22 December 2015

Arsenal now 10/11 favorites to win the Prem after manhandling Man City...

Man City's fans may complain that, once again, they faced Arsenal without a key player. Last January at the Etihad, they were without Yaya Touré as the visiting Gunners shocked them 0-2 to end a twelve-match unbeaten run; this time through, they were without Vincent Kompany. Whoever was on the pitch each time, though, City showed an arrogance and tactical naïveté that played right into Arsenal's hands. As with last January's clash, City dominated possession only to come away (almost) empty-handed as Arsenal were content so lure their visitors forward and hit hard on counterattacks. It worked 11 months ago; it worked again on Monday. It wasn't always pretty, but, dammit, it worked.

As with January's match, Man City dominated possession to the tune of 64% but had nothing to show for it. The returns of David Silva and Sergio Agüero surely spelled doom for us, but it became clear that we had a plan to negate them, with Flamini following Silva everywhere and Koscielny doing his best to keep Agüero firmly ensconced in his back-pocket. By and large, it worked. The x-factor, Touré, did his best imitation of a man on an aboriginal walkabout, wandering hither and yon without doing much of anything (until late on...). To be honest, the man-marking that Flamini was committed to should have opened up all sorts of space for Touré (and de Bruyne) to pour into, but neither seemed interested in exploiting the opening offered by Flamini's tenacious tailing of Silva and Ramsey's random meanderings.

So be it.

Man City were wasteful, putting most of their best chances directly at Čech or well-wide of the mark, and their high-line (further exposed by Touré's peregrinations...) gave Özil and Walcott an opening. After a vital through-pass from Koscielny, Özil found Walcott, who cut back against the grain and unleashed a stunningly incisive shot to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.

After a disastrous attempt at a clearance from Mangala, Özil found himself with the ball at his feet just outside the area and Olivier "I make Mertesacker look fast" Giroud breaking forward. The pass had to the inch-perfect with the Frenchman having to cut a tight angle on his left foot, and, sure enough, Özil put the pass where only Giroud could find it, despite that oatcake-eating Otamendi's worst-efforts, and he lashed his shot through Joe Hart's legs to make it 2-0. The rout, it seemed, was on.

City, however, had other plans, plans that consisted largely of seeing whether or not Čech is the kind of keeper who will let balls slip through his hands as they put shot after shot directly at him only to learn, to their dismay, that he is not. It came down to the last twenty minutes as City pressed for a goal to throw the outcome into doubt. Jesus Navas, finding himself through on goal, did his best to pass to anyone not wearing a Man City kit, and that would be that.

If only.

Just minutes later, Touré, perhaps offering a parody of his own pusillanimous play to the point, chipped a Hail Mary-esque shot only to shock himself just as much as anyone else on the pitch by actually scoring. This would be City's first away-goal scored since September, and it would deny Čech his record-setting 170th clean-sheet. From there, it was game-on again, as a rejuvenated City desperately chased an equaliser and Arsenal defended just as desperately. But for some better finishing from Campbell or Ramsey, we might have eased on through. As it stands, our performance was just good enough to secure a vital three points. There are still unanswered questions about our ability to sustain a title-tilt, however.

City were far from their best, whether it was the absence of Kompany, the indifference of Touré, or the sluggishness of Agüero. Had any one of them been in-form, we might be staring at an altogether different reality. However, that ain't how the Prem works. The result is in the books, and Arsenal now trail Leicester by just two points while Man City by four. We haven't merely secured three points; we've shown ourselves (and our rivals) that we mean business. We're still limping through our annual injury-crisis, waiting on and hoping for the returns of Wilshere, Welbeck, Sanchez, and Coquelin, among others.

In other words, for as good as we've been in recent weeks, we've been holding down the fort until reinforcements arrive. Celebrate this one, lads, but remember that it's just one result among many more we'll need.