The script was written by every pundit that was waiting for us to fall. We can’t beat the big sides, our defence won’t stand up to their threat, we don’t have the firepower up front to challenge the toughest of defences and our lack of squad depth means our legs will go. That was the message.
Well, those ‘analysts’ will be smiling today. Our worst display of the season (coming a few days after our previous worst) against a team that you cannot afford to gift wrap goals to led to a pasting that will sting the squad to the core. Yes, we scored three, and yes, we could have scored more were it not for some quite appalling offside decisions (and a denied penalty), but ultimately we went up to Manchester and presented them with a string of freebies that you can’t recover from. Every time we scored and raised hope again, they went up the other end and snuffed us out. They could have scored more.
When you play the top sides, particularly away from home, you cannot afford to play that carelessly, plain and simple. We worked our socks off and kept fighting from two goals down, desperate to get back into the game, and the players should be praised for that after a tough week, physically and mentally. But equally, it was a big occasion and they pressed the self destruct button again.
Having said all of that, and this will come as no surprise to people who have read my views before and know that I’m someone who tends to see the sunny side of things where possible, I do strongly disagree with the simplistic conclusions that are being drawn from the game. Let’s break them down.
City put down a marker and will now start to steamroller the league, smashing us and everyone else out of their way
City have been doing this to teams all season at the Etihad. They hammered United, put six past Spurs, and seven past Norwich. They’ve won all eight league fixtures they’ve played there. To put it another way, this isn’t the first ‘marker’ they’ve put down.
They are likely to end the season as top scorers (their tally of 47 is already 13 more than anyone else’s total), but their problem is at the other end. Even after yesterday, we have a better defensive record than them, and despite having only a knackered striker up front, we scored three and should have had more. That weakness tends to get exposed away from home, and they haven’t found it easy to follow up their ‘markers’ with wins on the road. After putting seven past Norwich, they lost at Chelsea. After hammering United, they drew at Stoke. After trouncing Spurs, they lost at Sunderland.
Like I said in a previous post, winning the big games means little if you follow up those wins by dropping points against the lesser lights. After beating us, United picked up two points from their next four games and disappeared off the radar. Of course it helps to win these big ones, but consistency is more important. So far, City have lacked that.
I had to laugh at one pundit’s assertion that if City replicate their home form away from Manchester, they will win the league. Well, duh. That’s like saying ‘if team X wins all the games they aren’t currently winning, they’ll do well’. These people are paid for that kind of stunning analysis.
Arsenal will now lose to Chelsea and collapse
What I am about to say is not with the benefit of hindsight, because it is something I and many others were saying before yesterday’s game. We were always more likely to get a result from Chelsea than from City. We’re at home, Chelsea are not as good as City (I know Chelsea are ahead in the league, but they won’t be by the end of the season), but more importantly than either of those, we’ll be rested. If the pundits are right about one thing, it is that in certain areas (either end of the pitch), we’re short on numbers, which means we can’t play Everton, Napoli and City in six days without it having a tangible effect. Yesterday, it felt like our defensive aberrations were borne of mental tiredness in particular, and given our excellent prior record at the back, there is reason to believe it was an anomaly.
As for the predicted tailspin, it is worth noting that this Arsenal side is not as prone to wallowing in a bad result as they have previously. We haven’t lost back to back domestic games in nearly two years – you have to go all the way back to January 2012, and defeats to Swansea and Man United for the last time it happened. It is a commonly peddled (and outdated) myth that this team collapses after losing and loses again. Sorry to back my argument up with facts, pundits, but it hasn’t happened in a long time.
As for our domestic defeats this season, we’ve come back hard each time. After losing to Villa, we went on a seven match winning streak. Defeat to Chelsea in the Capital One Cup was followed with a neutering of Suarez and Lewandowski as we beat Liverpool and then Dortmund. Defeat to United was followed with four victories on the spin, all clean sheets. This team is made of sterner stuff than many think.
I’m not going to deny that yesterday was painful. Of course it was. We defended poorly, and saw our lead eroded such that a loss to Chelsea will see us slip off the top spot for Christmas. After everything we’ve achieved already this season, that would hurt. But if Liverpool are being talked up as title candidates because they are ‘up there’, then we have to be taken seriously too.
Bring on Chelsea. We’ll be ready.