I overheard a generous and slightly incongruous comment after Arsenal’s defeat to Manchester City. “They never gave up, they kept at it. That’s an improvement”, said an Arsenal fan trying to find something good in a performance that was always off the pace, and out of step.
It’s the sort of desperate consolation that people tend to try to find when there are no other positives available. Unai Emery has ended up on the receiving end of a Pep Guardiola thumping 11 times and Arsenal’s latest loss to the Premier League champions is becoming almost a routine.
I will, however, explore the positives, such as they are, but let’s start with the team selection. Granit Xhaka, who has proved himself virtually incapable of performing at this level, was favoured instead of Lucas Torreira. Maitland-Niles found himself in the left-back position against formidable opposition and his injury in the first half probably saved his confidence from taking an unnecessary beating.
Cech was installed in goal despite his diminishing powers, in an effort to use experience in a key match, however, he was exposed by a rickety backline and shoddy defending. Such was the extent of his nerves that he almost sliced a clearance into his own goal. Arsenal’s right side opened up like the bow of the Titanic against City’s advancing iceberg. When City pressed, Arsenal looked industrious but vulnerable as their players scrambled backward against the swarming attacks of the opposition.
Sterling assumed the role of chief tormentor and every time he received the ball, he looked like the threat that no one appeared capable of snuffing out. As a consequence, he was allowed space for City’s opener and despite fluffing their lines on occasion, Silva, in yards of space doubled the advantage in the second half.
At the final whistle and at 2-0 down, Arsenal could consider themselves fortunate that the deficit wasn’t worse. It could have been four, possibly five and City did their best to fool Arsenal into believing that they could eventually get back on terms and this was the worst part about it.
City played well, yet Arsenal made them look better. In fact, the champions probably had at least another two gears at their disposal but they simply weren’t required. For Emery, it showed the gulf in class and the reason that Arsenal were 37 points behind the Manchester club last term. Of course, this is an Arsenal side that hasn’t had time to gel and there are far easier games to cut their teeth on, but playing out from the back seemed foreign at times.
Arsenal’s new line up seemed to have all the hallmarks of an ill-fitting pair of shoes. They pressed City in numbers but suddenly lost the script, leaving gaps and standing off City players that are capable of slotting the ball home from distance. As for the positives, there are few.
The work rate was much improved out of possession but it lacked cohesion. Guendouzi looks very promising and Lacazette’s arrival at least gave the champions something to think about, but with the new Dynamics, it all looked a little bit awkward. Emery now realises, if he didn’t before, the size of the task ahead.
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