I guess it had to end this way. There were too many reasons for us to be optimistic ahead of this match that it simply couldn’t go unpunished. If you are a Gunner, you must stay humble and cautious until the very last second of the match because there is a huge possibility you will end up disappointed with either/both result or/and performance.
There were positive signs like the return of Diaby and the absence of Gervinho from our squad, as well as the absences of two best City players (Yaya Toure and Aguero) were shaded with the late announcement that Mikel Arteta wouldn’t play due to injury (it seems that he twisted knee at training yesterday which could mean at least three weeks of recovery). Ever since Arteta has became a Gunner, he has been an indispensible member of the squad and we rarely managed to win matches in which he didn’t play. After all, it was Arteta who gunned down the Citizens last season with a late strike.
Still, we were playing against the club that have failed to win Premiership/First Division match at Arsenal ground since 1975.
Although there were reports of a suspect vehicle outside of Emirates Stadium which caused police to cordon off the ground before the match, the game started as it was scheduled.
And it didn’t go well for us from the very start and I myself had a bad feeling about the game from the moment I saw our line-up and not just because Arteta was missing. Arsene Wenger should know by now that a central defense consisting of Koscielny and Vermaelen can’t work. We need one of them in our team with Mertesacker to organize defense. One might say that we conceded both goals while Mertesacker was on the pitch, with his fingers being in Džeko’s goal, but I think that we lost today’s match in opening 10 minutes when Koscielny was sent off. If Mertesacker was in the starting 11… Too bad that our recent history has consisted of a lot of “what ifs” – “what if Wenger signed Cristiano Ronaldo when he had the chance…”, “what if we had healthy Wilshere and Diaby last season…”, “what if we had healthy Vermaelen in 2010-11…”, “what if Koscielny and Sczszesny didn’t tscrew up against Birmingham…”, “what if Eduardo didn’t get massacred by Martin Taylor”…
Anyway, our visitors were more determined and in control of the game from the very start. We didn’t have too much possession and our midfield failed to impose. The Citizens were trying to score quickly since FAnchester United won over Liverpool earlier today and stretched their lead to 10 points. Silva created the first serious problem to our defense by finding Tevez but the Argentinian was stopped by Wilshere. A few minutes later Vermaelen had to make a block of Silva’s shot. A decisive moment of the match came in the ninth minute. After Milner’s cross was deflected just outside our box, Gareth Barry won the air battle against Oxlade-Chamberlain to head the ball back to 6-yard-area. Džeko was going for the ball but it is questionable whether he would be the first on the ball since Sczszesny was rushing in. Unfortunately, Koscielny was clumsy and hauled down the Bosnian. Mike Dean awarded a penalty to City and a red card to Koscielny. That was the moment I remembered Dedrick Boyatta’s challenge on Marouane Chamakh in reverse fixture in December 2010. Boyatta was sent off in 5th minute and we were awarded a penalty that Cesc Fabregas missed. I was surprised to see Džeko taking a penalty. He missed a penalty for Bosnia against Armenia in EURO 2012 qualifications with Sergio Ramos’ type of shot and commented it later with: “It was good in Armenia except I had shot down that seagull.” My hopes were justified just a moment later – Sczszesny made a brilliant save with a little help of right post. Arsene Wenger responded to Koscielny’s red card by substituting Oxlade-Chamberlain with Per Mertesacker.
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Still, just like that match in December 2010, it was clear from the start who was going to win the encounter. Barry and Silva created another opportunity for Džeko but his left-footed shot from the right side ended miles wide. We had some sort of “chance to get a chance” when Wilshere, Walcott and Sagna combined on the right side of the attack with cross that hit Clichy’s arm but Dean didn’t award a free-kick for that one. He did it, however, on the other side of the pitch in confusing circumstances. Javi Garcia was fouled by Podolski but Dean gave an advantage since the Spaniard still had the ball. Garcia managed to pass the ball on the right side of the attack while being on the ground. When Gibbs made an interception, Dean awarded a foul on Javi Garcia which wasn’t taken with approval from our players. The visitors took the free-kick quickly with Silva and Tevez combining before the latter put a through ball to Milner. Milner took a diagonal shot to the right Sczszesny’s corner, Vermaelen wasn’t quick enough to close him down and the ball went in.
City didn’t stop there and it could have been much uglier for us. Luckily, Sczszesny saved a shot from Tevez and Javi Garcia missed his header. But the second goal for the visitors was knocking on the door and that door opened in 32nd minute. We lost the ball on the left side twice – first, Javi Garcia disposed Podolski and then Gibbs was robbed by Zabaleta. Milner made a cross to our six-yard-box, Tevez was much quicker than Mertesacker but his flick was deflected by Sczszesny. Unfortunately, the ball was deflected to Džeko’s feet and the Bosnian had an easy task to score in front of an empty goal.
