Arsenal were thrashed 6-3 by Manchester City in a thrilling end to end game at the Etihad Stadium in the Saturday lunchtime kick off game, with our lead at the top of the Premier League reducing to two points.
Arsene Wenger made several changes to the side that got beaten 2-0 against Napoli during the week, with Bacary Sagna and Nacho Monreal coming in at full back, Jack Wilshere replacing Tomas Rosicky in midfield, and Theo Walcott starting for the first time since his return from injury with Santi Cazorla dropping to the bench.
Man City showed their attacking intent from the off as they started brightly and enjoyed plenty of possession in our half, including having a few corners which didn’t cause us any real problems.
Arsenal then grew into the game and Aaron Ramsey twice almost put Walcott through on goal, before the first real goal scoring chance came to the visitors in the 11th minute. Sagna found Walcott in space on the right, and Theo’s cross to be back post was volleyed first time by Wilshere but he snatched at it wasting the opportunity.
Shortly afterwards, the home side were in front. Martin Demichelis flicked Samir Nasri’s corner on at the near post, and Laurent Koscielny went to sleep at the far post allowing Sergio Aguero to volley it home.
It could’ve been 2-0 five minutes later, as Vincent Kompany intercepted the ball inside the Arsenal half, showed good skill to get away from Ramsey before putting through Alvaro Negredo whose shot fortunately went wide.
The game was very open from even the early stages with both sets of full backs pushing forward and enjoying large amounts of space. Yaya Toure volleyed over from the edge of the box following good work on the right from Negredo, before Monreal won a free kick in a promising position on the left. Walcott’s free kick was unconvincingly fisted away by Costel Pantilimon straight at Mesut Ozil who couldn’t control it to test the flapping ‘keeper.
Just after the half hour mark, Arsenal was level. Ramsey superbly dispossessed Toure in the middle of the park and found Ozil, who pulled the ball back in the area to Walcott and his shot dribbled into the net with Pantilimon rooted to the spot, maybe thinking Demichelis was able to clear it.
The onus was then on Arsenal to see out the half and make it to the break level, but this proved a tough ask for Wenger’s men. Negredo should’ve put City back in front shortly after our leveller, curling wide after David Silva played him through. Five minutes before half time the home side did get back in front though. Toure found Pablo Zabaleta on the right, whose great touch and ball into the area was poked in by Negredo at close range, just getting ahead of Koscielny who was forced off in the process with a nasty cut to his leg; Thomas Vermaelen coming on in his place.
The second half didn’t start much better for Arsenal, as City went 3-1 up in the 50th minute and it was entirely a goal of our own making. Ozil had the ball deep in our half and attempted to play our way out of trouble, but Mathieu Flamini couldn’t control the pass. It fell to Fernandinho, who struck it in from 20 yards brilliantly.
We then squandered a series of chances to get straight back into the game. Olivier Giroud volleyed over off a Wilshere cross to the back post and the Frenchman then headed wide from six yards after a superb ball in from Sagna. Giroud also wasted a chance to square it to Walcott free in the box, but knocked the ball out of play with his planted foot rather than crossing.
Martin Atkinson then denied us a penalty when Zabaleta handled the ball in the area, cutting out a chance creating pass to Walcott much to the disgust of the Arsenal players.
It was 3-2 just after the hour though. Ozil passed to Ramsey, who clipped the ball over to Walcott in the area and he took it in his stride and curled the ball into the top corner coolly. A great goal, and just rewards after a good spell of pressure.
Unfortunately we again conceded quickly, Silva finishing from close range after some good play on the right from Jesus Navas and a poor bit of positioning by Vermaelen in our box. It all came from a free kick awarded to City that shouldn’t have been after Nasri went down far too easily.
We continued to push forward but fatigue was clearly starting to affect our play in attack and defence, although Wilshere’s stinging effort from 30 yards was well kept out by Pantilimon. Giroud also had the ball in the net but it was after the whistle had blown for an offside, not surprisingly also given incorrectly.
Serge Gnabry came on for Flamini as Wenger pushed for a route back into the game, but it was City who looked the more likely to score again and Navas should’ve done as he rounded Wojciech Szczesny but fired it into the side netting. Szczesny was also called to action, as he had to come out of his area to get to the ball ahead Negredo, as Wenger made his final change throwing on Nicklas Bendtner for Giroud.
Fernandinho forced a good stop from Szczesny, and Nasri skied one from inside the area before Fernandinho eventually made it 5-2, rounding off a move as City practically walked it into the net after Arsenal again gave the ball away.
Bendtner thought he had scored just after this but it was ruled out, again wrongly, because of offside, but Per Mertesacker eventually did give Arsenal a third as he headed home a Sagna cross.
There was still time for one final piece of action as Szczesny brought James Milner down in the area with Toure scoring the penalty, and ended proceedings with City the 6-3 victors.
Quite the 90 minutes of football but unfortunately not the result we wanted. It also didn’t provide the justice that a lot of our play deserved, as I don’t think City were three goals better than us (although would be tough to argue they didn’t deserve the win).
We were undone offensively largely because of decisions that went against us; being called offside wrongly on several occasions (with the ball in the net on two of them) and the penalty appeal that was probably 50:50 but could still easily have been given. I never like to use the officials as an excuse, but when that many key decisions go against you it’s pretty hard to take.
We also weren’t as clinical as our opponents. Even though they had 22 shots on goal in total compared to our 12, they had seven on target of which six were goals whereas our six on target resulted in only the three. Giroud was particularly wasteful, and despite being much improved this season he is clearly suffering, maybe both physically and psychologically, as being our lone front man. He works in our system well for the best part, but he doesn’t have the world class finishing ability of an Aguero or Negredo, and that clearly affected us yesterday.
Defensively we were all over the place, by far our worst outing in that department for a long time. All six goals were very avoidable, borne out of mistakes in the form of concentration lapses (goal 1), not being tight enough (goals 2 & 4), positioning issues (goal 4) and poor passing (goals 3, 5 & 6).
Credit where it’s due, City were bloody good going forward. They clicked supremely and with players of that quality at their disposal, it’s not hard to understand why they’re scoring like they are. But this Arsenal side had set the benchmark for defending in the League this season thus far, so it’s back to the drawing board now to try and fix things ahead of Chelsea’s visit in a week.
The sole positive I can take from yesterday was Walcott, who attacked with vigour on the right, provided great movement off the ball which Ramsey and Ozil tried to utilise, and obviously took his goals well and could’ve had a hat trick from the free kick leading up to Mertesacker’s goal. Now he’s back and, touch wood, fully fit, I’d be hopeful that he’s a regular starter from here, he gives us an option that no-one else can, and his understanding with Ozil, Ramsey et al will only further develop the more they play together.
Fatigue was clearly an issue for the team in the latter stages of the game but I don’t think we can, or should, use it as an excuse. Games come thick and fast when you’re an elite European team and the successful sides are those that can utilise a squad big and good enough to be able to rotate, whilst still getting the results.
That hasn’t happened for us this past week, but due to our previous good work in this campaign so far it has still enabled us to qualify for the knockout stages of the Champions League, and we still sit pretty at the top of the Premier League table.
The room for error has again been eradicated though, and we now have over a week to relax, recover and regroup ahead of a huge game against Chelsea on the Monday before Christmas. Jose Mourinho has a great record against us, so good preparation for this game will be as fundamental as ever, and a win will ensure we are top at Christmas.
It wouldn’t be a disaster if we weren’t, but it would be a real shame.