Manchester City v Arsenal
Kick off: December 14, 2013 12:45 PM BST
It was one of those days that you could have predicted, but you wouldn’t want to believe it would come true.
The fact is, we had to play one of the best teams in Europe, a team that has beaten all domestic opponents at home and have averaged four goals per game in all competitions. To make things worse we had to do it just a few days after losing a very difficult match in Naples.
Arsene Wenger made some changes for this match. As many of us had hoped before this match, Bacary Sagna returned to the squad and Nacho Monreal replaced Kieran Gibbs on the left side of the defence. Jack Wilshere occupied Santi Cazorla’s place on the left flank while Theo Walcott made the starting eleven as well. Aaron Ramsey replaced Mikel Arteta as Mathieu Flamini’s partner in centre midfield.
Manchester City attacked us from the get-go. City had most of the possession but our defence wasn’t seriously trouble. They had corners but made nothing concrete out of it, like that one that shouldn’t have been given due to Yaya Toure’s last touch, but it was a bit of a preview of what kind of refereeing we came to expect.
Actually, we had the first glimpse of a chance after Walcott’s cross had found Wilshere on the left side of the box but the English midfielder failed to volley the ball properly. Only a minute later, Manchester City took the lead. Nasri took the corner from the right hand side and sent it to the near post. Demichelis headed the ball across the six-yard-area to Agüero who volleyed it perfectly into the back of the net.
City’s persistent attacking continued. Kompany’s impressive run forward was crowned with a nice through ball for Negredo but the Spaniard luckily didn’t use it to double the lead. Neither did Yaya Toure when he fired a shot from outside of the box.
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We tried to find an equalizer and we had to wait until the 31st minute. Ramsey pick-pocketed Yaya Toure in the middle of the pitch and sent the ball forward to Özil on left. The German cut the ball back to Walcott who sidefooted it in to score his first goal in the Premiership this season.
That wasn’t much of a shock for the hosts as they went forward in order to restore the lead. Negredo came close after the all-Spanish combination with David Silva, but his shot went wide. We then had one good attack that was stopped due to a non-existent offside. Monreal was on the left hand side of the box and could have made either a fine cut back or a cross but Martin Atkinson’s assistant raised his flag incorrectly.
And, given that it has been a horror-week, we suffered a double blow in the 38th minute. Yaya Toure picked Zabaleta on the right flank. The Argentinian – who was very comfortable given that Nacho Monreal wasn’t at his work-place – sent a low cross into the six-yard-area for an on-rushing Negredo. The Spaniard reached the ball before Koscielny and swept it into the net. The Frenchman got injured in the process, it didn’t look good and Arsene Wenger already said that the Frenchman will be out for a while. Enter Thomas Vermaelen.
Martin Demichelis could have become an unlikely hero of the match but his second successful attack on the near post after Nasri’s corner fortunately didn’t end with a goal. At the other end of the pitch, Walcott was incorrectly ruled offside in a promising position. Szczesny’s insecure punching after Negredo’s cross almost allowed Yaya Toure to score but luckily for us, the Ivorian was on the floor and unable to hit the ball.
In the second half, we looked more determined to make things happen in City’s half of the pitch. However, it looked like all our strategies were ruined after Özil played a poor pass to Flamin, which was intercepted by Fernandinho just outside of our penalty box. The Brazilian got the ball, took a few steps and slotted it home to give the hosts a two-goal-cushion.
Surprisingly, our team didn’t lose any spirit. We actually started creating more chances and Giroud came close to netting after Sagna’s wonderful cross but his header went wide. Giroud was in three promising situations in the space of just five minutes but neither of these found the net. Another poor performance outside of London for him.
Wilshere attempted to find Walcott with a through ball but it was stopped by Zabaleta’s arm. It should have been a penalty but Martin Atkinson didn’t point to the spot.
We got our second goal very soon though. Özil and Ramsey had combined nicely before the latter clipped the ball over the defence for Walcott. The Englishman curled the ball into the top corner in a delightful manner – Henry-esk.
But, City killed off the game just four minutes later. Jesus Navas – who had replaced the injured Sergio Agüero at the start of the second half – made a fine run down the right flank and sent a low cross for the galloping Silva. Again, an all-Spanish combination resulted in a goal for Manchester City as Silva scored to restore the two-goal-lead for the hosts.
It seemed like our team lost any nerve and shape, especially after Arsene Wenger replaced Flamini with Gnabry. We were all over the place and more poor refereeing didn’t help. Giroud was ruled offside (he scored after the flag was raised) incorrectly. Wilshere could have narrowed the margin to one again but his excellent shot was saved by Pantilimon. At the other end of the pitch, Nasri took the ball off Monreal and sent it to Jesus Navas. The Spaniard had a tight angle to deal with so his shot ended stroked the side-netting.
