Starting XI: Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Alexis, Ramsey, Wilshere, Ozil, Welbeck
Subs: Ospina, Chambers, Gibbs, Arteta, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Podolski
A see-saw match at home saw us deprived of 3 points by a late Martin Demichelis header. Two very good goals from Wilshere and Sanchez had given us an equaliser, and then a lead, but they were overshadowed by poor defending for the game’s opener from Sergio Aguero, and Demichelis’s equaliser. In the end, there were as many positives to take from this match as negatives, and it’s quite clear that our transition from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-1-4-1 is going neither smoothly, nor innocuously.
The main talking points going into this match were whether Welbeck would start (he did), whether Ozil would play (he did), and whether Flamini would keep his place as midfield anchor (he did).
City were missing Yaya Toure, and having lost Fernando to injury as well, it meant we were treated to the grotesque sight of Frank Lampard once again trotting up and down the pitch. Just when we thought we’d seen the last of him…
We had an energetic and bright start to the game, pressing well, moving the ball quickly, and with a lot of direct running. This led to a couple of dangerous chances for Sanchez early on after good work from Wilshere, then a half-chance for Welbeck after being teed up by Ozil, and then the first big moment of the match in the 11th minute – a defensive mix-up from City which saw Welbeck nip in behind, and lift the ball perfectly over Joe Hart.
A little too perfectly unfortunately, because the ball bounced back off the post to safety. A good start for our new signing though, and it’s worth noting that neither Giroud or Sanogo (from what we’ve seen so far) have the nous to attempt (nevermind execute) that type of finish. Whatever we saw from Welbeck today augurs well for the future – he’s very quick, works very hard and hassles defenders, can get in behind, and has good technique.
We continued to impress, but then as we’ve seen so often with this Arsenal side (especially this season), we conceded a goal from nothing in the 28th minute.
Despite the fact that we were dominating, and camped in their half, we lost the ball with a stray pass on the left and City were at us in a flash. Navas broke free down the right and crossed for Aguero to poke home at the near post. This was to be a recurring theme as the night went on, with Navas especially finding as much space as he wanted – mostly on the right, but also through the middle on occasion – and using his pace very purposefully.
There were so many questions to be asked about that first goal. Our central midfielders had pushed out wide and were high up the pitch leaving Flamini on his own in the middle; a careless pass gave City possession, and with Navas and Aguero on the run, the counter-attack was sudden and caught us completely off-guard (why this happens, Dennis only knows). The defending and covering wasn’t particularly great – Monreal, Flamini and Koscielny were all culpable to various degrees.
Ramsey in particular was guilty of poor decision making throughout the first hour. He’s a very good player, but his tendency to try the Hollywood thing every time (be it a shot, pass, or dribble) often breaks down attacks, and leaves us exposed in the middle (when he drifts out wide, or too far forward). Perhaps he needs to get back to basics again.
Rather than switch on after conceding the goal, we almost let them score a similar one straight after. In the 31st minute, good work from Navas and Zabaleta on the right created an opening for Silva, but Szczesny saved well with his legs.
The rest of the half ended without incident – there were a range of very hefty challenges from City players throughout the first half, and this seemed to intensify in the last 10 minutes of the half. The targets were Debuchy, Ramsey, and Alexis – who was fouled 8 or 9 times in total. The little Chilean was probably the man of the match, and in an endearingly simplistic approach, had seemingly decided to take the game to City almost single-handedly – spending large parts of the match running up and down the pitch trying dribble through their whole team, and then running back all the way to his own corner flag to help defend.
The second half started with Arsenal favourite Samir Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Na-Fucking-Twat taking the field to replace a clearly unfit Lampard.
We regrouped impressively, with Sanchez continuing to look dangerous, and almost creating an early tap-in for Welbeck. Worryingly though, Man City were still having far too much joy on the counter-attack.
The equaliser came in the 63rd minute, with brilliant passing and movement between Wilshere, Welbeck and Ramsey. The Welshman played the ball to Wilshere just inside the box, and our #10 took three sublime touches before lifting the ball over, across, and around Joe Hart at the near post. A wonderful finish.
From that point on, we stayed on top, and after a couple of chances for Debuchy and Welbeck, took the lead through a terrific goal.
Our attacking for large parts of this match, when good, wasn’t necessarily fluid like the Arsenal teams of old, but threatening in a kind of disjointed, enthusiastic, youthful way. We pressed and harried, and after a cross was cleared from the left, and headed back in, Alexis thumped a wonderful shot past Joe Hart’s far post in the 74th minute.
