Yesterday the team lost away to Manchester City 3-1. Two of the home goals were contentious, the penalty as well as (another) offside strike, but overall few if any Arsenal fans will argue that Pep’s boys didn’t deserve the points.
That’s not to say the team didn’t show some fight, and it is a small comfort that the gap was only two goals. However, once again the team selection seemed a bit off, for example starting Coquelin in defense and leaving Lacazette on the bench (again).
Manchester City Beat Arsenal
A Soft Penalty is Still a Penalty
Back in October, during the Watford defeat, Hector Bellerin gave away a penalty when his and Richarlison’s knees came together. Yesterday at the Etihad, Nacho Monreal inadvertently kicked the back of Raheem Sterling’s left leg, prompting the ref to point to the spot.
Neither one of those plays was a ‘bad’ foul, not like one of Granit Xhaka’s reds from last season, and while there are many who don’t think either should have been called, technically both decisions were correct.
In both instances, the attacker cut in front of the defender, who didn’t react in time, causing the defender to accidentally make contact. No doubt both strikers went down easily, but how many times have we seen that this year alone, and how many more times will we see it for the rest of the season?
That’s just how the game is played.
Also, if we remove those two penalties from their respective game’s scoreline, they wouldn’t have too much impact on the table right now. Sh***y would have won 2-1 (deservedly) and Watford would have earned a 1-1 draw. So, instead of dropping six points the team would have ‘only’ dropped five.
That’s not even mentioning the shove that Sead Kolasinac gave to Sterling while the scores were still level. If that decision had been made, Arsenal would have (presumably) been down by 2 goals by halftime, and in danger of yet another big loss away.
As far as penalties go, I think if anything we may have been lucky, even if the one that was called was soft.
Offside? Yes. Play to the Whistle Anyway!
As you can plainly see, the linesman got it wrong, David Silva was clearly offside when the ball is played. What is not pictured, since I couldn’t find a decent photo, is after the ball goes to Jesus, the Gunners defense stops playing and waves their hands angrily.
Just like was discussed above, referees don’t always get the call right. That’s why the old saying exists, “play to the whistle.”
The team definitely had enough time to intervene and close Jesus down, or at least make a pass impossible, forcing Silva into a bad shot. Also, just like the penalty didn’t sink the team, the offside alone didn’t decide the game, just helped highlight the gulf in class.
Some stats to further expose the fact:
Possession (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 58.2%/41.8%
Duels Won (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 58.1%/41.9%
Tackles (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 18/16
Clearances (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 22/13
Interceptions (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 14/15
Total Shots (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 9/6
Total Shots on Goal (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 5/3
Blocked Shots (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 2/0
Total Shots Inside Box (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 7/3
Fouls Conceded (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 15/15
Yellows (Manchester City/Arsenal) – 1/6
Despite having much more possession, City were still better tacklers, cleared their lines better and even almost had more interceptions than Arsenal, despite being in possession so much. The six yellow cards shown to Gunners also proves that our boys were getting desperate in defense, as well as frustrated by the result.
Despite having more shots, Pep’s men also managed more blocks, and had more than twice the shots inside the box as their visitors, proving their penetrative power.
No doubt it would have gone down to the wire, but stats suggest that City would have won regardless of the two contentious decisions.
What if the penalty wasn’t given AND the offside was called? Guardiola wouldn’t have had his boys play keep-away with the ball for the final fifteen minutes, and would have instead gone back on the offensive. There was a degree of misfortune in this loss, but as Ben Franklin said, “I find that the harder I work, the more luck I have.”
Perhaps, if the team had worked harder, they would have had better fortunes in the game. However, the bottom line is that the better team won the day.
Arsene Wenger has caused plenty of confusion throughout the years, especially when it comes to team selection. Yesterday was really no different.
Most of the XI were easily predictable, Cech, Monreal, Koscielny, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac, Bellerin and Ozil were all included at their normal position. Alexis, another stalwart, was included although not in his usual role, playing behind the central forward.
Instead he made a cameo appearance at the role he filled so well last season, striker. Alex Iwobi, although fairly impressive this year, was another somewhat surprise inclusion, although he was in his normal creative role.
The real head-scratcher on the day was the fact Francis Coquelin was deployed in the heart of defense, out of position. In fact, to the best of my knowledge, this was the first time he played CB for Arsenal.
Mr. Wenger tells us his reasoning was simple; Holding had a knock and Mertesacker is sick. Not sure how that means Coquelin is the de facto replacement, as both Elneny and Debuchy have been deployed in the back line this year and, presumably, are both fit.
Mohamed Elneny especially may have helped the cause, as he seems more confident, if not more competent, on the ball than Coquelin, who is a pure tackler. When the game plan calls for playing out of the back and making quick passes, playing a guy who is not creative in the slightest (no offense!) doesn’t quite make sense.
Other than that, the biggest surprise was the exclusion of our record signing, Alexandre Lacazette. Not sure just who it was who got the nod in front of him (out of Iwobi, Ozil, Alexis the Nigerian seems most likely due to experience, but Ozil and Sanchez have not exactly been inspired recently), but his consolation goal proves the Frenchman really should be the first name on the team sheet.
Better, But Not There Yet
Was anyone else dreading another heavy defeat? I personally kept getting flashbacks to 8-2 and 6-1 before the game, so, despite the criticisms I have, I’m almost relieved it was only a 3-1 loss.
The team’s early-season crisis yielded a worse loss to a worse opponent, Liverpool by 4-0, so by that metric the team is gaining some ground. There were mental errors, but Arsenal didn’t go hiding or hang their heads when mistakes were made.
During other, more famous, away losses the team seems to give up. We need only to look back to the spring when the Gunners lost 10-2 on aggregate to Bayern Munich, 5-1 in both matches. In both those games, the team went into halftime with a chance at a result.
However, both legs ended the same way as various other trips to top-notch opposition did, in defeat. There was no such loss of backbone at the Etihad.
In fact, one or two of the lost yellows were earned because Arsenal were at least trying to press their hosts to win the ball back. Even if it was not successful, the boys were at least trying hard to get back into the match.
Their pressing game was also not up to par. On countless occasions, one or two players would press hard on the Citizens’ back line, only to look around and find that they are alone.
While that doesn’t really say a lot about Arsenal, it shows they were trying, even if the execution was poor. Likely the fact Alexis is just playing for himself doesn’t help, nor does Ozil’s (perceived) bad attitude in general.
Perhaps choosing players dedicated to the cause would produce better results than selecting highly-paid, poorly-motivated stars.
The road is still long to get back into the top four, and contention for the League. However, yesterday’s loss may provide a sort of benchmark for the minimum effort the team needs to give.
If that same work ethic is applied to away games in, say, Stoke or Watford, results will follow.
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