Monday, 19 December 2011

Arsenal Defeated But Not Disgraced By Manchester City

Arsenal went to Manchester City yesterday afternoon in a Premier League game that was always going to be very tough for them. City had dropped to second in the table before kick off, after Manchester United had managed to beat Queens Park Rangers earlier in the day. City needed a point to go back to the summit of the table, and Arsenal needed a win to keep the pressure on fourth placed Chelsea.

Arsene Wenger picked the same team that beat Everton 1-0 last week, as Arsenal looked to continue their recent exceleent run in the Premier League. The continued absence due to injuries of all four full backs from Arsenal's first team squad was a real worry for them, but City didn't pick players to take advantage of it. Thomas Vermaelen and Johan Djourou were asked to fill in, and Arsenal's defence looked a little narrow at times as a result.

The game itself was a real thriller with both sides playing good football, and looking to win the game. City took the three points thanks to a close range finish from David Silva, but both teams had plenty of chances to add to that scoreline. Arsenal will probably feel that they could easily have taken a point from the game, but it wasn't to be in a hard fought encounter.

Arsenal's injury woes continued when Djourou had to limp off early in the second half, and it meant Ignasi Miquel came on to play at left back. That switch also saw Vermaelen switch to a central defensive role, and he showed some real attacking ambition from that position.

Very soon after Djourou's departure City scored when Mario Balotelli was given far too much space on Arsenal's right hand side. Laurent Koscielny had been moved to right back, but his natural inclination to play in a central role left Balotelli with far too much space. He cut in towards the goal and Wojciech Szczesny could only parry his shot across the goalmouth.

The ball popped up for Sergio Aguero and his touch fell to Silva who finished from very close range. It was a bad blow for Arsenal, but they showed the courage and commitment that was missing in previous seasons at times. They did all they could to find an equaliser, but a combination of poor finishing and good goalkeeping by Joe Hart won City all three points.

City had their chances to add to their lead of course, but that was to be expected as Arsenal tried to push forward. Arsenal's most potent attacking player during the closing stages was Vermaelen, as he showed the determination that has been missing from other players in the past. I think Vermaelen's influence on the team will grow as the season progresses, and he has an awful lot to offer the team.

Wenger introduced Andrey Arshavin for Theo Walcott just before the 70th minute, and Walcott wasn't too happy to be taken off. The performance by Arshavin showed exactly why Walcott wasn't exactly happy to be replaced, as he again was completely ineffectual at best. Walcott didn't have a great game, but at least he kept trying and if he was to be replaced I thought Yossi Benayoun should have been given a chance.

Ideally I would have liked Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to have come on, but he wasn't even in the squad. Arsenal have a lot of games coming up over the next few weeks, and I think Chamberlain has to be considered for a place in the squad ahead of Arshavin. He gives his all when he gets a chance to play, and he surely has to be better than Arshavin is at the moment.

The booking picked up by Alex Song means he will miss Arsenal's next game which is away to Aston Villa on Wednesday night. It should mean that either Emmanuel Frimpong or Francis Coquelin will play his role in that game, and whoever gets to play will get his chance to show what he can do. With so many other defensive injuries Arsenal will probably have to start with the defence which finished the game against City.

I wrote in my preview of the game that the most important thing for Arsenal was how they reacted to a defeat if that was the outcome. After watching yesterday's game I'm not worried about how the team will perform, and I expect them to make Villa suffer on Wednesday night. They have four Premier League games in 10 days, and 12 points to be won from those games.

Those four games are all winnable and the defeat against City will be quickly forgotten with a few good results. There may be a 10 point gap to United and 12 points to City, but both Chelsea and Spurs are well within Arsenal's sights. There's plenty to play for and I'm looking forward to the team bouncing right back.

That's it for today.

Here's the highlights from yesterday's game.

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