A 1-3 loss to Manchester City at home dealt a frustrating, heartbreaking blow. Whether you felt Arsenal were going to win a title, were title-dreamers, or didn’t have much of a chance anyway – this result hurt.
When your team has the ball for 64% of the match, there’s an inclination to believe you were automatically the better team and deserved more. And when you have that much of possession, but concede three goals on quick transitions, and, admittedly, one huge blunder, there’s a propensity to believe it has to be nothing but unforced mistakes and errors. That it was entirely your own undoings and shortcoming.
“That’s the frustration,” said Arteta after the match, ‘it’s exceptionally difficult to play at the level that they require you to play at to have the chance to win. I think we’ve done it and in many moments we had them, but if you give three goals the way we did – just give them the game – and especially when you don’t put the big chances that we had away, the margin of error for them is almost zero. It’s a shame because we really had them”
Last night, especially the fan-fallout that followed, seemed to find a very rare area that reminds us the word deserved’ has no place in sport but when errors occur, you should look inward but can tip the cap in your opponents direction.
I chalk this ‘bittersweet spot’ up to what happens when you two high-quality teams play each other and the match becomes a tale of two halves where margins end up as fine as they were. Arteta says “WE lost it” but I don’t think right after the match he’s ready to credit what City’s defensive tactics achieved on their behalf.
After a positive albeit unfulfilling first half, Arsenal looked shaky in the second half. There crumble started as City figured out Arsenal’s pattern of play but really crumbled with Akanji’s substitution and a change in Manchester City’s tactics. City adjusted, clamped down on the Gunners to solidify their pressing structure while Arsenal stuck to their principles, didn’t cope with the change, and Arteta didn’t adjust them either.
Many fans seemed to have this burning desire to lay the blame at the feet of individuals or, even worse in some cases, a single individual, when the reality is that tight margin losses against good teams tend to be the culmination of many little mistakes made across the field throughout a match.
“We did a lot of simple things wrong and put ourselves in trouble,” laments Arteta. “When errors happen as part of the risks we take, the risk and reward is understanding what we have to do. We didn’t understand well what we had to do, especially in the second half, when they changed their formation and went in a different shape. But we came out of there a lot of times and created big problems for them, so it’s always that balance. “
You can run through the lineup and find good aspects and bad ones with just about every player. Believe me, I did it in the initial draft of this blog and realized in editing ‘ain’t nobody reading that rant’.
From the obvious culprits of Tomiyasu or Martinelli, to the players like Saka and Jorginho, there were aspects of the matches that fell short. Arteta is no different either. He deployed a team that were good for the first half, but fell short in his adjustments as the match went on.
The point of this isn’t to say, everyone was shit, as much as some people seem determined to state it. That feels more like a reflection of their internal hurt. The point is to demonstrate the idea that in big matches like this, especially ones with this match script, tend to have many errors across the field, in each player, that may not be “the big calamity” but contribute or chip away toward a result.
Here’s just a few tight margin moments I identified up until a 2-1 scoreline:
- Eddie chances missed
- Tomiyasu blunder taken advantage of by City
- Saka doesnt get his shot off on and Odegaard pass in the first half, let down by his first touch
- Zinchenko poached at the back in our box, Arsenal actually get away with it
- Xhaka indecisive around the box and City block the effort. A 2nd moment of indecision costing Arsenal
- Gabriel makes a foolish pass into dange and they counter it for their second
Capitalize on one of those early chances, do better with the indecision, and don’t make the Tomiyasu error — which we haven’t seen him make before — and this fast becomes a different story.
It’s a team sport, a team loss, and it’s okay to say Arsenal were beaten by a team that executed their game plan incredibly well in the second half. Simultaneously, you are able to say Arsenal played a role in their own demise. Two things can be true in the complex world, just as fault can lie at a whole team’s feet. Don’t feel the need to identify ‘blame’.
If there is anyone to blame for this loss, it’s Manchester City.
When they removed Mahrez and brought on Akanji, they put out a defensive shape that swarmed as a unit, closed down passing angles, and denied Arsenal breathing space. It was a formation very similar to the one they used to win the league, with alterations in personnel, and it provides defensive bodies on many levels of the front six.
You may have noticed as the second half, Arsenal defenders looked lost, dawdled on the ball, and panicked. It’s a result of City figuring out the progression patterns and Arsenal players looking up to see a lot of City-blue in their vision, barring down on them and blocking their normal passing options.
Arsenal didn’t adjust to it until they were down 1-3 and City were backing off, and in that space of twenty-one minutes, the game was lost.
City were punctual with their press, clinical in the box, and devastating the way champions often are. When it came dow not it, Arsenal played their game, created some opportunities, but didn’t seize the chances and played their way into a too many errors in their attempt to build from the back.
It was a match that felt cagey, tense, probing, and exploratory. Neither side was willing to give the other much unchecked territory. There were few chances for either team to stretch their legs. On a tactical level, it felt intense. It provides a real reminder of the level of play Arsenal have entered at this point.
It shouldn’t be hard to say, the better of the two teams walked away with the points. And you can still say, that Arsenal controlled the ball and created the opportunties that gave them chances to be the better of the two teams. Pep came out, marshaled his side’s defensive tactics and Manchester City earned their three points.
It’s a big blow, and it feels devastating. Arsenal should be reminding themselves it’s a long season with many more games to play, but it’s impossible to feel like like this game won’t put a damper on dreaming. Breaking out of this slump at the weekend against Unai Emery now feels imperative.
This got long, so check out a second blog thats more direct about a few takeaways, silver linings, and concerns from this match.