Gunner Thoughts

A Night Filled With Feelings of Second Best

Arsenal beat soundly leaving a strong statement that they are, in fact, second best in this league.

We will get the technicalities out of the way first: Arsenal sit on top of the table by two points and nothing ensures Manchester City will surpass Arsenal. However, in a 4-1 defeat at the hands of City, serious title statements were made.

Arsenal were second best the whole way through this one and the gulf in quality was on display as City flexed their muscles emphatically. Arsenal failed to get the result on their home soil earlier in the year and now City sit just two points behind Arsenal with two games in hand.

I’m not going to talk about money and spending and ownership states, FFP… the whole thing. We know it exists, we know it’s a factor, but it’s also the league and sport we currently play in and are likely to play in for the foreseeable future. In fact, I would guess this current project’s window of opportunity will always be up against a financial giant like this. It’s something Arsenal will have to try and find a way to contend with if they want to win a title, as frustrating as that is to consider.

As Arteta said after the game, “The analysis is clear: the better team won the game. They were probably at their best, especially in the first half, and we were nowhere near our level.”

And, if you need it put anymore clearly: 2nd on the night, failed to get points at home, City earn 6 points versus us on the season, Arsenal rank behind City in just about every statistic across the season… it all means Arsenal probably are the second best team in the league this season.

No Changes

Yesterday, getting a result at the Etihad — much less winning – was always a tough task, but in a match rightfully billed as a “title decider”, you hoped the occasion could inject a bit of extra juice in the Arsenal legs and mentality.

The result left me considering how to express my frustrations and disappointment in this blog without throwing suggesting the whole campaign has been worthless, or the team isn’t in a good place. If you are a reader that feels like Arsenal are failures or a bad team or Arteta has to go, you might just do yourself a favor and pop over to a different article.

The big question coming into the day from an Arsenal perspective was what will Arteta change. The big thought leaving the game was that we changed nothing and got nothing from it.

Theres no promise that you change the lineup and the result changes with it, but emotional, mentally, I think it shows intent to inject a change. Instead, I’m left feeling like a mother scolding their toddler for walking themselves into harm they were told would happen. 

I wrote similarly earlier this week and stated my belief that even trying something and getting it wrong would be easier to take than trotting out the same lineup, with the same issues, and getting beat for it.

To shed light on Mikel’s thoughts, he said, “You have to understand where we’re coming from – we have to be loyal to what has brought us all this way. We’ve done it in the past in different ways and that doesn’t guarantee you anything.”

True, it doesn’t guarantee anything, as I said, but at the same time, this is not what brought us all this way. Holding is not who got us here. The ripple effect of changes his inclusion causes, and the lowering of our ceiling that we have seen, isn’t what got us here. And while there was no clear solution that had been rehearsed, I have difficulty believing there weren’t options worth the risk to get Ben White central to allow Gabriel to be our physical enforcer and raise the quality on the ball.

It’s good to retain faith and support of your players, but I think yesterday showed his commitment to a fault.

Gaping Midfield Crater

There were no changes made to the lineup which sparked surprise and frustration, but it was the midfield battle that left me most irritated at the final whistle.

Poor performances don’t happen in a vacuum and City were outstanding in their display, but Partey continued his downtrend in performances and turned in perhaps his worst of the year. He looked erratic, labored, and lost. He even looked injured at some points.

City’s first goal starts with Holding being held off by Haaland a little too easy — although, we may underestimate how tough it is to physically put Erling off — but Partey lets De Bruyne run through untracked far too easily. Waltzing down the central avenue of our team, De Bruyne had all the space and runway to surge beyond the defense and leave Gabriel vulnerable. From twenty yards out, he slots it past Ramsdale who, arguably, could have also done better with the shot.

Little did we know this moment would foreshadow the rest of the half. In terms of duos, De Bruyne and Haaland may be the most formidable in the league and they had Arsenal’s teams on strings. Like puppeteers, they controlled everything as they moved Arsenal’s defense around and threatened time and time again.

De Bruyne and Haaland combined with each other for two goals, countless opportunities that forced Ramsdale into a lot of saves and defenders into last ditch tackles. On top of that, De Bruyne assists Stones for City’s second and Haaland scores City’s fourth. The two ran rampant and Arsenal didn’t have any answers.

Navigating An Ineffective Press

One component that had gotten Arsenal to this point was their effective press. In recent weeks, teams have figured out how to get around this, and City returned to a tactic they used in the first matchup with Arsenal.

They constantly kept Arsenal’s press stuck between two minds by demonstrating a willingness to go long OR pass through the lines.

When City invited Arsenal in and their front stepped up, including Partey, City would hit the long ball to Haaland and clean up the second ball in the space that was vacated by Partey. When Partey tried to stay back, the press looked disjoined — half in, half out — and City navigated around and through it with ease.

“They were more aggressive, they kept the ball better, they won every single duel,” lamented Arteta. “We had them in the corners and from there, in two passes, they were in front of our goal. We conceded from a set play and from a throw-in against us too easily. They deserved to win the game because they were better.”

Where To Go From Here

Just to accept the reality – that’s the best way to move forward. Accept that today they were better than us, that they deserved to win the game, that we never had a chance to win the game and that we have to improve, be better and be humble enough to accept that. In sport, you have to do that if you want to be better.

Arteta, on hat the lesson from the defeat is

Can I say it better? I’m not sure I can.

They were better in every department and they’ve now won both matches versus us in different fashion. As I wrote earlier this week, it’s now about seeing if Arsenal can take this title the distance.

It’s hard to imagine that Saliba comes back into the side. It’s probably not in Arsenal’s interest, or his own, to risk him if he’s on the edge, so Arteta and this team need to find a solution. They can’t finish this season with draws and losses, even if the title is firmly in City’s hands.

There is honor and pride in finishing the season emphatically. There are 5 more matches and Arsenal have the ability to end the season with 90 points. That IS an immense achievement, even if it doesn’t result in a title. That is undeniably an incredible feat for this young team.

Lick your wounds, feel your emotions, and cheer on the mighty Arsenal, friends. As we heard our away fans belting out their love for this club, even in the face of City’s dominance, we should take note.  We love this team. It’s been a wonderful run and a complete thrill to watch this team catapult itself from 69 point team with 13 losses to a 23 win team, almost on pace for 90 goals, boasting a 2nd best goal differential with still five matches to play. There is a bright future ahead for this team.

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