Arsenal played at home to champions Manchester City in the Premier League yesterday afternoon. With both Everton and Spurs drawing the previous day it was a chance for Arsenal to make up ground on the teams ahead of them in the race for fourth place. City need a win too after United had opened up a 10 point gap on them by beating Liverpool earlier in the day.
Thomas Vermaelen returned to the Arsenal team after missing out on the last game. The player to miss out was Per Mertesacker who has been Arsenal's best defender this season in my opinion. I am not convinced by the central defensive partnership between Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny but they got another chance to prove the doubters wrong.
Lukas Poddki returned on the left side of the attacking trio with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in on the right. Aaron Ramsey dropped to the bench and so did Olivier Giroud with Theo Walcott playing the centre forward role. I'm wholly unconvinced by Walcott in that position against a good defence and there is no doubting the quality of City's defence.
The big change on the day for Arsenal was the return to the team of Abou Diaby. He came for Mikael Arteta who has picked up an injury and is expected to be out for three weeks. Diaby was returning three months after he took a knock which was repeated as a three week injury too by the club.
From the off City assumed control and pushed forward looking to take the game to Arsenal. The Arsenal players had no response as City kept the ball and probed for an opening as if they were the home team. It seemed like only a matter of time before City would score.
With 10 minutes gone things got decidedly worse for Arsenal when City got a penalty and Koscielny got his marching orders. He put both arms around Eden Dzeko in the Arsenal box and hauled him to the ground as the striker looked to make contact less than 10 yards from goal. It was a certain penalty and a red card too and it left Arsenal with a very tough task.
Dzeko took the penalty himself and somehow it managed to stay out of the Arsenal net. Wojciech Szczesny got a foot to a poorly hit penalty and parried it on to the post. As the ball rolled along the line towards the other post Szczesny managed to reach back and grab it to keep it out.
I hoped the combination of the red card and the penalty would galvanise the Arsenal players and give them something to fight for. I can remember how good previous Arsenal teams were when they went down to 10 men. When Arsene Wenger was winning trophies with the club it was something which was worked on in training, but there were better players at the club then.
Chamberlain was the player to make way as Arsenal brought Mertesacker on to play instead of Koscielny. I thought it was a wrong decision as he is a player with an awful lot of energy and would have worked harder than others with a man down. It meant Walcott became an even more isolated figure when a different style of player was obviously needed at centre forward.
City continued to press and it seemed like only a matter of time before the first goal came. When it did Arsenal were culpable with too many players switching off as City took a quick free kick. The 21st minute finish from James Milner was excellent, but the time and space afforded to him by Vermaelen was very poor.
Just over 10 minutes later City doubled their lead with Dzeko getting the goal this time. Kieran Gibbs lost out to Pablo Zabaleta on the left and City broke quickly. Szczesny did well to block a goal bound effort from Carlos Tevez but Dzeko was on hand to put the rebound away from close range.
It was bad enough that Arsenal were down to 10 men, but it was almost criminal to hand City two goals as well. Half time arrived and Arsenal looked dead and buried at that stage. I hoped for some inspirational words from the boss to give the players the desire to give their all in the second half.
To be fair to the Arsenal players they were a lot better after the break, but they couldn't have been much worse. Jack Wilshere led the team with everything he did and he is one player who cannot be accused of going through the motions. The team improved a little more with Diaby's departure on 60 minutes and the risk of playing him so soon after his comeback from three months out didn't pay off.
Aaron Ramsey came on for Disby and played quite well in a central midfield role. It's his favoured position and one which he should be played in if he is going to play. I don't see Diaby as the direct replacement for Arteta when he is out, but them again who is with Alex Song sold last summer.
With 15 minutes left Arsenal got what could have been a lifeline when Vincent Kompany received his marching orders for a challenge on Wilshere. I thought it was a little harsh at first but looking again I think the referee got it right as he went in with both feet and studs up too. It doesn't matter whether Wilshere had overrun the ball or not as his tackle was dangerous.
Arsenal eventually made a decent chance in added time, but Julien Lescott was on hand to clear Walcott's effort off the line. The final whistle went soon afterwards and City got the three points their display deserved. Despite a better performance in the second half Arsenal simply weren't good enough.
There are more tough games coming up for Arsenal and they cannot afford to lose any more ground on the teams above them. Points have to be taken against Chelsea and Liverpool or their task will become a very difficult one indeed. The performances against those two teams and West Ham will have to be a lot better or January will be a very miserable month.
Arteta will be out for three weeks and who knows how long more that could actually be. Three weeks has become a catchphrase at the club for an indeterminate amount of time and I can only hope it's not the case with Arteta. Despite the managers protestations of the opposite the squad is bereft of genuine cover.
If the players really were unable to perform yesterday despite having the desire to then a solution has to be found. There must be something missing and that has to be tackled immediately. There is no doubt these players as individuals are better than the performances they have put in as a team all too often this season.
It's the manager's job to make them perform and if he can't do that he has to change his management technique or face the fact that it simply isn't working. What the next step after that would be is anybody's guess, but he has the funds available to him to buy players who might be able to perform to their ability. Again it's a question of whether he's willing to use that money but experience tells us it's highly unlikely considering the current sound bites coming out of the club.
One thing is for sure and that is this team will fail if they cannot drastically alter their current direction. There is no doubt that they are far too easy for opponents to play against far too often. Something has to change and it has to change against Swansea this Wednesday night in the FA Cup third round replay.
That's another game though and I'll preview that in the next couple of days.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.