Man City 3-1 Arsenal: the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

2018 will be the 10th year of 7amkickoff. The testimonial year! As such, I expect all of you to organize a testimonial which features at least a few famous players from the past: Denilson, Flamini, Eboue, Hleb, Frimpong, Diaby, Walcott, and Adebayor ought to be available for free or nearly free. We can play out here in Tacoma, I know a few places, we can sell tickets, all my friends will come and at $5 a ticket, I think we can get $20 together or so. That should buy me one dinner at a small local restaurant (tip and beverages not included).

Jokes aside, the community here is wonderful. As if you needed proof, you all donated $200 to Margarette which I ended up sending her as a Western Union. She didn’t need the money for herself so she earmarked that money to buy her neighbors toilets and washbasins. And even though her internet is metered, she managed to send a hopeful photo of Dominica:

I think of that photo as a reminder that no matter how crazy things become, no matter how much they fall apart, we can always find a few moments of joy and beauty.

My point with all of this is that I have written a lot of articles. And one of the article styles I used to produce was a “Good, Bad, and Ugly”. I’m bringing it back. I’m bringing “ugly” back!

It’s pretty self explanatory: every match, regardless of outcome, has some good, bad, and ugly components. I write about them.

The Good

Ramsey and Lacazette. Ramsey did everything to win this game, he played forward, he defended, and he presented himself for the ball even though the City midfield would swarm him every time he got it. His tireless efforts led to the goal for Lacazette and he deserves praise.

At this point, I’m going to start sounding like a broken record: feed Lacazette the ball. He has 6 goals on 22 shots and should be the starting forward in every game that he is healthy. The entire team should also make Lacazette the focus. Yes, we want other players to score but the way he’s being under-utilized is criminal. The man is a goal-scoring beast. Feed the beast should be Arsenal’s mantra!

The Bad

Arsenal struggled in possession against Guardiola’s press. Ramsey and Xhaka turned the ball over a lot for a midfield tandem – though it’s hard to truly blame them when the main culprit was Alexis up front. He had more turnovers of possession than any player on the pitch, and fully 1/3 of the straight up turnovers of the team.

I don’t get obsessed with turnovers the way others do because the point of football is to pass the ball, to a teammate, who takes a shot. In essence, the point of possession is to turn the ball over! Ideally, you want to turn the ball over as a goal, but below that, you want to turn the ball over as a shot on target, and below that you want to turn the ball over as a shot that goes out for a goal kick. Any turnovers other than those three are dangerous: blocked shots, caught by a tackle, bad touch, offside, bad pass, all can lead to a quick counter or at the very least to the opposition getting a shot.

But I do understand the fan frustration when one player hogs the ball and doesn’t do anything with it, like Luis Suarez used to do for Liverpool and like Alexis sometimes does for Arsenal. Suarez only took one shot in this match and only created two for his teammates. He did get Ramsey the best shot of the first half but it was Ramsey who turned provider for Lacazette and Arsenal’s only goal.

Ostensibly Alexis should have been taking the most shots for this team, he was playing as the main striker in what looked like a 541 for most of the match. But where was Ozil? He should have been feeding Alexis the ball but Ozil was anonymous yesterday.

As frustrating as it is for some fans to see one guy turn the ball over constantly it’s just as frustrating for others to see Arsenal’s record holding playmaker disappear. Cue the stats about how many chances he’s created and how he’s the Premier League’s best playmaker since moving to Arsenal. But in big games my man Ozil disappears and he did yet another vanishing act last night.

In these big games you absolutely have to have your best players step up. That lifts the team, lifts the crowd, and gives your team the edge. That didn’t happen in this game.

