Positives For Arsenal In Defeat But Still Things To Work On
Manchester City 1 – 0 Arsenal
1 – 0 Silva (52)
Roberto Mancini’s first managerial win over Arsenal came in a pulsating clash at Eastlands yesterday. Having spoken beforehand of his teams chances of re-entering the title race with a win, Arsène Wenger was forced to admit that the defeat ended such hopes. It might be that the pressure being off in that respect ensures that the team remains focussed and applies itself to retaining Champions League status this season.
Having succumbed to defeat at Stamford Bridge, City were in no mood to roll over perhaps displaying the steeliness a title-winning side needs having been usurped from top place by the local rivals. They started brightly with Aguero offering the first salvo, his shot over the bar as the Arsenal defence closed in.
Despite being on the backfoot, there was a reassuring resilience in the visitors, a desire not to be quelled or beaten, weathering the storm and then turning proceedings in their favour. The first part of that task was achieved; the second threatened but never emerged. Gervinho offered the first counterpunch which Hart fumbled around the post before Ramsey shot narrowly wide with the England ‘keeper floundering.
City were enjoying their possession but not creating clear openings, a mixture of the lacksadasical and strong defensive desire by The Arsenal. It was not pretty, and at times ineffective, but when the defence was beaten Szczesny would stand tall or at least big, as Balotelli found out following indecision between Djourou and Mertesacker.
An attacking light briefly flickered before Kolo Toure snuffed out Ramsey’s opening before the normally reliable Alex Song was dispossessed by Aguero, whose snappy shot was well-saved by Szczesny. Silva was prompting City but Arsenal were holding their own.
Matters were to swing in City’s favour for the second half. Johan Djourou suffered a groin strain and was replaced by Ignasi Miquel, necessitating defensive changes with Koscielny and Vermaelen changing to the right and centre to accommodate the young Spaniard on the left.
Six minutes into the second half, Balotelli exploited space on the Arsenal right. Song covered ground to get there but the Italian rifled a low shot across Szczesny. The Pole blocked, Vermaelen flicked the ball away from Aguero but Silva reacted quickest, his sliding shot breaking the deadlock.
Having seen the advantage swing their way, City were thankful to the officials for it remaining so when van Persie was ruled offside having beaten Hart with a lob. It was a marginal call and one that the Assistant would have been relieved to see on a replay, the decision was just about right.
van Persie had a couple of efforts saved by Hart past the hour mark whilst Zabaleta struck the upright to warn Arsenal of the dangers of faffing around with the ball near your box. The introduction of Arshavin and Chamakh notionally meant that Arsenal ended with four forwards on the pitch. It was a pair of substitutions which only served to remind us how low their respective confidence is.
Inevitably Phil Dowd would have his input on the proceedings, Micah Richards handball went unpunished when a penalty was surely inevitable? Ball to hand, hand to ball; neither matters surely if the offending team garners an advantage they would not have gained had there not been an unwelcome intervention. It is this type of officiating which causes so much ire; no consistency in application.
As it was Vermaelen almost retrieved the point with two late efforts but it never came.
For all of the positives out of yesterday, there are areas of concern which the manager is going to have to address in the coming weeks. If Kieran Gibbs is able to make a comeback for any sustained period time, that will allieviate some pressure on the defence. If not, it means his alternatives are Miquel or Squillaci. The former has immense promise but the latter, well…
Of more concern is the continued poor form of Arshavin and Chamakh. The Russian is a far better player than his recent displays suggest, you have to hope that his a temporary drop. Yet the club has a history of highly-rated attackers who have to be cut loose as their form plateaus or worse, drops.
Certainly with Chamakh, I would have to suggest that is the case. He works hard but is so desperately short of form that Wenger must surely be seriously looking for a replacement in January? In both cases, they probably need a long run in the team to ‘play‘ themselves back into form yet Arsenal cannot afford that luxury; the footballing chicken and egg.
Defeat is always disappointing yet there was much that was strong about the performance, a sure sign of the squad coming together as a unit. Despondency is natural but the players have shown that the early season misery is a thing of the past.