This wasn’t the FA Cup and this time the apprentice did not get one over on the master.
We went down to a 1-0 defeat at Manchester City in which our lads put in a creditable performance, but you’d be hard pushed to say that City did not deserve the points.
We had good spells, created a few decent chances and might even have had a penalty if the VAR bloke had not gone off for a pee at the crucial moment, but overall we were second best.
The positives were that (a) we looked – as usual under Arteta – like a well-organised team whose players all knew their jobs and did their best to carry them out, (b) we limited a very talented team to only one goal and (c) we were still in it right to the end.
The negatives: that there is still a quality gap between our players and theirs and that we caused them so little trouble in the last half hour despite needing to chase the game.
We probably should have had a penalty at the end of the first half when Kyle Walker’s boot reached low earth orbit altitude and almost smacked Gabriel in the hooter. The fact that VAR did not even take a look makes you wonder…
And for all City’s superb close passing and movement, they also gave a masterclass in cynical rotational fouling, breaking up all our break-out attacks with trips, pulls and obstructions. Some (though far from all) were penalised, but the fact that the ref never really made them pay for what was obviously a deliberate tactic is frustrating.
With our next two league games being Leicester at home and Manchester United away, a result yesterday would have taken some of the pressure off those upcoming fixtures. Now you’d have to say we need to be looking for four points from those two tough fixtures. Let’s just hope that Ole is still in the hot seat at Old Toilet when we play United.
Has a habit of deflecting shots into danger areas. Perhaps there was little he could have done, but I’m not sure. The Martinez discussion (as Redders pointed out in comments) is redundant but I like a ‘keeper who prioritises catching over deflecting or punching. Apart from the City goal, there was another moment when Leno deflected a shot right into the danger area late on (although in that case the shot came from much closer in so he probably had less chance to adjust). On the positive side his footwork was good as we tried to play through City’s high press and his willingness to come out of his box as a sweeper was important on a couple of occasions.
Struggled with the City attackers but had some decent moments getting forward. He was criticised by the TV pundits for letting the City attacker cut inside him and shoot for City’s goal.
Mostly solid game from the Brazilian mophead, with one almost-classic Luiz moment when he tried to slice a clearance into his own net. His ball usage coming out of defence was pretty good overall.
Defensively strong and imposing (he definitely adds solidity to our back line). On a few occasions he lost possession with sloppy passing, which is really bad news in a game where we struggled to keep hold of the ball.
Generally defended well and also got forward well at time. Was on the end of some rough treatment from the City players, mostly ignored by the ref.
I actually think Granit was an important part of the reason why we stayed in this game. He was always available in midfield and kept possession really well. The problem is he is just not a particularly progressive player so, most of the time, he took safe options with his passing.
Dani was relatively uninvolved in the first half. Towards the end of the game as we were chasing a goal he got into the game a bit more, but overall this was not his best performance. It must be hard chasing City players all game long and I can’t fault his work rate, but he wasn’t able to impose himself.
Saka 7 MoTM
Was involved in all our brightest moments and was unlucky not to have bagged a goal when one-on-one with the ‘keeper. Kept trying and looked like our most dangerous outlet.
I had high hopes for Pepe in this one but he struggled to make an impression. I did notice him tracking back well and taking his defensive duties seriously, which is a positive.
Made virtually no impact on the game at all and the decision to play him centrally in attack was a mistake. He was too lightweight to contend with City’s strong defenders and he just didn’t do enough on the ball to cause them any problems.
Had very little opportunity to get on the scoresheet. One chance (incorrectly flagged for offside) was saved by City’s ‘keeper and he almost got on the end of a good Luiz cross late on. He still looked like class whenever he had the ball but just could not make anything happen.
Ran around a lot but spoiled a couple of our better opportunities late on by making bad passes.
Nice to see him make his debut, but there was to be no ‘dream start’ to his Arsenal career.