Sunday, September 23, 2012

A Good Point, or A Missed Opportunity? 10 Thoughts on Manchester City 1 Arsenal 1.

A engrossing match at the Etihad today. Thoughts as follows:

* I was surprised by the line-ups when I saw them. For City, playing Aguero behind Dzeko seemed like a classic case of trying to awkwardly shoe-horn your in-form striker into the side, at the expense of the team's overall coherency. While Dzeko has been banging in the goals recently (I maintain he's underrated) I was relieved to not see the trickier Tevez in the starting line-up. The selection of Sinclair in such a big game was more bizarre, and he was hauled off at half-time, having not done very much at all. In terms of us, it was good to see Koz back in the side, even if it was only because of Vermaelen being stricken by flu. The other surprise was Ramsey in for the Ox, and I think this was ultimately a good move (more on that in a bit).

* We dominated the first half, and should have gone in ahead. We now have the ability to knock the ball around very quickly, without things descending into the tiki-taka mess that occurred so frequently during the Cesc years. That said, we missed having a central focus to our attacks. Podolski was nominally playing as a centre forward, but dropped deep so often, or onto the wings, that it wasn't always clear where the ball should be going in the final third. It also meant that we didn't really test Hart as much as we should have done.

* Our best chance of the half fell to Gervinho, who was put through by a beautiful pass from Ramsey. Gervinho's first touch was so heavy that it would have collapsed in on itself and become a black hole had Hart not smothered it. It summed up a frustrating performance from the Ivorian. After two productive games, he reverted to type, and squandered a number of good opportunities. In particular, not only did he blast over late on in the match when presented with a clear sight of goal, he also failed to put in the much better placed Giroud. Gervinho clearly has a great deal of ability, but he must be more consistent and clinical if we're going to rely on him as a first choice player.

* The same can definitely be said for Diaby. After a poor performance against Montpellier, I thought he was poor again against City. By the second half, he was repeatedly giving the ball away, and taking those extra, unnecessary touches that so often cost us possession. Yes, he gives us some much needed height and presence in midfield - but I thought we improved when he exited the game, and he seemed to be the flaky Diaby of old, unfortunately.

* After a mostly great first half in which we failed to press home our advantage, we conceded in an utterly needless fashion. I've been waiting for a big mistake from Mannone, and, unfortunately, here it was. The goal was nothing to do with zonal marking - Mannone shouldn't have come for the ball, but, because he did, he basically prevented defenders from challenging Lescott in the air. If he stays on his line, it's a relatively routine save. Mannone did pull off a number of good reaction saves later in the game - particularly from Kompany just after we'd scored. But goalkeeper is, unfortunately, quickly becoming a problem position at the club.

* We were lethargic for much of the start of the second half, and I worried that the flaky Arsenal of old had reappeared. One player who looked good throughout, however, was Ramsey. This was one of his best performances for a long time, and a huge weight seems to have been lifted from his shoulders with the signing of Cazorla. Freed from the burden of being a Cesc-like playmaker, Ramsey has greater freedom to make those penetrative runs he's so good at, which often end with a good pass, and a shot on goal. Personally, I would have hauled off Diaby much earlier, and put on Giroud - Ramsey, Arteta, and Cazorla looked largely in control in midfield, but they needed a central outlet to get the ball to, which Podolski was not providing.

* Giroud and Walcott didn't do much with the ball once they come on. Theo appeared to largely give the ball away with the few touches he had, in fact.But they did help to further change the shape of the game. City defended even deeper, and our attacking midfielders also had a little more time and space thanks to Giroud's presence in the centre. Indeed, I think the substitutions clearly invigorated the team, and I wish Arsene would change things earlier in games where we clearly need a spark to get things going.

* Koscielny returned for his first game of the season and was superb. Given that Mertesacker was, I would argue, even better, (and my MOTM) the dilemma that I talked about earlier in the season has now reared its head. Given that Vermaelen is captain, one of Koscielny or Mertesacker has to be dropped for the game against Chelsea, barring a midweek injury. That's not fair, or good for the team. It will be very interesting to see who lines-up against Torres et al. next weekend. Ferguson has successfully rotated his centre-backs so far this season, and Arsene will have to show similar ingenuity.

* A little more on Mertesacker, who has been awesome in every game so far this season. It's wonderful to see a defender who truly knows how to read the game, and who stops other players through calm, well-timed interceptions. Frankly, he's undroppable at the moment. So, despite his goal, I think Koscielny may well find himself back on the bench next Saturday.

* Ultimately, was today a point gained or two points lost? It's always great to get a late goal, and Man City are unbeaten in their last 32 games at the Etihad. Of those 32 games, they've won 29. It may well be the hardest ground in the Premier League for a travelling team to get a result. The draw also highlighted the great team spirit that now appears to exist within the squad. But, at the end, I felt this was a game we should have won. To go to City's ground and largely dominate, with 59 percent of total possession, is remarkable, and our dominance should have been translated into a win. It's great to keep our unbeaten start to the season, but   today might ultimately go down as a missed opportunity.


Unknown said...

Loved reading your recaps. Keep it up!

Droz said...

Can't believe you didn't mention Jenkinson - he had such an awesome game! His defending has improved ridiculously, and his already excellent right-footed deliveries have gotten even better... but his left foot is only for standing.

Now that I mention it, Gibbs was pretty handy too - these were our weak positions last season, but now... I feel comfortable watching them play against good teams. I think Koscielny would have already slot in to right-back if it wasn't for Jenkinson's great form - now, the only fight for Koscielny is for the centreback position with Vermaelen, Per and Djourou!

Anonymous said...

I can't agree about Diaby. I thought he was excellent in the first half, robust and creative. He calmness and intelligence helped instigate some of our best moves. Admittedly, he dropped off a bit in the second half and maybe could have been subbed a few minutes earlier but all in all he was good, I reckon.