The Monkey Off Our Back
What a wonderful Sunday to be an Arsenal supporter. Our beloved Arsenal traveled to Manchester to take on Manchester City and we won. If that has finally set in, then think about how we won relatively comfortably and the ref wasn't completely terrible. Hard to believe but it is all completely true. The monkey is off our backs as we won away from home to a top four side.
I am positive that many Arsenal fans were nervous about this match. Sure we all wanted a win and if asked we would have confidently stated that we would trounce City and win the league. Yet, in our hearts and minds, the fear of losing to another top four team was at the forefront of our thoughts. Last season we lost 6-3 in a match that was mostly back and forth. Individual defensive errors cost us but in reality the match was a lot closer than the score line showed. The horror that was the matches at Chelsea and Anfield are the reason why we are nervous when facing top four teams.
The match started off in a way that we expected: a Koscielny yellow card with only a few minutes on the clock. The stage was set for a 50th minute 2nd yellow to red and we would have to defend for forty minutes and concede a late goal to lose. Yet, that doomsday prophecy never manifested itself. What we got instead was an organized defense from front to back AND a purposeful attacking threat. It was something we haven't seen in a long time with this Arsenal.
The tactical setup will be touched on a bit later but the goals we scored were decisive in that they were scored at very important moments of the match. City started pretty well and were getting into our half but we were drowning out their time after time. A fast break saw Alexis play the ball to Giroud who held up the ball played it in front of the onrushing Monreal who was fouled in the box. The ref pointed to the spot and Cazorla sent the ball to Hart's left. He guessed right but the shot was too clever for him to stop.
A lot has been made about that penalty from Pellegrini saying it “wasn't a penalty” to “Monreal dived”. My take on it is that it was a penalty all day. Monreal was impeded in a goal-scoring area. That is a penalty. Kompany did not make an attempt of the ball as the ball was already away from him thanks to the vision and skill of Giroud, who I do not think gets enough credit for his almost “eyes in the back of his head-like passes to players moving through on goal. Monreal's movement was straight towards the ball. It was Kompany who threw a leg in Monreal's path. His intentions were clear to stop him and he did but it was in the box and therefore a penalty. For once, the ref got it right. It was our turn to get a call right. How many handballs in the box or shirt-pulls that drag our players down have we seen that did not get called and may have cost us a match? A lot. This wasn't a controversial call. It was the right call. 100%.
The second goal came after City began putting on pressure and it seemed like an equalizer was inevitable. A free was awarding in City's half and Cazorla sent the ball over the defense to an unmarked Giroud who headed the ball with purpose. How City's defense did not pick up his run was bizarre but watching the replay you saw three Arsenal players attacking the ball with no defenders following them. Hart was alone with a Giroud header, so he had little chance to save it. That goal took the remaining wind out of City's sails and we set off for the win with excellent defending.
Arsenal looked organized from front to back and that is what won us this match. It is hard to attribute a win like this to only one player but a lot of credit has to be given to Francis Coquelin. The young defensive midfielder was the true link between attack and defense. With Arteta out for the season and with Flamini's fluctuation between good and bad form, Coquelin is the only true defensive midfielder we can use. He has played a few solid games over the last several weeks but Sunday was the first game where he stepped his game up and maybe gave us a glimpse of what his abilities are. It is easy to get excited over a young player who has come through the youth system to play in big match. Very few players get this kind of chance and prove themselves but he has earned his place and it is his to lose. A few things to note on his performance was his intelligence and his vocal leadership. A few times in the match when the players in front of him looked disorganized he quickly was there to intercept the ball or make the tackle and then reset his teammates. It is rare to see a young player playing with that kind of confidence. I love seeing our young players improving. Does it mean that Coquelin is our answer, not necessarily, but it is a start and it shows how important a true defensive midfielder is to our game.
In a time when Wenger is generally under a lot of fire for his tactical set up, it is great to see him try something different and see it work against the top clubs. In his press conference after the match, when asked why he didn't do this sooner, he just gave his usual wry smile and said they did. Maybe the team talk before a lot of matches involves trying to get them to play that way but it doesn't pan out. Whatever the reason, it worked and worked well. Sure we may have lost a bit of the possession game but it didn't matter. City had plenty of the ball but weren't ever able get any real threats on goal. Their main attacking outlet has been David Silva and he was cut off almost all match. Without Silva to set up Aguero, City was toothless. We forced their play wide and dealt with their crosses and plethora of corners. I want us to play that way against all the top clubs and start taking the scalps of teams like Chelsea, United and Liverpool. If we can consistently get results against those teams, we will get back to challenging for the title.
This Sunday we face Brighton in the FA Cup. I expect a bit of rotation in the lineup to give some of our players a rest. We may see Alexis get a rest, as well as Ramsey and Cazorla. I expect Walcott and Ozil to start or get major minutes to get back to full fitness. I also think Ospina will continue in net. He has proven he can perform well and until he messes up, the starting job is his, just like Coquelin. I think we have more than enough to deal with Brighton but we cannot underestimate them. We have been burned like that before.
Until next week,
Up the Arsenal!
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