5 things we learned from Manchester City v Arsenal
It could have been called a humbling defeat on the road, if it wasn’t for the two defeats Arsenal have recorded already. Nonetheless this defeat should be humbling some players and ex-players out there.
To get it out of the way, most of us might have predicted the defeat early. The most obvious being the €500m difference in squad value, which should elude to an extended spending spree (plus a multi-seasonal recruitment plan). But a worthy mention should also be the 4 key players currently missing due to illness and the fact Arsenal turned to a 343 after months of not playing a 343.
That being said, here’s the 5 things we’ve learned from the battering.
1- Defensive Spacing:
It seems strange that Arsenal, after 1½ years of improving their defensive capabilities, would find themselves so easy to open up. On many occasions you’d be forgiven to think we played an inexperienced youth team. Most of the first and second half, the vertical and horizontal spacing was wide, without much ability to block line breaking passes. Some of this might be down to the personnel fielded. While Arteta has been very keen on pressing high, Aubameyang isn’t the best front runner in terms of blocking the right channels, and as Manchester City dropped a forward player to help in buildup, Arsenal’s back line first reaction wasn’t to engage higher up, but to drop a few paces, making the midfield work even harder. Essentially we played a low block team with a high block intend.
2 – Lack of communication:
I found this pretty baffling, knowing we had Chambers, Holding and Leno in the defensive setup, all who should be experienced enough to bark instructions to each other. It’s not that communication is something sacred. It’s a very vital part of the game, and something every level is drilled to do. So when Gündoğan manage to get between Chambers and Holding, with no one standing so close to him that they might begin a symbiosis, someone either didn’t listen, didn’t react or didn’t yell. When this happen throughout 90 minutes, you get yourself these types of scorelines.
3 – Lack of passing directness ~ lack of off the ball movement:
Let me just start by saying that I think Ødegaard, Saka and Smith Rowe are class players, and I believe that our attack looks so much better when those guys play. That being said, yesterday there was 2 or 3 opportunities, while we had 11 players on the pitch, for one of the front men to slot Aubameyang through on goal. When you have an athlete, like Aubameyang, as your front man, you need to slip him into situations to create 1v1’s, even if you think you might catch them off guard by dribbling past them. In the end it’s an instance of feedback reward, as you get more opportunities to find a runner, the more you reward their running with a through ball. As the game progresses and Arsenal dropped deeper, the amount of off the shoulder runs became more and more infrequent, and you wonder if you could have done more to reward the few you had.
4 – Safety booting:
Arsenal cleared the ball 31 times during the 90 minutes, and while I understand the argument that they were playing with 10 men, 18 of the clearances happened in the first half, with 9 of them already booted before Xhaka’ss red card in the 35th minute. This should be a testament to City’s brilliant man-to-man pressure, but it was certainly also an examination of Arsenal’s ability to pass it out from the back. Tierney and Chambers managed 7 clearances in 90 minutes each, Tierney hoofing the first 5 before the 35th minute, which, due to the nature of our forwards, only briefly laxed the bombardment, as Cities defense collected and passed it on. The few scenarios where clearing like this would make sense would include having a willing sprinter and a hunky target man to turn defense into attack, or if your midfield was lightning fast to move up the pitch and engage a second ball. None of which Arsenal have. Arsenal have a team set to move it quickly down on earth, which makes the clearances ineffective on all parameters.
5 – Togetherness:
Was I the only one to feel like I was watching 11 individuals jogging around on the pitch, trying their hardest not to think about his neighbours cry for help? As City’s players dropped to collect, switched places with each other and all in all looked mobile and in sync, Arsenal became a start contrast, where no one carried much more baggage than they had been given. There’s a very unclear tightrope to walk when working as a unit: Each member has to be able to carry their weight on their own, while also be able to reinforce fellow unit members as their part of the unit gets focused. Arsenal, right now, doesn’t look to be a working unit, but 11 players struggling to comprehend the task as hand. And for all the positivity and togetherness shown in training, there’s a case to made about suffering together as well. Right now Arsenal doesn’t suffer together, and the way to get that back is to have leaders on the pitch who can take the responsibility, even when things are falling off.
And as such I vote for Arsenal using one of their 11 spots for a self driving robot carrying a tablet, playing random clips of David Luiz commanding his back line.
… or it might be that Arteta needs to find his loud leaders on the pitch and coach them in leadership.
I try my best to accept the facts presented. 0 points from 3 games is unheard of, and should be a cause of concern, but a season expands 38 matches, and while everyone wants to be able to start off with a bang, some has to lose when others win. As such, I have to accept that Arsenal, Norwich and Wolves are certainly not going to stay bottom for the duration of these 38 games and that bad patches may occur. We now have an interlull as well as an end to the trasnfer window, let’s hope for positives, and review when September ends.