The Ugly

Wenger’s lineup was another source of frustration. So, here’s the deal: the back 3 doesn’t add any defensive stability to Arsenal because Arsene Wenger encourages his midfielder to play as a forward. I am not criticizing Ramsey. The other day Wenger said how much he loves Ramsey in the box. It’s clear that Wenger wants Ramsey in the box. If my manager told me to go play forward as much as possible, that’s exactly what I would do. And not only that but it pays off: Ramsey has 3 goals and 3 assists this season in the Premier League adding his third assist for Lacazette’s goal last night.

But, if you play a back three, and then let your CM run forward, you leave the midfield to be covered by one center mid. This causes all kinds of problems in buildup, possession, and defending. And that’s exactly what we saw with Arsenal against City yesterday.

In possession, Arsenal struggled to hold on to the ball because there were so precious few combinations available for passes. It didn’t just happen with Alexis, every player on the team found themselves swarmed by periwinkle shirts when they had the ball. Ramsey, Alexis, Xhaka, all were easily dispossessed (see my by the numbers piece).

And when we turned the ball over, this was a midfield which got bypassed too easily and which every turnover was amplified because City had so much space to play in. Time and again they cut Arsenal open in that first half and to be honest a first half scoreline of 1-0 was flattering to Arsenal. Arsenal were called upon for some crazy last-ditch clearances, tackles, and on several occasions were lucky not to concede a penalty (Kolasinac shoved Sterling in the back twice in the 18 yard box and both were stonewall penalties missed by the officials) or for Sterling to latch onto one of those delicious fizzing passes and score a goal.

Coquelin made a few crucial tackles to stop City counters but overall his inclusion, in order to insist on playing a back three which didn’t keep the team solid, was a huge error on Wenger’s part. Dropping Coquelin into the CB spot should have played to Coq’s strengths (defense) and mitigated his weaknesses (passing) but he ended up having a mixed performance, doing some great defending but when pressed by City he was sloppy with his passing and ended up with the 2nd lowest pass completion rate behind Alexis.

I also want to know what Wenger is smoking not including Lacazette from the start. With Lacazette on the pitch, you free Alexis up, you free Ozil up, and while he takes space away from Ramsey (in the box), it doesn’t matter because he doesn’t need a lot of shots to score. Iwobi added nothing. This isn’t a condemnation of Iwobi. This is a condemnation of Wenger’s system. In a big game, you start your best players. The best three Arsenal attacking players are Alexis, Lacazette, and Ozil. Ozil and Alexis feed to ball to Lacazette whose movement causes havok. Lacazette either shoots (which I would tell him to do every time he has the ball) or passes to Alexis, Ozil, or the occasional run from midfield, like Ramsey. Of course I’ll be criticized here for being reductive but Wenger’s system was goofy – it didn’t play to anyone’s strengths, it caused all kinds of problems in buildup and possession, and it didn’t even defend very well.

Especially Ugly

Monreal’s shoulder to shoulder challenge on Sterling was not a penalty and there was more than a suspicion that the referees wanted to even things up after missing the shoves on Sterling in the first half. But that could be a bit controversial for me to say.

What shouldn’t be at all controversial is that once again Arsenal suffer the linesmen getting the calls wrong. Lacazette was called for offside when a shoelace was deemed to be off. Fair enough. But how do we reconcile that with how Silva had half his body offside and it doesn’t get called? Is it just the Arsenal who seem to suffer these decisions?

And one last word here: it is possible to be angry at both the officials for blowing the call and at the entire Arsenal defense for not playing to the whistle. Arsenal have long looked to the referees to call the games fairly; to give out red cards when they are deserved, to get the calls on the lines right, to call penalties when we are fouled and so on. But the evidence suggests that this is never going to happen. I’ve been saying this for years and I’ll say it again: this club needs to just play like the officials are against us. Play like it’s 12 on 11. Ignore the officials, expect bad calls, don’t complain, give what you get, and use the officials as extra motivation to win matches.

Arsenal are never going to be handed a title. We are not Man U, Tottenham, Leicester, or Liverpool. If Arsenal want to win anything, we have to rip it out of their hands and take it away from them.


Related articles