Man City 2-1 Arsenal: A Game of Two Halves

By @frankTulze
In the wake of the away defeat to Everton last week, every Arsenal fan saw the subsequent fixture against Manchester City as an opportunity to bounce back and prove to the world, the fans and the players themselves that they are here to challenge for the league title this season.  City weren’t on a good run of form, they were missing key players due to suspension and injuries meanwhile Arsenal’s squad was relatively healthy. There was also the additional fact that Arsenal have managed to avoid defeat at the Etihad for a few seasons now, since they were well beaten 6-3 a couple of years ago. With all that in mind, everybody at Arsenal went into the game in good spirits knowing this is a good chance to stake their claim as title contenders and close the gap on a rampant Chelsea side.

Arsenal prepared well for this game, I guess they watched the match at Etihad two seasons ago when Arsenal last won there and stuck to that tactics. Defend very deep and attack on the break, but the MOTM that day, Santi Cazorla, was missing from this game through injury. Arsenal still had enough personnel in their starting eleven to achieve the same feat.

They started perfectly enough to please Arsene Wenger, just like the Everton match – with high intensity, good passing, and penetration. The Arsenal goal summed up their game plan perfectly. Cech received the ball in his box, threw it to Hector Bellerin who sprinted with it to the half way line before passing to Alexis Sanchez who had dropped a little deeper to receive the pass, Sanchez quickly turned and passed the ball to Theo Walcott who had a great first touch and guided it past Bravo.

One nil to the Arsenal within the first five minutes, the players are experienced enough to know that they should stick to the plan then go on to win it from there. That worked for the remaining 40mins of the first half, then, just like the Everton game, they lost focus as time went on.

Here is what Arsene said after the game – “I felt we were in control and it didn’t look like we could lose the game. In the first half we stopped them from creating chances, they looked a little bit short of ideas to create chances, but they caught us cold in the second half. But as well we dropped physically in the second half. And when we won the ball we didn’t come out as clean as in the first half.”

Listening to those statements, you can sense the feeling of regret because it doesn’t just sum up the Man City game.

Its sums up Arsenal’s last two games; both had great starts and then the team faded away. Lets dig deeper into this claim, though – four of Arsenal’s last five games have been played away from home. That must be very tedious considering the current weather, but its not just that, the first game was away to West Ham which was in London and needed no travels but it was still an engaging away London derby played with huge intensity. The second was an away trip to Switzerland to play Basel, when Arsenal had already qualified for the knockout round. The third game was at home to Stoke which has always been a physically demanding fixture home or away. The fourth and fifth were the games Arsenal eventually lost after playing well early on. These were trips to Liverpool and Manchester in less than a week.A constant trend across those five games is that some key members of the squad started every one of them. Alexis, Ozil, Koscielny, Gabriel, Xhaka and Coquelin were on the teamsheet for all of those games. Among these guys you find the spine of the Arsenal squad, Koscielny is Arsenal’s best defender and on field captain while Xhaka and Coquelin have formed a good partnership in that deep midfield position. Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil make Arsenal tick, they are the reason Arsenal have already scored 60+ goals in all competition before Christmas. Its fair to say Arsenal paid the price for taking a strong team to Basel when they had already qualified.

But, as I agree with Wenger that those two defeats were due to fatigue and unfortunate circumstances. I’ll also criticize him for not rotating his squad well enough, he has over 20 years of experience at this top level to know that those trips would cost dearly if the squad is not well rotated and he also saw the fixture list of five games in 16 days which includes trips to Switzerland, Liverpool and Manchester. And he didn’t prepare well for it.

In conclusion, I disagree with the opinion that these defeats demonstrate a mental weakness of the squad. I’ve seen enough of this squad to know how mentally strong they are, its Arsene’s best squad since the Invincibles and I believe over the course of the next few months they’ll prove to the Arsenal fans and the world that they really are challenging for the league title. Chelsea lost two big games in a row that changed their destiny, Real Madrid started last season poorly and see what they went on to achieve in the turn of the year. Arsenal have done well this season until now, they ran out of juice and luck in those two defeats. Now they have eight days to prepare for the boxing day clash at home to West Brom.

Arsenal will come back stronger, I urge Arsenal fans to support their team as they do so.

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