Losing games is never a good feeling. Bowing out of cups is even worse. The FA Cup has always been a treasured piece of silverware for Arsenal, and exiting the competition means that Arsenal are now out of both domestic cup competitions before February.
And yet, while there is no good way to be knocked out, I couldn’t help but be left with positive feelings about this Arsenal team. I even went as far as to say, after watching that match, I have never been more confident in Arsenal’s chances of winning the league.
Across the ninety minutes Arsenal went toe-to-toe with a Premier League rival that has been so out of reach for the Gunners over the last five years – and they did it with 6 changes to their side.
Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Tierney, Vieira, and Trossard — Just noticing how many T names we have — came into the side for this FA Cup clash and went up against Manchester City’s near-complete Premier League XI. On paper, it felt like an FA Cup squad versus a Premier League winning squad.
If a person had been inclined to look deeply for mind games from Pep Guardiola, you could convince yourself that his team selection felt like a manager trying to get a huge win at home against their direct league title rivals in an attempt to see Arsenal falter, lose some faith, and create a ripple effect into the Gunner’s league form. Could have 5-0 drubbing have done it?
If that was Pep’s intent, the performances end up having the opposite effect.
With a five point cushion separating the two teams, two losses to the Cityzens in the league would put Manchester in the driving seat. Arsenal have yet to play Manchester City this season and the fear of the unknown definitely played a role in fans’ outlook.
Sure, Arsenal have been better, but better enough to beat a team Arsenal haven’t beaten in the league since 2015? After seeing this Arsenal side put on a bold, concentrated, and effective performance – there is all reasons to answer with a resounding YES.
I think we have to talk about the lineup — and reaction to it. Before the match Arteta said:
“I think there are going to be two very very different games [between the FA Cup and league matches], and to put similarities into them is very unreal. Maybe because of the players on the pitch, but as well the context is extremely different.”
Maybe it’s simply because I predicted a lineup that looked like this…
…that I was less surprised when the lineup came out and the only difference was Rob Holding’s selection and the swapping of Ødegaard and Saka (in his respective position).
But many people were upset, very agitated. Abuse hurled at the “lack of technical security”, “over-rotated side”, “Arteta is giving up”. But I think, if many take a second, they will realize they just didn’t expect or like the Rob Holding selection, and from there got cynical about the rest of the side.
There’s a chance that some may stand by their statements considering they were correct, in only the most technical way. But it’s a second match in a row in which Arsenal’s depth has made a statement on its advancement.
Room to grow before the end of the window and in the summer, but it’s hard not to feel comfortable about six rotational players that now feel far more reliable than before.
Punching above our weight as a whole
If the story before the match was Holding versus Haaland, it was Holding versus Haaland at the end of the half, in a very different light. While everyone thought it would be a day that Erling strutted to yet another hat trick, he found himself in a physical battle with Arsenal’s backup, lock down center back.
Holding got tight to Erling and dared to ensure there was a physical body on him any time the ball was in his direction. When it wasn’t Holding, it was Gabriel. And if it wasn’t the center backs, Turner was quick of his line to clear the danger. The duo made life impossible for him and the midfield handled what City’s midfield and wingers could throw, while creating two serious chances through a Tomiyasu volley and wonderful bit of Trossard play.
Trossard gave Arsenal fans a lot to be excited about and plenty for Arteta to consider. It’s far too early to make any bold statements about Martinelli taking a seat, but its easy to see the options Arteta has at his disposal to get the best out of both players.
The worst part of the half is that Partey was subbed off during half-time after taking a shot to the ribs. It’s unclear the severity of it, but he will undergo scans. He is definitely a player that Arsenal cannot afford to lose at this point.
Partey leaving the scene brought on Sambi, and definitely created a hole that Arsenal couldn’t quite fill in the second half. It’s easy to say that falls on Sambi’s shoulders, which in part it did, but it says more about the gap between Arsenal’s levels at defensive midfield. It’s a problem that needs fixing in the next few days, or summer at the very least.
In end, Manchester get their goal through Ake, but the second half was nothing to turn our nose up at. Arsenal again proved themselves worthy of battling City as equals, even with a squad that many would consider inferior. And as the substitutes came on and some of Arsenal’s impact players like Martinelli and Zinchenko came into the mix, Arsenal found themselves imposing their style of play on City including almost striking back immediately after the concession.
Arsenal come up short on the scoreboard and yet it was impossible not to feel like there was a silver lining of triumph. The gap has been closed.
Arsenal will face Manchester City in February with a gargantuan three points on the line in the race for the title. They will field a more complete feeling side, and one would assume they will look to attack and get after Manchester City. Arsenal fans must feel they have every reason to believe this side can get the job done.
And somehow, that makes bowing out of the cup a lot easier to handle.