15 December 2013

3-6 Man City: so, the other shoe dropped.

It was bound to drop at some point. That it did so in such fashion doesn't matter a whit to me. A loss is a loss, and I don't see much more symbolism in it, to be honest.

By the time Man City went up 3-1, I was ready to call it a day. Man City at home is just too tough, and it was clear that we were running on rubber legs.Then, we put in about as bright a fifteen minutes (or so) of football as we would all day, highlighted by Walcott's second—but punctured, sadly by Silva's goal minutes later. That well and truly let the air out. If we looked tired before that, the 4-2 scoreline seemed to literally suck the blood for each Gunner on the pitch. There are excuses and there are factors—our fatigue, be it physical or mental—prevented us from keeping up with the Prem's most dynamic attack, and we paid for it heavily.

However, I'm not getting my panties in a twist over this. I don't think this signals that the title is now City's to lose, nor do I believe we've been knocked for such a loop that we'll never recover. We knew going in that City's offense is cartoonishly powerful, and when chances are presented (at times, gifted), they're more than happy. I'll say this with no spite: I will say that I'm happy Nasri didn't scored. There. We'll move on. Speaking of chances, we had ours. Were it not for Giroud having a woeful afternoon (he could have had a hat-trick had he shown any finishing ability, and he had a chance to pass across an open goal for two teammates to slot home, but he somehow squirreled it out of bounds), and were it not for a number of dodgy off-sides calls, we could have had six goals ourselves.

That's not to say that we would have defended any better, of course, but it offers some perspective. Even when we were clearly not at our best, and even playing in what is becoming a legendarily difficult place to get a result, we had chances and gave almost as good as we got. I was more upset about the third goal than I was about any goal afterwards. Flamini, who was piss-poor all day, couldn't get to Özil's pass (although why a pass to the top of our own box is wise eludes me), and Fernandinho had plenty of time to tee up and blast it home. Poor decision-making. Sluggishness. Acres of space outside our box.

That last one baffled me all afternoon. Time and time again, it seems, City and (Toure especially) found themselves alone with the ball 20-30 yards from goal. It's as if Ramsey and Flamini had decided, without notifying anyone, that they would play wide all afternoon. Indeed, each of their heat maps show no action at the top of our box. That, more than fatigue and even more than City's firepower, struck me as the story of the day. One simply cannot concede that much space in such a vital area. Not once, it seemed, did we shepherd Toure to the side, nor did we ever seem to stop him.

However, before I delve too deeply into the process, I want to put its outcome in context. Yes, we were thrashed, but I don't feel any worse about it than I did after losing 1-0 at Old Trafford. It became comical after a point, but I refuse to get worked up over it. Winning at the Etihad, even before we saw the amazing form City would display to this point, was always a long shot. I would have been happy with a draw, to be honest, and to lose by whatever the scoreline does not distress me. Losing 8-2 at Old Trafford distressed me. Drawing with West Brom had me miffed. Serious title contenders, and yes, Gracie, we still are, can get away with dropping points on the road to other contenders, but they can't afford to drop points to clubs outside of the top five or six. Heck, by that measure, the loss at Old Trafford may turn out to be one of those inexcusable losses.

Man City, as jaw-droppingly good at home as they are, are almost as jaw-droppingly bad away: 2-3 to Cardiff. 0-0 to Stoke. 2-3 to Villa. 0-1 to Sunderland. These are teams that will likely be fighting to stave off relegation, and those losses tell me more about City than their 6-3 win over us. As to us, we still sport the Prem's best away-record. One should pause before reading too much into the results of one game, win or lose (the reading is more fun when we win, of course). Man City may have beaten us, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them lose at Craven Cottage next week.

Speaking of next week, I'm more worried about Koscielny's knee-gash and Wilshere's potential ban for his digital communication with City fans after Silva's goal made it 4-2. When it rains, it pours, as the saying goes. Well, it seems to be raining. Two away-losses. A tetchy Champions League draw Monday. Updates on Kos and Wilshere to come. We knew that there would be some adversity. We knew there would be setbacks and disappointments. However, I'm optimistic.In seasons past, such a scoreline might have sent us into a tailspin. This time around, I sense a different reaction altogether. I'm not saying we're going to obliterate Chelsea, but I do see us bouncing back with the kind of grit and determination and confidence we've lacked in the recent past. Sometimes, a club needs a loss to refocus, to instill intensity and hunger into its efforts.

We'll see next weekend if I'm right.