Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal
Losses and goals conceded are always more palatable when your team acquits itself well. Giving up, or turning up expecting to win, or crumbling inexplicably has been something of a hallmark in recent seasons so one of the most pleasing things about this Arsenal side since October has been the blossoming of its spirit and its excellent attitude. We got all that in spades yesterday at City, even if we came away with a measly zero points. We did bloody well in most areas, particularly at the back until we ran out of central defenders to spread across the rear line. With a bit more luck, we’d have scored, or earned a penalty, but that’s football and it’s not as if Szczesny was leaning against his post picking dirt out his nails while we laid siege to their goal. They could have scored more too. As many people have pointed out, it was a belter of a game for a neutral. Just a shame I wasn’t one.
Strength in depth was not the only difference, but itâ€™s a factor. Whereas City can afford to pay a prolific striker Â£250,000 a week to play golf in Argentina (is there any other walk of life where itâ€™s that hard to sack someone?) and a further Â£100,000 a week to subsidise another of their strikers to play for a rival team, we currently rely heavily on the magical Robin van Persie. Itâ€™s not that we donâ€™t have other attacking options, more that those attacking options are wading miserably through sticky declines. The late-2010 vintage Chamakh and the 2009-vintage Arshavin have corked. Itâ€™s more Arshavin de table and Babychamakh these days. Such a shame.
Not that a firing-on-all-cylinders Arshavin would have guaranteed a goal yesterday. Just that the Arshavin who helped himself to those four portions at Anfield would have scared the life out of City â€“ out of anyone â€“ had he come on as a sub with 15 minutes to play. Whatever happened?
I must admit, I agree with those who wonder when The Ox is going to be handed more chances. He’s looked good when called upon so far, is fast, strong, mobile and eager to shoot. I admire Wenger’s desire to protect him a bit, given his age and relative inexperience, but he’d be a dangerous bench option at a time when there’s not a lot of danger on our bench.
At least we can stop pretending weâ€™re in the hunt for the title. A Champions League place remains the goal, but there are five other sides who will strongly fancy their chances of getting one of those four spots, making it harder than itâ€™s ever been for us to retain.
The fact is, our next three games are more important to that end, and they come thick and fast. Of our three Christmas matches, two are at home and one against a Villa team with their own troubles. If we can get to New Year unscathed, it will cap a fascinating first half of the season, one that couldnâ€™t have started worse but which has picked up considerably. Five league losses is the same as the top three teams combined, but the main story for me is how we’ve injected experience into the side and hauled our form up by its bootstraps. The two are, of course, connected.
But weâ€™ve got to get to New Year unscathed yetâ€¦