We got our first shot on target after that. Podolski fought for some space on the left side and combined with Diaby on the edge of the box. Podolski went in the box and take a shot. He didn’t have enough space to unleash shot with full power so Hart didn’t have any problems with it.
Diaby had an attempt in the last minutes of the first half, he had cut inside from the left but then Gervinhoed the ball wide, wide, wide from the goal. A few moments later we could had been three goals behind. Milner’s cross was headed to the top left corner of Sczszesny’s net but Wilshere made a decisive header to clear the ball of the line.
Džeko could score his second goal of the game after Milner’s cross but he sent his header wide. Santi Cazorla had a curling shot going over the bar on the other side of the pitch. Wenger tried to do something with Giroud and Ramsey replacing Podolski and Diaby respectively. However, it was City again that was closer to the third goal than we were to an opener. Džeko and Tevez were all alone in counter-attack against Vermaelen and Sczszesny. Džeko sent the ball to Tevez who was going one-on-one with Sczszesny. Fortunately, Sczszesny managed to pick the ball off Tevez’ feet who tried to round the Pole. Sagna helped Sczszesny by making a block to the left side of the goal and restricting space to Tevez. A couple of minutes later, we nearly scored. Clichy fouled Sagna on the right side of our attack near the corner flag. Cazorla crossed the ball into the penalty box to Giroud but the Frenchman’s header wasn’t good enough as the ball went over the bar.
A glimpse of hope came in 75th minute when Vincent Kompany was sent off due to two-footed tackle on Wilshere. It was similar tackle to the one Kompany made last season against FAnchester United in FA Cup – he was sent off that day too.
Despite the visitors not having a one-man-advantage on the field anymore, we couldn’t give them a good scare in the last 15 minutes. We were too exhausted for that. However, the best chance of the match for us came in the 90th minute – Ramsey released Walcott with wonderful pass, our contract rebel chipped the ball over Hart but substitute Lescott managed to clear it off the line.
It would be easy to jump on Wenger and, of course, Mike Dean. However, I’m afraid it was a final reality check for all those people who believed this team is capable of lifting some silverware at the end of the season. I’d like to be proven wrong but it would take more than a miracle for this team to win the FA Cup – not to mention the Champions’ League where we will face a much better team than City. We have a serious lack of quality, serious lack of leadership, lack of sharpness in attack, lack of complete players and – with the possibility that someone might found this one offending – lack of footballing intelligence on the pitch even when Gervinho is absent. After Wenger confirmed that Arteta suffers from a calf strain and that he would be out for next three weeks in probably the most important month for us this season, our prospects don’t look nice at all.
One more thing: we didn’t have any players that were 30-year-old or older on the field.
on Koscielny’s red card…
What I make of the decision is not really important. We have to live with the decision. I was surprised. Honestly. I refuse to watch it again because what does it help now? We have to live with the decision and make the maximum of it. I will watch it again. I’ve heard it was a penalty. Was it a red card? I don’t know.
on the performance…
Overall we started too timidly, with not enough authority in a game like that, and we allowed them to dictate from the start. We paid very early from it. We didn’t start with enough confidence or enough authority. When you play at home in a game like this you have to dictate your personality, which we did not do, especially defensively. After that, we played 80 minutes with 10 against 11 against a good team, and it’s difficult. But then again, on both of goals I think we could have done better. It’s frustrating because the team afterwards showed great heart, gave everything and showed great desire, but we’re a bit too nervous to play in a serene way at home and that shows in the way we start the games.
on being frustrated…
It’s not anger because the players want to do well. It’s just the fact that we need to be a bit more confident in this kind of game. We want to do so well that we are a bit up tight. It’s not anger, it’s frustration that you do not see from the start what this team is capable of. Afterwards, you make it basically difficult for yourselves at 2-0 down with 10 against 11, it’s massive. If we had taken 100 per cent of our chances we’d still have come back. Giroud had a header, Walcott had a chance. If we’d put it in, maybe. But it’s too difficult.
on what positives he can take…
The spirit was positive. We had a great response in the second half. Abou Diaby came through well, got better and better, and Wilshere is coming back to an outstanding level, so that was very positive.
on whether Wilshere was targeted…
I hope not. I didn’t get that sense in the game. He has a game that provokes tackles: he’s incisive, he goes forward. But you could see he has found a burst when he’s on the ball that is very interesting. It would have been interesting if it had stayed at 11 against 11.
on fighting for a top-four place…
We are in there, of course. We have to fight to do as well as possible until the end of the season. I feel we need to find in this kind of game more defensive stability. The way we gave the ball away today, it was a combination of a combination of a lack of concentration and a bit of awareness.
on Mikel Arteta…
He has a scan on Monday, [he will be out for] approximately three weeks. It is a strain on his calf. Of course [it’s a blow]. In midfield he gives us stability, experience and tactical knowledge. We will miss that.
on making signings…
We are in the market. To find players of a calibre of Arteta, available in January, I wish you good luck. We try very hard, believe me. We have a team around me who analyse everything. We select targets, I watch them… But it’s difficult to speak about any names.
on Kompany’s red card…
I haven’t seen it again. It looked like both went for the ball.
