Manchester City 4 Arsenal 2
After a two week international break with the season only just begun, the appetite for proper football again was ravenous. Perhaps it was a mixture of hunger for football and a bottle of Cockburns polished off the evening before that were making the guts churn at 6am Saturday morning as the alarm sounded. The spirit was willing but the head was spongy, the temples pounding full of blood. The fry up would soon quell the stormy waters as we boarded the coach to Eastlands. We arrived at the ground at around 2pm to find a creature so rare; David Attenbrough himself has probably yet to see it. It was a strange big yellow disc in the sky, radiating heat...in Manchester! A true scientific breakthrough. Most would have read Adebayor`s pathetic interview in the Telegraph on the way to the match, the broadsides he fired at Bendtner, Wenger as well as Arsenal`s Jamaican and American supporters prove that the levels of paranoid delusion he has built up through his increasingly erratic statements. So it`s the fault of people who can`t and don`t get to games that a few people booed you at the games? Work that one out. He was predictably booed with his every touch, whilst Toure was given the warm round of applause his service deserved.
Arsene bafflingly altered a formation which had been working pretty well for us all season, ditching the three pronged strike force and electing to play Bendtner on the right wing and van Persie on his lonesome up top. It was a regressive, negative move which showed City far too much respect and demonstrated fear on the part of the manager; it was a fear that would manifest itself in our build up play in the first half. City were content to get numbers back on the edge of their own box and due to van Persie being Arsenal`s sole outlet upfront, the home side easily dealt with some pretty unconvincing attacks from Arsenal. It appeared the manager had fallen back into old habits, not trusting the players to play an offensive system that suits our style much better, again the faith he proclaims to have in his players is simply not borne out by his team selections in big games over the last three years- which are stained by caution and fear. It`s not worked too well for us in that time and it didn`t work too well for us yesterday either with City easily containing our flaccid attacks. Fabregas` radar was well off kilter as he gave the ball away persistently and with no Arshavin or Nasri present, Arsenal`s sole creative outlet was having an off day. It was telling that Arsenal`s only chance in the first half came from a set piece; van Persie`s inswinging corner found Gallas on the back post and he headed the ball narrowly over when he might well have scored.
Despite their impotence in attack, Arsenal were rarely threatened themselves until City`s first opportunity of note. Sagna`s cynical foul on Bellamy off the ball gave the home side a free kick. Almunia did not bother pointing out to his defence that both Richards and Lescott were unmarked on the back post, Barry`s delivery subsequently found Micah Richards and Almunia mistakenly thought the ball was drifting out of play and left it, only for the ball to hit the post, rebound off his frame and into the goal. It was a laughably soft goal and Almunia`s season so far has been marked with these sorts of basic errors. He will have to shake himself from this fit of anarchic form pretty quickly. It`s worrying that the team`s oldest player is the one making the most immature mistakes thus far. Half time came with both sides having created little, but City dealt with Arsenal`s spells of possession much better than we dealt with their sole threat of the match. Arsenal were using the same system that failed last season and still did not seem any closer to knowing how to take control of a game`s key moments. I`d written in my earlier match reports this season that we`d find out more about this team when they went behind. The gauntlet was down.
Disappointingly, Arsenal began the second half with the same system and, though there was a little more energy about us, the same old story of having only one striker meant our attacks were still limited and easily contained. That is until a weird looking gentleman came on that I`m not sure I`ve heard of before, Rosicky is it? He must have come through the youth team, but they appear to have kept his emergence quiet. The fact that he appeared in a first team fixture means I`m £20 down but it`s an amount I`m happy to lose. If he can play at least a bit part in our season we will be better for it. His emergence in central midfield saw a more dynamic Arsenal. Though that Wenger decided to surrender Denilson as opposed to the slow, lazy stylings of Diaby would ultimately cost us. Another van Persie corner saw Arsenal`s most potent attacking threat William Gallas again stoop for a header which Given beat out and Bendtner couldn`t steer home the rebound from a tight angle. Arsenal had slightly more verve and conviction, Vermaelen moved forward and let fly from twenty five yards, causing Given to beat the ball out in front of him and van Persie was thwarted for the rebound by a last ditch Lescott challenge. The goal was coming and when it arrived, it did so in some style. Rosicky played the ball into van Persie with his back to goal, the pass was a little short but van Persie excellently beat Lescott to the ball, demonstrating a gravity defying spin before hitting an off balance, right foot shot low past Shay Given`s right hand and into the net. It was a neat snapshot of what van Persie can provide even on the measliest of scraps. Arsenal were in the ascendancy.
