It was billed as an opportunity for Arsenal to show their improvement against one of the big boys in the Premier League, but it was a missed chance, and the Gunners narrowly lost 1-0 to Manchester City at Etihad Stadium.
Coming into the game many fans, including me, felt this was a great chance to show how far this side had come this season. Losing Rob Holding in the warm-up was less than ideal, as he was replaced with David Luiz to partner Gabriel in the centre of defence, with Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos in midfield.
Once again Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was deployed out wide along with Nicolas Pepe. Strangely Willian was through the middle in what was a false No. 9 position if you will. As a fan, I did not understand the move, especially with Alexandre Lacazette on the bench, but we have put our faith in Mikel Arteta so far and I am not one to start doubting him now.
In many ways the match was a mirror of the Liverpool game. Arsenal was relatively second best in the first half but not to the extent against Liverpool, as they showed that on the counterattack they could be a threat. City bossed parts of the game but Arsenal was not without their chances, in particular Nicolas Pepe, whose header in the first half should have at least worked Ederson in City’s goal.
Much like the Liverpool game, Arsenal came out a different side in the second half and showed more threat going forward, and for large parts of the half City were on the back foot.
Bukayo Saka was for me the best Arsenal player on the pitch, his strength on the ball, decisive passing and ability to stretch City’s backs and get forward showed us that he deserves to start the majority of Gunners games. The midfield was serviceable too for most of the game apart from getting played through a little bit too easily at times – but it was Manchester City, do not forget. Willian had a day to forget as he barely made an impact, but the rest of the side were more than serviceable for me.
I still think that Arsenal can be better served with Aubameyang playing through the middle and then having Willian possibly in the No. 10 role to help create things going forward. This was on show in the second half against Sheffield United and, for me, that is the most dangerous Arsenal have looked all year aside from the Fulham game.
Many wanted new signing Thomas Partey to start, but it was never likely on the cards for Arteta, as he has not even had two complete training sessions with his new club. Throwing him in the deep end against City would have been less than ideal for him.
Perhaps he could have been brought on a little earlier than what he was – he will need some time to adjust – but there should be no doubt that he will be starting in the next Premier League game. Granit Xhaka and Dani Ceballos were solid as well along with nearly every Gunners player, but our Achilles heel has been the creativity going forward.
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Many fans after the game were calling for Mesut Ozil to be used, but we all must accept the fact that he is not in Arteta’s plans going forward. I think he might have made a difference, but the desire and commitment needed by the midfield against City would not have suited him. It is fair to say we will not see Ozil in an Arsenal shirt again and is something that we just must deal with.
Choosing to pass our way out of defence is something that makes me cringe a little, as you feel there is just a mistake waiting to happen, but that is the way Arteta wants Arsenal to play, and when it works, it looks great – though when it does not, we are left scrambling. On numerous occasions it worked to perfection and Arsenal were able to get through City’s pressing game, but then we lacked the creativity going forward.
To still have 11 shots on goal away to Manchester City is a good reminder of how far the side has come in such a short time. You could make the case that on another day two or three of those shots would have been goals, but that goes for City too, as Bernd Leno was forced into some incredible saves to keep the score at 1-0.
The game was separated by one moment of quality by City. Arsenal had their chances to equalise, like they did in the Liverpool game, but just could not find the back of the net. The fact that we more than matched City on their patch in the second half shows that Arsenal is by no means an easybeat anymore, and when you are in a transition phase like Arsenal are, that is the first quality you want your side to have.
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There were plenty of positives to come out of the game, with Bukayo Saka the major one. What a star this kid is going to be, and you could make a case that he almost is already. He deserves a run of games for Arteta’s side after his efforts against City to further build on a good start to the season.
Once again, like the Liverpool game, it has the feeling of a little bit of a missed opportunity, maybe not to win but a chance to get a point at least. This is something that could be a theme for Arsenal going forward, but make no mistake that the improvement from the squad is real. It is there for all to see, and eventually those missed chances will turn into goals.
The creativity in midfield needs addressing, but we may have to wait until January for that to happen. In the meantime Arsenal currently sit fifth on the table with the two losses away to both Liverpool and Man City. You could argue that they could have had a share of the spoils in both.
So it is not doom and gloom – far from it in fact, as they are on the right track, and Thomas Partey will only get better the more minutes he plays and will prove a great addition to the midfield.
If Arsenal keep improving, then a top-four finish is within their grasp.