Sagna Koscielny Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Wojciech Szczesny | 7.5: We don’t need No.1 goalkeeper since we already have an excellent goalkeeper – we just need a proper substitution for him. He made a wonderful save with his feet of Džeko’s penalty and prevented the visitors from scoring in a few occasions more. Couldn’t do anything when Milner scored, managed to pull another brilliant deflection but it was spoilt with Džeko’s goal. If he only learns to kick the ball, we will have a world-class goalkeeper in a few years.
Bacary Sagna | 6.0: He was actually better than he was in previous matches. He tried to combine down the right with Walcott and Cazorla but his crosses were horrible again. Oxlade-Chamberlain’s early substitution didn’t help him neither.
Laurent Koscielny | 3.5: One thing I won’t realize until I’m alive and that thing is fascination of our fans with Koscielny. He doesn’t have much better hair than Chamakh. Sure, he signed a new contract with Arsenal last year, scored a couple of very important goals including the one that gave as joy of St Totteringham’s Day last season, he is a pacey defender, but he has been defensive liability too many times to be considered a classy defender. His footballing intelligence is appauling and it takes more than bad luck to score so many own goals, to make so many mistakes in marking top attackers in the league or to get sent off like he did today. He exemplifies our horrible transfer policy in defense department in recent years – we missed out on Samba and Cahill but Koscielny and Squillaci were right there waiting for us.
Thomas Vermaelen | 6.0: Our captain was to blame for the first goal since he was late to close down Milner. He made some important challenges, though, and gave overall better performance.
Kieran Gibbs | 4.5: Didn’t link up with Podolski properly, made a mistake that led to opponents’ second goal and failed to do anything in attack. Milner was destroying us from his side and that is something that should make Arsene Wenger ask David Moyes about the price we should pay for Leighton Baines.
Abou Diaby | 5.0: He is far from his best form and severely lacks match fitness. He didn’t shield defense properly and – aside from one decent link up with Podolski – he failed to do anything well in the final third as well. In certain occasions he had shown his slick passing ability and that is positive thing. It’s good to have him back, let’s hope it will last until May.
Santi Cazorla| 5.5: Failed to impose in today’s match and was shaded by his country-mate Silva. Made a decent attempt in the second half that went wide and crossed the ball for Giroud. I still think he should be the one taking our free-kicks.
Jack Wilshere |8.0: He was everywhere and even using word “literally” wouldn’t be a big mistake. He helped defense and actually managed to find some space in the opponents’ half as well. He was fouled 7 times today, earned Kompany’s red card, cleared the ball that was going in for third goal with header…but didn’t have enough class among his team-mates to win this match.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | N/A: He lost the header to the taller Barry just before Koscielny fouled Džeko. Was sacrified for tactical reasons after Koscielny’s red card. At least he won’t be tired ahead of Chelsea.
Theo Walcott | 5.0: Wasn’t efficient again but he managed to get some space in the last minute. Tried an embarassing volley in the first half. He was hit by our early loss of Koscielny as well but he should be doing much more now that he has got to play at his favourite position.
Lukas Podolski | 5.5: He was the accomplice to Gibbs in messing up just before the visitors’ second goal. He fought hard and had unfriendly moments with Zabaleta with the Argentinian appealing to the referee that Podolski hit him with an elbow. Let’s hope the German won’t get suspended for that. He created a chance for himself in the first half, tried some crosses as well but there was something that I didn’t like. I saw him smile just a minute before he had that chance. I don’t want to see our players smile when we are two goals down. I want to see anger, rage, desire and self-confidence on their faces, but no smiles until we do our come-back. I want to see that face Bacary Sagna had when he scored our first goal for us in our come-back against the Spuds last season.
Per Mertesacker | 5.5: Was too slow when Tevez took a shot before Džeko’s goal. Didn’t do anything as our big man in attack. Still, he should have advantage over Koscielny any day.
Olivier Giroud | 5.0: He tried to do something but failed to produce anything. Missed one of our best chances of the game by sending header over the bar.
Aaron Ramsey | 6.5: Managed to create our best chance with brilliant pass to Walcott. If Wilshere’s heart and pace would join Ramsey’s technique and intelligence when it comes to passing game, he would be a top-drawer material.