This submission came in a week after the game but was written in a train back to Scotland after our loss at the Etihad
At the time of writing we are on the train somewhere in the midst of “up north”, in darkness, on the way back to Scotland where I live as an exiled north Londoner – expected time of arrival at Edinburgh 10pm… with a bit of luck home by 10.30
On our way down earlier, with the sun beaming and picturesque Lake District views, coupled with a hip flask full of fine Scottish malt to warm the cockles, we allowed ourselves to be led into some kind of false sense of optimism of what might happen at the Etihad later.
As a result we arrived at Manchester Piccadilly in good spirits and, unusually for us, with plenty of time to spare in the away concourse before kick off.
City naturally dominated proceedings from the off and the game in general. It was a game that might have pundits focusing on two stand out dubious decisions which went against us. However, looking at the the bigger picture credit must be given to City for a deserved victory.
Not only were they more worthy technically but also in terms of effort – they wanted it more.
That’s what hurts the most as any fan who travels hundreds of miles to watch Arsenal home and away. It’s the lack of effort. It’s the lack of getting stuck in, rolling your sleeves up and showing the opposition who you are. It’s the bare minimum of what you expect and sadly when Arsenal come up against the big boys away from home, it’s an all too familiar tale.
For me the game was lost in the early stages when we pressed high and won the ball deep in City’s half. It was a rare occasion of playing city at their own game and nearly putting them to the sword. The ball was given to Mesut Ozil, in a great position. It was a kind of 3 on 2 situation, such was the nature of the way we caught City. Ozil had serious options with only one man to beat on the edge of the box and at least two accompanying team mates in good space. Yet he stuttered and blustered, before eventually shooting the ball pathetically wide. I said at the time to my partner Alison that at 0-0, it was a crucial moment – amidst the general dominance that City were enjoying. A player of his supposed pedigree and stature simply cannot go missing with an opportunity like that.
As is often the case with Arsenal in such scenarios these days we rued what scraps of early chances we had with the score at 0-0. City increasingly imposed a swagger and class in their play that left us treading water. City’s first goal summarised a lack of concentration at the back which has become synonymous with us although De Bruyne was clinical and deadly in his approach – eventually rightfully taking the man of the match award.
What followed for the rest of the game, bar a few sparks of chances and the odd combination of play, was an Arsenal bereft of ideas, lacking industry but crucially – lacking desire.
Lacazette came on to give us some joy with his well taken goal. But that brief moment of hope was a mere meaningless footnote in a game where we were never really at the races. Controversial decisions sandwiched that glimmer of hope with City being awarded a penalty and a simply ridiculous non-decision not to award an offside for City’s 3rd killing-of-the-game goal.
That all said, as Arsenal fans we need to be honest with ourselves in that we are just nowhere near this City side. The one thing this City team has right now is confidence and they’re highly motivated. We were never going to match them at a technical level today and it showed.
Yet what summarised where we are at as a team right now was in the closing stages. City were enjoying an all too familiar dominant phase of possession. As Ozil feebly attempted to press City and failed, he stopped, gave up and through his arms up in a pathetic hissy fit.
What City had in technical ability today they compounded it with just as much effort and desire.
That was the difference.
Ozil was by no means the only player who was poor today but it was that petulant reaction, right in front of the away end, which has stuck with me on my way home.
It’s an often familiar story with the big away games and a player of Ozil’s supposed pedigree has let us down yet again. What might have been if he’d shown the minerals with that gifted chance high up the pitch early on – it’s those moments which define players. It was those moments which made the likes of Bergkamp, Rocastle, Pires and Brady legends. Turning a valuable opportunity in a big moment into something. Turning a game. Answering questions and showing up. That’s what a world class player is. Not Ozil.
The final whistle went and we were in the top tier of the steep away end so it was a long way down the staircase. As we walked down a certain familiar chant rang out and grew louder, the words said it all –
“Where was Ozil, Mesut Ozil, I just don’t think you understand…”
Before we darted down I wanted to see the players’ reaction. As any loyal supporter you want the players you’re supporting to care for the shirt as a bare minimum and to be connected with them. I always have respect for the players that come over after the final whistle in away games to give respect to the travelling Gooners. For me it’s a barometer for how much they actually care.
It’s that connection with the fans which I value highly. Jack Wilshere, flanked by the likes of Giroud and Monreal did just that. Sadly as usual our “star” players in Ozil and Sanchez couldn’t care less and headed straight for the tunnel.
Picking up on Wilshere, the “Super Jack” chants were widespread in the away end throughout the game which is a common occurrence. It’s clear he’s the one player who Gooners love to see and are united in their love for him. He came in late but didn’t really put a foot wrong and played well. It’s come to the point now, given he’s proved his fitness and performed, that Wenger must seriously consider him for starting in the league. In games like this it’s painfully apparent that we lack heart and soul, desire and players who will play for the shirt when the chips are down. Super Jack is just the player who can bring some of that back.
The one positive out of today like any away day is catching up with some top Gooners in the Arsenal family.
As it is commonly said “it was a great day ruined by football”.
This is why whatever happens when we are down for the north London derby in a couple of weeks, I know I’ll be sharing the roller coaster of emotions with brothers and sisters in arms.
We’re all in this together.