Saturday, June 10, 2023

Arsenal 1-3 Man City: Mistakes and missed chances

Match reportPlayer ratingsArteta reaction

At the end of the first half, I was really quite encouraged. Despite the fact we’d gifted Man City a goal, the way we played, the way we were going toe to toe with the reigning Premier League champions, was so positive. When we were beaten 5-0 last season at their place, I remember thinking it was going to take years for us to bridge that gap, but the evidence on the pitch last night showed we’d done it much more quickly than that.

It gave me hope for the second half, but as they say, it’s the hope that kills you. Well, that and poor defending and decision making. City pressed noticeably higher after the break, and even before the tactical change which saw Bernardo Silva move further forward, they were putting us under pressure.

A 57th minute penalty was awarded after a tangle between Gabriel and Erling Haaland. It wasn’t great defending, but this time VAR saved our bacon. Someone remembered to draw the lines and the Norwegian was in an offside position. Penalty rescinded, Gabriel’s yellow card wiped out. Haaland’s frustration was evident when he left an elbow in the back of the Arsenal man’s head in the next passage of play, for some reason VAR wasn’t as interested in that, and it looked quite deliberate to me.

Jorginho cleared one off the line as City’s pressure grew, and when Gabriel misplaced a pass in midfield, we were punished to the maximum. Haaland was found in the space where Gabriel should have been, they had an overload which saw the ball come to Jack Grealish but despite that there was a touch of good fortune with the finish. In his desperation to make a block, Takehiro Tomiyasu saw the ball take the slightest nick off him which deflected it beyond Aaron Ramsdale. I think the keeper would have made an easy save otherwise.

It wasn’t really Tomi’s night. It was his error that led to the opening goal. His under-hit back pass was brilliantly and ruthlessly dispatched by Kevin de Bruyne. The focus will be on the Japan international, of course, but watching it back, I think Gabriel could have done more. He’s obviously not expecting the mistake, but just in case he should have been more alert to the Belgian who was the only potential danger in that scenario.

City’s third was an archetypal Guardiola goal. Good passing, and decent movement against a tired team who were looking to press up the other end to find an equaliser. It’s been amazing to me how consistently a 6’5 blonde haired bloke is left with nobody marking him throughout this Premier League season, and while some of that is down to his excellent movement, there was no reason he should have been all alone in our box to make it 3-1 to score the goal that absolutely sealed the game for them.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta was unhappy about how City’s goals came about, saying:

It’s exceptionally difficult to play at the level that they require you to play at to have the chance to win. I think we’ve done it and in many moments we had them, but if you give three goals the way we did – just give them the game – and especially when you don’t put the big chances that we had away, the margin of error for them is almost zero. It’s a shame because we really had them.

And that might sound a bit like a manager seeking positives on the night when we lost our lead at the top of the table (although we do still have a game in hand), but I think he’s right. It’s not just the chances, it’s the timing of them, and it’s something that’s been a bit of an issue of late.

In the Everton game a couple of weeks ago, Martin Odegaard had a good chance to score, blasted over and within minutes Everton were ahead. Last night, Oleksandr Zinchenko’s cross found Eddie Nketiah with a free header in the 22nd minute. He just need to use the pace of the ball to score, instead he mistimed his header, the ball hit shoulder and went wide. The Tomiyasu mistake and City’s first goal came in the 24th minute.

In the second half, despite the opposition’s improvement, Tomiyasu provided a glorious chance for Eddie. The striker slid in, but missed the ball. Was he at full full-stretch? We’re talking a couple of inches at most, but it’s still a big miss in the context of a game like this. That was the 66th minute, the second City goal came in the 72nd.

In the 75th minute, there was a chance for Granit Xhaka to feed Gabriel Martinelli, or even take a shot himself, but he got caught in two minds, delayed and got tackled. Earlier in the season that’s a decision he makes quickly and executes well. It’s not that it was a certain goal, but it was certainly a chance to cause them a problem and we didn’t make the most of it. City’s third goal came in the 82nd minute.

Big games, fine margins. Those moments could have swung the momentum of the game in favour at key times.

If you were looking for positives, you’d definitely pick the first half. Not to mention that we played that well without Thomas Partey who picked up his annual injury at absolutely the worst time (something which merits more discussion on another day), as well as Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe (last season’s second highest scorer). The fact we had those chances is worth adding to that list, but the stark contrast between the two centre-forwards on display last night is obvious.

It’s not criticism of Eddie who at least got into those positions, but you have to take those chances. He fluffed his lines again at 3-1, the kind of goal – had it been scored – that might have set up a grandstand finish with the entirety of extra-time to play. To be fair, he won the penalty (how cool was that Saka take, putting it right where Ederson was goading him to?), and his all-round play was fine, but at this level against this opposition you have do better with those opportunities. Not least when your main threat as a striker is your ability in the opposition box.

The second half was a worry though. We looked tired, mistakes often come from fatigue, whether physical or mental (or both), and there were just too many players who have been so good this season whose form is dipping at this moment in time. When you make mistakes like those against most teams in the Premier League you’ll get punished, when you make them against City there’s no doubt.

So, you can say that it’s not a massive problem to fix. Just don’t make the mistakes, but you have to ask why they were made. It could be just one of those nights, but one point from the last nine suggests there’s something a bit more to it. With Aston Villa in the early kick-off on Saturday, Mikel Arteta has to find a way to spark some life back into his team. I can think of a few changes I’d make for that one, but I’ll hold fire on them for now.

Overall, on a night which promised more than it delivered when we went in at half-time, it’s a blow to lose ground the way we did. There’s a psychological element to being overtaken in the title race too, especially to a side who have dominated the league for the last few years. Those 2 points stolen in Brentford game are already playing a part in this title race.

It was always going to be a huge challenge though, with bumps in the road, as we’ve said all along. We do have a game in hand which, if we win, puts us back on top. However, that’s only applicable if we get ourselves going again and win the fixtures that bring us to that one.

Starting with Villa away on Saturday, which won’t be easy – but then it hasn’t been easy all season and we’ve got results. Regroup, mix it up a little bit, and go again.

Right, that’s it for now. James and I will be recording an Arsecast Extra for you later on this morning. Keep an eye out for the call for questions on Twitter @gunnerblog and @arseblog on Twitter with the hashtag #arsecastextra – or if you’re on Arseblog Member on Patreon, leave your question in the #arsecast-extra-questions channel on our Discord server.

We should have the podcast for you around lunchtime. Until then.

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