Nicklas Bendtner came on to replace Olivier Giroud. Bendtner had scored two goals in his last two visits to Etihad with Arsenal and Sunderland respectively and on both occasions his sides avoided defeats. This time, it wasn’t possible. Fernandinho came close to scoring with a long shot but Szczesny saved well.
The Brazilian got his second goal eventually after he had combined with Nasri on the left hand side of the attack. Wilshere lost the ball again, Nasri assisted for Fernandinho who clipped the ball over Szczesny to make it 5:2.
If we didn’t do anything close to defending, at least we tried to do something in front of Pantilimon’s goal. Walcott searched for a hat-trick and came close twice with a free-kick from a promising position and his one-on-one after Bendtner’s excellent through ball but on both occasions the Englishman was denied by Pantilimon.
Bendtner himself scored a goal but it was ruled out correctly (for once) for offside. It was the smallest offside you’ll ever see in your life but it’s just like being pregnant – you can’t be just a little offside.
Our third goal came after a similar header so even the commentator on Serbian Sport Klub thought Bendtner scored. Turns out it was our captain Per Mertesacker who scored his second goal of the season.
However, our poor defensive performance had to have a poor ending as well. Gnabry lost the ball and allowed Milner a free run toward goal. The Englishman entered the box and had gone away from the goal before Szczesny’s stretchered leg brought him down. It was a clear penalty and a yellow card for our goalkeeper. Yaya Toure, arguably the best player on the pitch despite Fernandinho receiving the plaudits, converted a penalty to round off his excellent and our poor performance.
It was a horrible end to our horrible week. The Fortnight of The Living Dead has been disastrous so far – we lost our top spot in the Champions League, Manchester City reduced the gap to only three points and we lost Koscielny due to injury. Furthermore, Chelsea closed the gap with a victory over Crystal Palace and can leapfrog us if they beat us next Monday. Hopefully, we will use this nine-day-break to get a grip and prepare for the match that we must win in order to keep our title credentials alive.
It seems that I was wrong with many things. I wanted Nacho Monreal to play ahead of Kieran Gibbs – he did and it went totally wrong. I wanted Ramsey, Wilshere and Walcott in the starting line-up in order to add pace and dynamism but our defensive game suffered.
I thought Giroud would step up against Manchester City but it seems we should really look for a world-class striker in January, if there is anyone of that calibre available. Still, it does sound silly to question a striker when you score three goals and concede six.
Perhaps we could have made more on attack had we had a better striker than Olivier Giroud but the truth is, unlike his counter-part from Manchester City Alvaro Negredo, Giroud doesn’t have anyone who can afford him a day off. Unlike the Frenchman, Negredo didn’t have any mid-week action as Pellegrini had Edin Džeko to take his place in attack. Lukas Podolski’s return might be something that we have needed for a while.
The title is still on – after all, we are still on top – but we have to improve our performances against top teams. Wenger hasn’t won a single game against Mourinho and the next one is a must-win.
on his assessment of the game…
It was a difficult game. We had the best defence in the Premier League and we conceded many goals today. Honestly, we could have scored at least six as well. It was for me a very open game but on our front I think we made too many mistakes. Our strengths until now was our defensive discipline and that went as the game went on. In the second half the regret I have is at 2-1 we make it 3-1, after we come back to 3-2 we make it 4-2 and always through easy mistakes. We were in a position where we could see the legs were tired a little bit and we had to run after the score. You have always more chances to lose more than to comeback because we had tired legs. In the end it was 6-3 but hurts me more is that we had an opportunity to put Man City at nine points and they are three tonight. That is very difficult to swallow because it’s a team that was not unbeatable today [Man City].
on how big a moment the defeat is in the title race…
I don’t know. We’ll see.
on whether City are the team to beat…
They are one of them the teams to beat, not more than any other one we have played until now. Maybe we have played Everton who are as good as City, we have played Southampton who are as good as City.
on Koscielny’s injury…
He has a cut and he will be out for a while but for how long I don’t know.
on whether the result would have been different with an extra day’s rest…
I don’t want to look for excuses after a defeat like that but it didn’t help. You know take any team you play Sunday afternoon, Wednesday away in the Champions League and Saturday morning away in league you are under threat. I said before the game I will not use it as an excuse and I don’t want to do it now. But it was not ideal, you could see that we were not as fresh as we should be for a big game.
on his view of the penalty appeal being turned down…
I think we had three real offsides which were not turned down and the penalty turned down. The referee had a bad game.
on Mertesacker and Ozil’s confrontation at the end…
The Germans will sort that out between themselves don’t worry.
on Jack Wilshere making a gesture to the Man City fans…
I didn’t see that. I don’t know if he did it. If he did it and he’s banned we will have to accept it.
Sagna Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Monreal