Do you know, normally, the day after Arsenal have played I have a better idea about how I’m feeling about the result. Sometimes it’s easy. If Arsenal play brilliantly and win by three clear goals, I can wax lyrical about the team and champion the manager for getting his team selection spot on. If they lose then it’s usually the reverse. Heck, even a draw is usually seen as a good draw or a bad draw, depending on the circumstances of the performance and the opposition.
The draw away to Everton can be seen as a decent one given the narrative of the game. Away from home we snatched two late goals and despite a poor performance we could all be satisfied that we did not pick up a defeat. Conversely, having dominated possession against a newly promoted Leicester, a draw was not really acceptable. Yet, based on all of the variables I can think of this morning, I can’t work out whether to be happy with the draw or disappointed.
At home, against one of the top teams, for psychological purposes more than anything else at this stage in the season, you need to be picking up points. That’s what Moneychester City did against Liverpool a couple of weeks ago and that’s what I’d have hoped we could do yesterday lunchtime.
The most annoying thing about not getting that psychological advantage against what we would perceive as a rival, is that it once again raises the question about our own record against the top teams, so much so that I dare not look into it today. In terms of picking up points against Chelski, City and United, the record over the last five years or so reads like some sort of scary book from Stephen King where your own mother eats pieces of your body day-by-day because she has never really gotten over giving birth to you, so she does it to get you back inside her belly.
Until we can muster some consistency of victories against these ‘bigger teams’, the questions will continue to be raised and, given our away form last season, this is now one game less that I feel we can take advantage of to banish those particular demons of ours.
The game itself has also left me harbouring bitter feelings. Mark Clattenberg for example, despite the protestations of Manuel Pellegrini, gave about 60 to 70% of decisions to City I feel. He allowed persistent rotational fouling without booking, which only perpetuated an increased volume of fouls, one in the second half which consistent of Vincent Kompany essentially barging into the back of an Arsenal player without reprieve.
I don’t know whether or not it contributed massively to disrupting our flow, because whilst some players were excellent yesterday (I’ll come to that in the ‘positives’ section), some really did stink up the joint. Özil, Ramsey and Flamini, for example, had particularly poor games. I can’t really work out who was worse from Özil or Ramsey, but very little of what either did yesterday came off, so if you think about that as a massive chunk of our creative talent not performing, it shows that there was certainly another level we could have gone to, to win the game.
But you can only win games if you do both attacking and defending well and, if we’re all honest, we hardly mastered the defensive side yesterday. It felt like we were rolling back the years in a bad way yesterday. Every time Navas got the ball on the right hand side he looked to have the beating of Monreal and, as good as Nacho has been this season, he struggled yesterday I thought. Gibbs is a better defender and having him back in the team will certainly be a big boost for us.
On the other side of the defence Debuchy was again very good, so it feels almost inevitable with the benefit of hindsight, that he would go down with an ankle injury and now face an extended period on the side. This kind of injury has nothing to do with our medical team, but is yet another player injured, leaving us all wondering why we seem so cursed with injuries.
The goals we conceded were also pretty shabby, if we’re all honest with ourselves, born not out of excellent opposition play but by our own mistakes. As the ball stayed in play on the right hand side of the pitch, Navas’ run was countered by some Denilson-esque jogging back by Ramsey, Flamini and Koscienly to which the inevitable response was Aguero’s run to knock the ball home. It was pretty much City’s first shot and they started to grow in confidence after that. The second goal was equally poor, as Szczesny’s poor kick never reached the halfway line, only for the ball to come back towards our goal and out for a corner. How or why Demichelis was gifted the freedom of the penalty box is beyond me, but Woj hardly covered himself in glory with a limp-wristed flap at the ball. We’ve been the beneficiaries of late goals a few times already this season, but this time we were on the receiving end and I don’t like it, don’t like it one bit at all. Thereafter we seemed to wobble a bit and City could have won it on a few occasions.
I don’t want to end today’s blog just looking at the negatives, because there was plenty for us to be pleased about as well. Going forward we look like we had options that were clearly non-existent last season. Alexis was in fine form yesterday and it was fitting that he capped off his fine performance with a fabulous goal that should have won us the game. He is busy, skilful, can finish and will be a major asset for us this season. That’s three goals already and on the basis of what I’ve seen, I reckon we’re looking at a 20 goal man come May.
Likewise too, I thought Danny Welbeck had an impressive debut. Had he managed to flick the ball into the net in first half we’d probably all be raving right now, but strikers are always judged on goals and that can be the only blot on an otherwise good performance. He even came close towards the end with a curling shot that just went over the bar, but with him and Alexis giving us that extra pace in the final third as well as being willing to chase down every ball, it can only be a good thing for us.
But to end today’s blog on a high, let’s just bask in the Wilsherian glow from yesterday, because Jack was on another level. His ball retention was good, dribbling was superb, he linked play excellently and did not deserve to be on a side that didn’t pick up three points. Big games often need players to step up and on that stage nobody can argue that Jack didn’t. His goal was a superb flick that had Hart beaten all ends up and another few performances like that in the coming weeks and the Paul Scholes’ of this world will have to start chowing down on some humble pie. More of the same please Jacky.
So like I said at the start of the blog, I have no idea whether I’m happy or sad about the game yesterday, because for all that was bad, we had the good in equal measure. Perhaps I should just stop thinking about it and look forward to the Dortmund game in midweek. A win there would be just the tonic.
Catch you tomorrow.