Arsenal found themselves on the losing end of a 1-0 result against Manchester City after conceding a goal in the first two minutes and proving incapable of punching back. In reality, the 1-0 scoreline probably doesn’t adequately convey the gulf of difference between the two sides on the day, but City collect their 18th straight win and 25th match unbeaten.
Arsenal hurled themselves into the deep end by conceding a goal all too easily in the opening two minutes and then treaded water for the remaining 88 minutes until the final whistle blew.
A simple long ball from John Stones found Mahrez down the left who gave Tierney a little shimmy to work crossing space and get a ball in. The ball itself wasn’t all that special, but it was accurate and Arsenal’s Rob Holding was far too lax in his defending of Raheem Sterling and caught completely flatfooted.
In a game where Arsenal needed to keep margins tight, deny City easy opportunities, and take measure of the contest, they conceded early — something of an Arsenal Specialty against City these days. Things could have gotten twice as bad when De Bruyne played a spectacular through ball to Sterling once more. Fortunately for Arsenal, he was unable to find the space to shoot and made a hash of the opportunity.
From there, Arsenal managed to find a place in which they could at least begin to tread. Their backline was chaos in the opening 15 minutes but found a little more structure the rest of the way, the passing wasn’t great but it was passable at times, however, the transition game was completely lacking and the opportunities in the final third were few, far between, and nearly none existent. When a 30 yard strike from Elneny off two diabolical clear attempts from Cancelo and Ederson makes its way into your highlights of the game, you get a decent picture of the affair. A half chance here, a half chance there, but City’s league-best defense won’t have felt harassed or overworked.
At the 73rd minute, when Arsenal began to make their substitutions to try and break out of their shell, it was a one-goal match. By hook or by crook, Arsenal had managed to keep the score tight, they recovered to a degree from their terrible start, they kept the margins close, which isn’t all that different from their FA Cup. The major difference being that Arsenal scored the early goal in that contest.
In this match, there was a different formation from the FA Cup, a different plan to reach their goal, but a clear emphasis on trying to contain City, to keep things tight and compact, to frustrate City from deep with a very defensive-minded midfield pivot, and pick and choose their moments to get forward.
However, this is where much of a post-match division between Arsenal fans begins to form. How do you judge the match and which aspects weigh more to you? If it’s the 1-0 scoreline you may be feeling upset with the result, as every Arsenal fan is, yet accepting of the gulf between the two teams that leads to a loss. If you pay more attention to the gulf between the two teams and believe that Arsenal should not have that type of difference in quality, than the dominance of City will have really irked you — regardless of it finishing a 1-0 match.
It wasn’t a pleasing 90 minutes. There are a few aspects of the game that weren’t poor from Arsenal, but weren’t aspects I would consider as positives. Arsenal’s ability to keep the margins tight in a 4-2-3-1 shape, one more closely aligned to their future goals than a 3-4-3 as one example. The play of Saka as a left winger that tucks very central and drops quite deep still saw him get on the ball and help the team as another.
However, in the end, it’s still zero points and whether you had expected that result when looking at Arsenal’s schedule before the season, trying to calculate out Arsenal’s finish, or not, the Premier League season continues to slip toward mathematically eliminating itself from being worthwhile.
The stakes are raised exponentially on Arsenal’s next two weeks of fixtures: Benfica, Leicester, and Burnley. After Burnley Arsenal get a short respite before Spurs, but some players may get pushed to the edge of their fatigue to get what are now a necessary nine points to even fathom a race.
Arsenal have struggled to put punctuation marks on the matches leading up to yesterday’s, and now they’ve treaded water for 90 minutes and lost. They can’t afford to stagnate now if they want anything from the year.