There then followed a nasty incident, van Persie piled in with a rash tackle on Adebayor and the former Arsenal striker responded with a deliberate rake of his studs down van Persie`s face. Adebayor has subsequently lied about apologising to van Persie, skulking past the Dutchman`s prone body as blood dripped from his face without so much as a glance. I was never under the impression the two were anything other than friends at Arsenal, but there again, characters like Adebayor will find friends very few and far between as his life goes on. He might be able to buy cheap love from the supporters of whichever shirt he happens to be wearing, but once the football life is over and his talent has gone and his limbs have receded into achy stumps, he will be a very lonely human being indeed unless he swiftly reviews his actions. Arsenal continued to push, Diaby`s cross was headed on by Gallas and Vermaelen steered wide when in an offside position. But therein lay Arsenal`s problem, with the scores at 1-1 both centre halves were in City`s penalty area from open play.
Rosicky again was Arsenal`s key point of contact in midfield; he fed Diaby who manoeuvred past two players before slipping a ball into Bendtner whose shot was blocked by Lescott. But yet again, as they had in Manchester a fortnight earlier, Arsenal fell to pieces psychologically in a strong position to get a result. It`s almost as if Arsenal can only play on instinct and when a bit of thought becomes necessary to win the game, they crumble. Clichy showed bad decision making in his attempt to go make or break into a challenge with Lescott when he should have held his position. That he lost the tackle meant Wright Phillips was free to slip the ball to Richards- who had careered into the gap left by the errant Clichy. Richards beat Song before pulling the ball back to Bellamy and the Welsh striker guided the ball past Almunia. As they had at Old Trafford, Arsenal then proceeded to completely lose their heads. Adebayor meandered around three desperate Arsenal challenges before cutting the ball back to Wright Phillips who amazingly put the ball wide with Arsenal`s rearguard showing all the command of a drunken sailor scampering around the deck with his trousers around his ankles. The inevitable then came; Clichy once again surrendered the ball high up the pitch to Wright Phillips, leaving the England flanker to move into the space, as with the first goal, Diaby made absolutely no attempt to run back and cover his flank either- the folly of immolating Denilson once again exposed- Wright Phillips clipped in an inch perfect cross and Arsenal`s defence should know better than anyone what happens when you give Adebayor a free header in the box. The subsequent celebration, the sarcastic applauding at Arsenal fans when he could already see there were injuries as a result of his actions and City`s PA system amazingly attempting to make the situation worse have been spoken about in a separate article.
Fully aware that the defence had gone completely and utterly to pot, the Gunners attacked with gusto. Van Persie`s corner broke to Diaby but his shot was shanked off the line by Adebayor. Gael Clichy would then conspire to lose the ball high up the pitch yet again and yet again Diaby ambled backwards with the air of a man looking for a bush to shit in. Bellamy sauntered through Arsenal`s buttery underbelly, releasing Wright Phillips who beat Almunia with a calm chip. 4-1 was in no way a reflection of the game, but it did reflect that City were more mature about controlling the game`s key moments, something Arsenal have an illustrious recent history of failing to do. There was consolation to be had, Diaby all of a sudden looked interested when their was the chance for some personal glory, he ran at the City backline, only giving possession to Fabregas when he absolutely had to, Cesc picked an accurate pass for once and Tomas Rosicky prodded home a consolation. Arsenal rallied and Diaby fed van Persie late on and the Dutchman`s curling shot struck the post. This was before Rosicky`s deflected shot hit the base of the post in the dying seconds. With the chances created in the second half, Arsenal might well have taken a point at least, but defending so amateurishly made the task impossible for us. Once again, brain farting had become endemic in Arsenal`s individuals. The first half was marked by caution and fear from the manager with a conservative system which handicapped us massively. In the second half we then when too far in the other direction. After the equaliser I was convinced Arsenal would win the game, doubtless most people would have thought so too, but the constant occurrence of basic errors reveals a soft mental underbelly to this Arsenal side which has not vanquished. The team`s ability to grow up in these situations is compromised because they only have experience of defeat in these games, they do not know how to be calm and nose out the victory. This team is not as young as it was three years ago, Diaby, Clichy, Sagna; they`re not young boys anymore. Yet these mistakes will keep appearing because it is programmed into our DNA and doomed to play on repeat. Arsenal can play like a world class football team. It`s just unfortunate they can`t think like one. The balance between attack and defence was not right because we ditched our new formation and reverted to old habits. The individual abberations are a much more embedded problem.LD.
Team: 1.ALMUNIA, 3.SAGNA (27.Eboue '78), 10.GALLAS, 5.VERMAELEN, 22.CLICHY, 52.BENDTNER, 15.DENILSON (7.Rosicky '55), 17.SONG (9.Eduardo '78), 4.FABREGAS(c), 2.DIABY, 11.v.PERSIE. Unused: 16.Ramsey, 18.Silvestre, 24.Mannone, 28.Gibbs.