It was a superb display of the Chilean’s ability, and just reward for his effort and endeavour. He’s not necessarily the most efficient or creative player – there were plenty of blind alleys run down, plenty of passes not-spotted/wasted and other frustrating moments, but he does have fantastic pace, strength and skill. The excitement factor alone is going to be a big, big plus over the course of this season.
After a bit more dominance from us, the game then turned on two incidents. First, Kolarov replaced Fernanindho for City, giving them a pacy attacking outlet on the left, in addition to Navas on the right. Then shortly after, Mathieu Debuchy was stretchered off after appearing to seriously injure his ankle, with Calum Chambers coming on.
Almost immediately after, City equalised. Kolarov’s 83rd minute corner from the left was headed in by an unmarked Demichelis, with the Arsenal defence in disarray once more, and Chambers marking nobody.
The narrow-minded, pea-brained, completely unremarkable ex-footballers that continue to live on in commentary boxes love complaining about zonal marking vs. man marking (“Zones don’t score goals, players do” and other such shit), and blissfully ignore the fact that our zonal marking gave us the best defensive record in the league from set pieces last season. The problem isn’t zonal marking, it’s more that we seem to be completely switched off and distracted in important defensive situations – counter-attacks, free-kicks, and corners. We’ll have to hope that this is just early season jitters and/or lethargy.
And from that point on the game turned City’s way completely.
In the 88th minute Kolarov hit the post with a thunderous drive, and soon after it was Edin Dzeko’s turn to strike the woodwork. Dzeko again threatened, forcing Szczesny into a great save, and there was a horrifying moment when Nasri put in the rebound, but he was thankfully offside.
There was time for one last scare in the dying seconds when the ball almost broke to Kompany to following a Silva free kick, but after 96 minutes, it finished Arsenal 2 – 2 Man City.
First Big Game of the Season Deconstruction
Having been on top for large parts of the match, and done well to come from behind and take the lead, and then concede an equaliser in the last 10 minutes, we might feel aggrieved to only be coming away with a draw.
However, having had (arguably) the better chances, and hit the woodwork twice, City might feel exactly the same way.
Defensively, we were worrying – teams are counter-attacking with too much ease, and one hopes that it’s just a case of some players still getting back to full match sharpness rather than a coaching/personnel/formation problem.
Other than that we competed well, showed a great appetite for the game, and in Alexis we have a player who is going to trouble every team we face. We mostly outplayed, and almost beat last season’s winners, and that’s no mean feat.
Ozilwatch / Formationwatch
There is a distinct lack of Ozil mentions in the match report. That’s because there was a distinct lack of Ozil influence in the match. The German started on the left, contributed little, and didn’t really offer much protection to Monreal. Later he switched to the right, contributed little, and didn’t really offer much protection to Debuchy or Chambers. There was a brief period where he came to life… drifting into the centre from the right as City chased an equaliser, but that was short-lived. He’s clearly struggling to fit in to things.
Many coaches have spoken in the past of how traditional number-10s/trequartistas struggle with the pace and intensity of the Premier League when playing in the middle. They aren’t able to find the space and time they need, and if they aren’t goalscorers who can move into advanced positions, then they often end up on the wing, which can be totally hit or miss. Especially since the modern wide player has to be able to double up as a fullback (and we’ve seen Ozil’s impact in that regard for Coleman’s goal at Goodison Park).
Ozil started last season as the central player at the tip of midfield in a 4-2-3-1, but for whatever reason, Arsene has decided to switch to a 4-1-4-1 this year, with either Flamini or Arteta sitting, and Ramsey/Wilshere/Cazorla/Rosicky occupying the two central positions. Arsene’s 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 had evolved with a rotating midfield trio – without a fixed holding player. So the last 3 or 4 seasons have had Wilshere/Song/Arteta/Rosicky/Cesc/Ramsey all playing a variety of roles in the centre of midfield. With Ozil, the trio stopped rotating – Arteta holding on his own, Ramsey playing box-to-box, and Ozil doing whatever Ozil does (good in the first half of the season, not so much in the second).
Perhaps the formation change is to get the best out of Ramsey’s runs into the box, Wilshere’s qualities in an advanced position, or to prepare for the double wing threats of Walcott and Sanchez, no one knows. But given that Ozil’s best position is clearly in the centre, only time will tell if AW has some grand plan for him.