If you were fortunate enough to have more pressing matters than watching the football this afternoon, you might see the result and think something along the lines of “it’s not that bad” or “that’s about what I expected”. In reality, City were merciful (or maybe just apathetic). After they cruised to a three-goal lead in emphatic fashion, they played out the game with the handbrake on – and still created more chances than we did. For comparison, our only shot on target came 33 seconds into the game. For a team with no clean sheet in 10 games in all competitions, we didn’t seem overly interested in, or able to threaten their suspect back-line. The result was our fifth consecutive league defeat at their hands, our longest losing streak since 1983-1985 against City’s rivals in red.
If that’s not a clear enough summation, this should tell you everything.
On paper, it was the kind of lineup I was hoping to see: bold in including Martinelli – a change I was excited about but one you could understand if Lacazette was preferred, and seeing the same front 4 as against West Ham – sticking with whatever is even slightly working. The centre-back question essentially boiled down to who would be the least damaging partner to Chambers.
As for City, you’d think we would have anticipated a reaction to their recent domestic setback after they dismantled Watford 8-0 earlier in the season. Any antipaction was short-lived though, as De Bruyne’s first was the second fastest goal conceded at the Emirates. I’ve pointed in recent weeks as to how lethargic we are in the opening stages, and that better teams would punish us and it was just the case with someone as talented as De Bruyne. As ridiculous as the finish was – the most calm yet violent side-footed half-volley I’ve ever seen – it was another disaster at the back. Fernandinho ghosted into our half, found Jesus, Chambers showed him wide but didn’t get tight enough and De Bruyne was completely unmarked after Martinelli failed to track him. You can chalk that one up to not being switched on fully, but that was textbook Arsenal.
A cynic might question Kolasinac’s commitment as he appeared to duck out of the way, but the foetal-spread Raheem Sterling knew what was coming. It was hit with the kind of power where you just instinctively get out of the way – the kind that perhaps even the Adams and Campbells wouldn’t have blocked. Then again, those kinds of players wouldn’t have allowed the chance in the first place.
The second was just all too easy. Freddie’s post-match interview said as much:
“One of the goals, we had 5 defenders and they’re only two.. and they still scored.”
Looking back at it again, I’m almost in disbelief. Guendouzi jogging back the entire way, ball-watching from start to finish. Sokratis ball-watching the entire time, only turns to look behind him as the ball is played across goal to the unmarked Sterling. Kolasinac was closest but was wrong-footed by the slight deflection on the cross. For the other two, it was really indefensible though. I thought Guendouzi’s time on the sidelines would have given him some time for reflection and to be grateful of the trust hes’s been afforded this season but today was another glaring showcase of how far short he still is. I really don’t care for the diving and theatrics from him and can’t help but feel someone needs to take him to one side and stamp it out. For someone with such a reputable engine, he was ineffective and negligent today. He was even more culpable for the third, allowing De Bruyne to easily slip by goalside and the game was dead and buried. You can raise questions as to why none of the defenders felt the need to close him down but that would be too sensible.
One caveat of their third goal I’d like to address was the fact that at the time, we were down to 10 men while Kolasinac was being treated after an industrial challenge from Rodri – a staple of Pep Guardiola’s management. Rodri was booked for what was essentially a professional foul, after a powerful run from Kolasinac. In the eyes of the law, that was enough, but in reality, it was Arsenal who suffered. After Kolasinac limped off, Saka wasn’t quite ready. Why no one instructed him to do so when Kolasinac was first receiving treatment, I don’t know, but play resumed and you wonder if an extra man would have made a difference (admittedly unlikely given the defence plays like butter scraped over too much bread even with 11 men on the pitch). We don’t know if it would have but it doesn’t sit right with me.
The fact that Pépé almost missed today’s game because of a similarly cynical and industrial challenge last week makes me wonder if these kinds of challenges should carry retroactive punishment in the event of a professional foul injuring a player. I’m fine with a tug of the shirt and accepting a booking to stop a counter attack but in a time where more protective measures have been introduced for players, I can’t help but feel this would be another logical consideration. I don’t quite know how to introduce a retroactive punishment but perhaps FIFA’s new Head of Global Football Development has some thoughts on the matter. It’s one thing that Stoke no longer contaminate the Premier League but there’s more than a few teams who get away with it on a weekly basis.
Bernd Leno kept up his usual heroics with one of the saves of the season, tipping the ball onto the post after another audacious De Bruyne effort. I dread to think where we’d be without him and he’s been a great bit of business. This all unfolded before we’d even reached half time. I’m not sure where you even begin addressing the team at half time, but whatever Freddie said, we at least managed to plug the leak and keep the scoreline somewhat respectable.
Not much changed and arguably the worst moment of the game came not 10 minutes into the half. Kevin De Bruyne, having received the ball in his own half, was allowed to travel with the ball to the edge of our box and take a shot. That to me strikes me as something fundamentally wrong in our understanding of how to defend, or what football is even about. When a player, who is arguably among the top three players in the league, who’s already scored two fantastic goals and almost got a third, is running at your goal, why is your first thought to continually back off and give him the opportunity? What is going on in their heads to say that backing off is the best course of action?
Before we’d even reached the hour mark, Mesut Özil made way for Emile Smith-Rowe and he did his best Xhaka-lite impression, opting to kick his gloves in frustration instead. The reception to his substituion wasn’t nearly as unanimous, but given the off and on-field events surrounding him of late, he wasn’t happy. Highly self-critical though he may be, it felt like there was more to his outburst today, with Freddie assuring that they “will deal with it later”.
The Gulf-State franchise demonstrated the gulf in quality that the Arsenal Powers-That-Be have to try and bridge. If that means poaching their unproven assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal to replace our unproven, former assistant coach who used to play for Arsenal, then so be it. Not that City are even remotely in our ballpark at the moment. The title race may be insurmountable for them at this point, but they’re still years ahead of us and made it look all too easy today.
Scraping the barrel for consolations, I’m hard pressed to even find any worth mentioning. Not conceding in the second half while City toyed with us, maybe? The fact that Bernd Leno is one of the best goalkeepers in the league? Emile Smith-Rowe making his Premier League debut? It’s slim pickings.
We next find ourselves away to Everton, in a similar predicament to us. Whether we’ll have a new head coach by then is anybody’s guess.