignore our own failings in there too.
Jack Wilshere and Olivier Giroud came on and made little difference. We never looked like scoring again, and the final stages of the game were punctuated by moments when they found us pushed forward and but for the last-ditch interventions of Laurent Koscielny would have scored more I think.
Afterwards, Arsene Wenger was clearly unhappy at the officials and the part they played in the result:
I would say, overall, once again the referee made the decision today with a soft penalty and an offside goal. We are used to it. I feel they don’t work enough. The referees don’t work enough, their levels drop every season at the moment. Overall, it’s unacceptable what happens.
The decisions … the third goal, at 2-1 we are in the game, but he gives a clear offside goal. That kills the game for us.
I get it. Who doesn’t? It’s annoying when bad decisions go against you, and a team as good as City doesn’t need a helping hand. Maybe at 2-1 we might have scored again, but when you look at the two teams and their overall performances it’s hard not to see the obvious gap. I didn’t think we played that badly, I just thought they were a lot better.
I’d be curious to know Wenger’s thinking regarding the Lacazette decision, because having gone into the game so weakened defensively – and I think Coquelin did as well as could be expected in the circumstances – why did we then also weaken ourselves at the other end of the pitch? Lacazette showed what he can produce when he came on, and on the day Alexis was very much blunted as an attacking force.
He was wasteful and careless, causing us all kinds of problems by giving the ball away, while his contractual compatriot Mesut Ozil once again failed to impose himself on a big game away from home. He ended up with a petulant yellow card, shouting and swearing at his teammates, and you don’t bat an eyelid anymore because even after Wenger building him up pre-game he couldn’t produce.
It’s not just Ozil though, it’s this team and this manager away from home. Not just in the big games either. Losing to Stoke and Watford as well as to Liverpool and Man City isn’t simply down to nefarious officiating, it’s because this team is fundamentally flawed. A goal difference of just +4 after 11 games tells you we’re not scoring enough and/or conceding far too many. I think it’s much more the latter than the former, actually.
A look at the league table tells you something you already know as well: this Arsenal team are not title contenders. I realise what City are doing is a bit special, and they’re leaving almost everyone in their dust, but to be 12 points behind the leaders at this stage of the season is the kind of gap that proves insurmountable more often than not.
It’s just gone November, and while I didn’t really expect us to challenge for the title, there’s always that bit of hope. Misguided as it might be, you hope your team can hang in there until the final months and then who knows? But it’s time to manage expectations.
I don’t see any reason why Arsenal can’t challenge for the top four, and a place in next season’s Champions League, but that’s it. That will have be the ‘silverware’ the Premier League provides, while there remains the possibility of an actual trophy in the cup competitions.
It is what it is, and we are who we are. I don’t think anything’s going to change radically until there is that most radical of changes in terms of the manager, but that’s 19 months away unless things go really, really wrong.
Top four or bust.
There will be an Arsecast Extra this week but as I’m writing this from the departures lounge at Sydney airport, it won’t be until Tuesday evening – assuming I can stay awake, but that’s the plan right now.
Andrew Allen will be here with tomorrow’s blog, catch you later in the week.