Match report – Player ratings – Arteta reaction
Losing football matches is never fun, but it’s fair to say some defeats are harder to take than others. If you go from zero to Wayne Bridge in the Champions League that time (sorry for triggering anyone), the needle on this one is barely above 0.1.
Mikel Arteta made more changes than I thought he would. Six from the side that beat Man Utd, and you can come up with all kinds of reasons why. Some of them, like giving players minutes because they need them and we might need them in the Premier League, make all kinds of sense, but I think it gave us a bit of a clue that for all his pre-game talk, the manager had prioritised this game in the context of our league campaign.
That said, I thought we were pretty decent in the first half. Leandro Trossard was impressive down the left, using the ball well to fashion a chance for Takehiro Tomiyasu which the keeper saved well, and he had a pop at goal himself which again the keeper was equal too. He also created an opportunity for Eddie Nketiah who poked wide at the near post after good movement in their box, and the former Brighton man looks like a good fit already.
At the other end, it was mostly about City trying to get the ball to Erling Haaland who was involved in a running battle with Rob Holding. It reminded me a bit of the game against White Hart Lane last season, but this time Rob was facing a genuinely difficult physical threat, and for the most part he did ok bar one early mistake which Matt Turner rescued him from. A yellow card just before the break meant the manager did the sensible thing and took him off at half-time, sending on William Saliba instead.
He also brought on Albert Sambi Lokonga for Thomas Partey in what I had hoped was a pre-planned change, but it turns out we have some concerns over a rib injury. Arteta said afterwards:
He had some discomfort and it was getting worse and worse. He could not continue. He wasn’t comfortable to continue. Tomorrow or the day after we’ll have to have an MRI scan and see what he has.
City were better after the break, we weren’t as good as we had been, and that midfield quality gap when Partey is not there is obvious. I thought Lokonga struggled early on, but got into the game a bit. On the ball he’s actually fine, it’s just that if Partey has 100 for defensive awareness, the Belgian is at about 10. The City goal wasn’t simply his fault, but he was far too static in the box, and it’s another performance when you can’t help but have some concerns about whether he’s the right fit for this team or not. The fact that we are very actively pursuing a midfield signing suggests those concerns are shared inside the club too.
Arteta’s response to going behind was to bring on Gabriel Martinelli and Oleksandr Zinchenko, and the Brazilian did cause some problems down the left. City were trying to smother the game with 200,000 passes, so it wasn’t easy, and when the manager made his final change, I think it was quite telling. Bukayo Saka had probably his quietest game of the season, but if you’re really serious about getting a goal, you leave him on the pitch and replace Fabio Vieira with Martin Odegaard. Instead Saka came off, Vieira went to the right, and while it wasn’t exactly throwing the towel in, I think it said something about how Arteta views the rest of the season and where his real priorities lie.
Afterwards, he was asked if he could take some pride from his team’s performance, and said:
At the moment, it’s disappointment because we are out and we could have taken much more from that game and we didn’t. The feeling that I have is we really competed against them and made it difficult for them, but we lacked something to win against a team like this.
Which I think we can all understand. Arteta hates to lose. However, in the cold light of day – leaving the Partey injury aside – you could almost call this the perfect defeat. We rotated in a big way and did not get outplayed by a much stronger Man City side who were at home. In the context of what’s to come, when they come to London on February 15th, there’s no reason why this Arsenal team should go into that game scared of them. Yes, our record against them remains a bit of an issue, but if we’re full strength and we play at our best level, there’s nothing to be intimidated by based on last night’s City performance. A word too for Matt Turner who had a very good game, not much he could do for the goal, but his decision making and distribution was really good.
There was a lot of talk about how last night’s winners might take a psychological advantage into the Premier League game, but if any team is going to do that from this game, it’s us. Of course we still have to go out and perform, and nobody should take anything for granted, it’s simply that the aura that City once had is gone. Anyone can see the gap between the teams – which was so, so, so big not that long ago – has well and truly been closed. The next step is to do what’s long overdue, and show we can beat them.
It won’t be easy, but after what I saw last night from both sides, I think that’s well within our capabilities.
Right, let’s leave it there for now. I’ll round-up the transfer news etc on tomorrow’s blog, and we’ll be recording the Arsecast Extra a day early for you too.
Have a good Saturday.