Sunday, July 21, 2024

Arsenal 1-0 Man City: At last

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At last.

The roar when Gabriel Martinelli’s goal hit the back of the net wasn’t just about taking three huge points from the reigning champions – it was more than that. It was also putting to bed that record against them. Twelve successive losses, a stat you couldn’t escape in the build-up to this game. Thirteenth time lucky, and all that.

The fact it came so late made it all the sweeter, after a fascinating game, during which the pendulum didn’t as much swing between the two sides, but wobble a little this way, then that. Early on we had Declan Rice to thank for keeping it scoreless, heading a goal-bound attempt off the line after City had won a corner. Nathan Ake then blazed over under some pressure from William Saliba.

It was a let off, and that the corner came after a misplaced David Raya pass, and a weird clunker from Rice himself, it might have been another self-inflicted wound at home. The goalkeeper struggled early on, he didn’t exude the kind of calm you need in a game like this and his passing range was off. In the 18th minute he was just a fraction slow, and his attempted clearance rebounded off Julian Alvarez and into the side netting. After the manager’s comments about how he’s considered subbing a keeper, I was wondering if this was going to be the day we actually saw it.

You could almost feel the crowd’s nervousness with the Spaniard, not exactly helped by the fact he’d put his foot on the ball and wait for City to engage before making a pass. That was the instruction from Arteta, and I think people understood that, but when you have an opening twenty minutes like he did, that apprehension was understandable. To be fair to him, he grew into the game, and found his passing range – overcoming that wobbly start to play a key role in our victory.

This one reminded me a bit of the Community Shield game, in that City had plenty of the ball but didn’t do a great deal with it. It’s not because they lacked quality, for me it was the quality and organisation of Arsenal. Despite an early booking, I thought Jorginho was very important, his experience in a big game was so useful, but it was the Arsenal back four who stood out to me. In the first challenge of the game, William Saliba was too strong for Erling Haaland, that set the tone. Alongside him Gabriel was superb, that partnership is up there with the best around, and the two full backs were excellent too.

The big first half talking point though was the officiating. Mateo Kovacic was extremely lucky to get away with just a yellow card for a lunging challenge from behind on Martin Odegaard, studs on the back of his ankle. The ref gave a yellow, VAR had a look, but left it at that. He could have had no complaints if it was a straight red. Then, just a couple of minutes later, he lunged in again on Declan Rice, the most obvious second yellow card you will ever see, but before the crowd had even properly begun to express themselves, Michael Oliver was waving play on.

I’m very glad this morning that this isn’t the central theme of the post-game discourse, but it is inexplicable to me that Kovacic stayed on. I can’t remember being that angry at a decision for a long, long time. That’s not incompetence. This is a referee who sent Gabriel Martinelli off for two fouls in 8 seconds a couple of seasons ago, for two piffling things, and here he  allowed a player to scythe through the back of one, then hack down another, and there’s no red card? Maybe he was just making sure not to lose the lucrative moonlighting gigs in the UAE, and no doubt Howard Webb had his Apology Template in Microsoft Word fired up before the half-time break.

The second half was tight, cautious. The longer it went on, the more you wondered if a draw might suit both. Neither side was going hell for leather, and from an Arsenal perspective, having lost so many games to them previously, you wondered if a point might be seen as some kind of progress. City made changes, and spent a period of the half pressing much higher than they did previously. There was assurance to what Arsenal did at the back though, even if it didn’t necessarily translate into attacking threat further up the pitch.

Arteta made changes of his own in response to City’s, and all four of his subs were involved in the goal. I enjoyed Gabriel winning a header, towering over Haaland who sat there moaning as it half of it wasn’t him backing in the way centre-forwards do. Eventually the ball came to Thomas Partey, who spotted the run of ‘left back’ Takehiro Tomiyasu into a central attacking position. He nodded it down to Kai Havertz who laid it back to Gabriel Martinelli (on at half-time for the injured Leandro Trossard), and his finish ricocheted off the face of Nathan Ake and into the back of the net.

At last.

At last.

The Premier League is the league of late goals, we know it very well ourselves, but I really enjoyed the way we played out those final few minutes. From Raya delaying and delaying before eventually picking up the ball, to Jesus holding it up, winning territory and then wasting time as high up the pitch as he could. City didn’t get near us. I’ve seen this Arsenal team invite pressure after scoring plenty of times before, but not yesterday. That goal was so long coming and meant so much that it demanded that level of professionalism from us. The players delivered.

It was the first time City had lost successive Premier League games since 2018, and they didn’t like it one bit. Kyle Walker squaring up to Nicolas Jover afterwards came across as spectacularly sore, and Haaland showed more fight against a 5’6 set-piece coach than he did all game against Saliba and Gabriel. That moment when he set off on a run and Saliba just bodied him was *chef’s kiss* (10/10, would watch over and over again).

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said of the win:

A great feeling obviously, you could sense it’s been so many years without beating them and today we have beaten in my opinion without a question of doubt the best team in the world, and we done it in a great way, there were moments we had to suffer, but as well moments we showed real determination, desire and belief to beat them, so really happy.

What more can you say? This felt like a performance that had been crafted from so many of the previous disappointments. Learn from previous mistakes, and yes you need a bit of something to go your way in games like this, but how often have we seen City just cut us open. That didn’t happen yesterday, and when you consider we played without Bukayo Saka, with Partey not fit enough to start, with Martinelli pushing himself to the limit to be involved, it’s huge credit to the manager and the players for how they stuck to the plan throughout.

Before I go, I’ve also got to mention Declan Rice as part of that defensive cohort. He got us up the pitch well at times, but this man brings such presence to the Arsenal midfield. Nobody talks about the price-tag now, because he was worth every penny we paid for him. He’s not quite the transformative signing others might have been, but he’s a very important piece in Arteta’s puzzle, and I thought he was superb yesterday.

Anyway, we go into the Interlull top of the table, and having suffered at their hands so many times, it’s just great to have turned the tables a bit. There’s lots still do this season, Arteta says his side will ‘stay humble’, but with a couple of weeks until our next game, we can enjoy this in the days ahead.

Right, I’ll leave it there for now. We’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you a bit later on. 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.

For now, have fun.

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