The game was approaching a half-hour mark when I started having serious misgivings about Arsenal winning it. An opening 15-minute period of Arsenal’s sterile possession gave way to a 15-minute period of City’s sterile possession and then Arsenal seized control of the ball once more. But nothing was happening still.
31st minute came and were treated to a “shots” box. Arsenal 0, Manchester City 6. “At least they only put one on target and created no moments of real danger” I was thinking, when Aguero sidefooted a through ball into De Breyne’s path and the Belgian fired inches wide of the far post.
But no sooner than my shock from what I’ve just witnessed had worn off, we were in front. Koscielny threaded a fine pass to Mesut Ozil from the halfway, Ozil’s pass ended up at Walcott’s feet and the Englishman fired an unstoppable curled effort past Hart after sidestepping Mangala.
That wasn’t the end of it, though. 15 seconds from the whistle Mangala misplaced a pass, Walcott intercepted it, found Ozil and the German laid the ball on a platter for Olivier Giroud to smash home from close range. 2 shots, 2 on target, 2 goals.
This passage served the simple purpose of illustrating how quickly things can change in a game and how fine the margins are. A minute after we could have gone behind we scored. A simple misplaced pass with just 15 seconds to go can lead to devastating circumstances. That was…enlightening, for me at least.
However, let’s get to the points of interest.
This was the standout feature for me. Every single one of our players fought like mad. Tackling, intercepting, scooping up loose balls, closing City’s players down all over the pitch. Going into aerial duels with taller and/or stronger opponents, engaging in physical battles. All the while looking to spring counter-attacks by sparking into life.
All of this we did without Alexis Sanchez and Francis Coquelin. Arsene later summed it up:
“You had times where you had players on the ground at both sides of the pitch because of that total commitment”.
I loved every bit of it. We weren’t bullied by an arguably stronger (physically) City’s midfield. The players fought for one another, they fought for the ball and they looked ready to die on the pitch, but not concede an inch of space. More of that please in the future.
Our captain was absolutely massive. He is not a frequent guest in my articles, maybe because defenders often fly under the radar somewhat due to their less flashy contributions, but the German was the definition of a rock at the heart of our defense. Calm and assured, he mopped up again and again. Here are his numbers:
- 5 ball recoveries
- 2/2 tackles
- 1 interception
Doesn’t look all that impressive, does it? Because that’s not the best part of it.
- 9/10 clearances
- 5/5 headed clearances
- 3/3 aerial duels
How’s that for a defensive masterclass? Even Adrian Clarke picked Per as his main man. The German’s tackling numbers and stuff don’t look all that impressive because City were rarely allowed to attack through the middle. We crowded them out, forced them to lump crosses in from wide areas and that was where Mert came in. Brilliant.
That was much like the Hector we all know and love. The Spaniard was a live wire the entire evening, he was quick to spring attacks and support them, but his defending was also top notch. Neither Delph nor Sterling were able to do anything of note and the credit for this goes to Hector.
The boy made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions, 8 ball recoveries and was successful with 4 out of 6 attempted clearances, but it was his calm manner, no-nonsense approach to his duties I liked the most. Coupled with electric pace, naturally.
Before I go on, I’d like to say I’m still fuming Rambo didn’t convert his chances. Both were very good chances and both arguably should have ended up in the net, therefore ending the game as a contest.
However, I find myself hard-pressed to be mad at Ramsey. The Welshman put in an all-around energetic display, like Campbell, his desire to make things happen was, and always is, immense.
Rambo spurned his chances and he only created one for his teammates, but in a game where we stayed compact and played on the counter (thus only enjoying 42% of possession), he did what most people begged him to do prior to the game and stayed close to Flamini, providing cover. And still managed to have his best moments in attack.
Here’s a player transformed. Since Joel was handed his first competitive Premier League start vs Swansea, he grew in confidence and stature. He improved with every game and his performance against Pellegrini’s men was, dare I say, his best in an Arsenal shirt.
Yes, he squandered a glorious chance from a Monreal cross and probably should have done better when put through by Koscielny, but this was offset by a good defensive shift (as always) and his overall desire to make things happen. “Make things happen” is hard to measure, however if you watched the game you’ll know what I mean. Sincerely hope Campbell retains his place in the near future, the lad showed massive improvement and deserves it.
It was a massive win with a massive performance from the lads. The scoreline flatters City: we could, and should, have went 3-0 up early in the 2nd half, ending the game as a contest. So I don’t understand how Pellegrini can say City were the better side. Watch the game again, Manuel. Or do you think possession equals being better? Then you are as wrong as your counterpart from the other side of Manchester.
The only dark spot is Alexis Sanchez, or, to be more exact, his absence. Wenger shed light on the issue after the game and the news was not comforting:
“He had a slight one (setback) two days ago but he planned to be on the bench tonight but he is so keen. He has got a little bit of a pain and we didn’t take a gamble.
I think he will be back January 10. Christmas period – you can’t count him.”
Here go our opportunities for rotation. I’m glad Campbell and Giroud didn’t play all that much in the first months, while Oxlade and Walcott just got back from injuries, which means all four should be relatively fresh. Will they be fresh enough to play three times from December 26th to January 2nd? We’ll see, but I think some rotation is inevitable, most likely when we take on Bournemouth.
The win takes us within just 2 points of Leicester and gives us room for manoeuvre, as City are now 4 points behind, and Spurs, United and Palace lag us by 7 points.
Now we should chase the Foxes just like Ozil chases the league assist record.
Merry Christmas to you and until later.