What a difference that made. Finally, after what seems like an eternity, Arsenal headed up to a beastly away ground of a top team and showed who they could be. Who they should be. What could be the makings of something special.
Yesterday was everything Arsenal fans have called for for years. We pitched up to fight Goliath and we fought the battle on our terms. The players came armed with a plan, they executed it with discipline and focus, and they left with the three points in one of the most comfortable Man City beatings you’ll have seen in the last 3 years.
The shock of this fancy new approach caught everyone by surprise. That’s a point we’ve raised many times on here. We’re predictable, we don’t come with a plan and we go toe-to-toe with teams we really shouldn’t. That threw City straight away. We packed out the midfield with the aim of stifling David Silva and cutting off the flow to Aguerro. This tactic was so effective. Every time the ball went anywhere near the Spaniard he was crowded out and dispossessed. I can’t even remember Aguerro being in the game. Can you remember watching a game with Aguerro so silenced?
Every single player was doing their bit. Santi Cazorla was sublime on the ball, warrior off of it. He was playing like his life depended on it and he looked like he was loving every single moment.
Our breakthrough came when a one-two exchange on the edge of City’s box saw Kompany knock Monreal (who is proving a real point) to the floor in a cynical challenge. It was the most sure-thing penalty I’ve seen in a while. I don’t understand where the debate has come, in the world of soft Premier League penalties, it didn’t even register. Kompany lost his man, wiped him out hard and the ref landed the decision absolutely bang on.
Santi stepped up and smashed his penalty at a ferocious pace past Joe Hart and we were one up.
The second half was the worry, we’d done a superb job up until that point with our discipline, the second half started in quite an open fashion. Old habits die hard and Arsenal reverted to panic style attacking when all they needed to do was stay true to the plan they had in the first half.
Players like Coquelin took the lead and marshalled the midfield. We regained our shape and we were rewarded with a second goal. A looped ball into the box was so badly defended by City, Giroud didn’t even need to jump to nod it in!
As a fan, I was in dream world, but it didn’t feel over because of our history of flunking leads. We did though. We remained composed, everyone was accountable for their role and we ground out the best win we’ve had in years!
Having a plan: It’s amazing that pundits and fans alike were applauding ‘tactics’ post game. It was amazing, because really, that’s the first time in years you’ve witnessed a very unArseanl approach to a game (first time since we adopted 4-5-1 in our run to the Champions League final?). It was pragmatic. City have a better squad than ours, they have a very good home record and we’re not always the best in big games. We defended deep, we protected Mertesacker and Koscielny, we weren’t kamikaze and we showed the patience needed and took our chances. It was the perfect game. We repitched the battle on our terms. We nullified their strengths rather than ignore them. We did what we needed to do to win at all costs.
We don’t need to play like that in every game. We just need to have the intelligence to play like that when we need to. We might not always win that way, but we’ll have a far better chance. If we’re constantly mixing it up, we make it twice as hard to plan against. That fact it’s taken us 10 years to get this point was a problem, the fact we won doing things differently now is a god send. There’s no excuse not to adapt our game to challenge laid out in front of you.
This could be a turning point in the season… the old dog learned some new tricks. Will he continue to use them, that’s the question.
Ospina: Can’t really judge his keeping ability because he had almost nothing to do yesterday. But he’s 3 games in and he has three clean sheets. Who cares that we haven’t seen him tested, he’s working well with the defence and his distribution has been solid. I say keep him in. Keep the continuity. Keep the progress going.
Coquelin: Well, there was his acid test. He’s come into the side and he’s taken his chance. He looks composed, he cares, he’s solid technically and he’s a hard worker. He’s putting Flamini in the shade and he looks very much the defensive midfielder we’ve been lacking. He might not be a Matic, but he’ll certainly plug a gap while we wait for Schneiderlin. I still think we need to bring in a holding midfielder, because we’re seriously short in that position.
Team protection: When the whole team mucks in and contributes to defending the goal, how much more impressive is the result? They looked like a team yesterday. They looked like they all cared for one another. They fought for that result and they looked like they enjoyed it. I think Tony Adams once said the team don’t look like they enjoy keeping clean sheets. Hopefully, a game like that will show that there’s glory in defending as a team. There’s a camaraderie to be had in winning ugly but in a smart way. Hopefully, whatever Wenger did before the game has set the ball rolling for more of the same.
I was also impressed with Bellerin. He looks a very, very good young player. No fear. He’s very good going forward, but he didn’t yesterday. I like that. Smart dresser, smart player.
Moving forward: The floodgates have opened. I know Arsene went to great lengths post game to make out he always plans like that, but we see with our eyes that he doesn’t. Whatever he did yesterday, however he landed on that conclusion… well, it has to be a main ingredient moving forward. Smarter analysis, smarter planning with a smarter delivery on the pitch.
Today, I’m truly proud to be a Gunner. More proud than after beating a good team playing our way, because we tried something new, we showed respect for City and a respect for the game I’ve not seen before. We’re not above planning. If we do plan, we’re capable of anything.
Being a great manager is about doing the best with what you have. There’s no glory in fighting the good battle and losing. Arsene has a very good bunch of players, he showed that they can be a match for anyone if we dictate the terms of play. That’s great management. That’s exciting. That should be the benchmark for future planning and execution.
Now show us some more of that Arsene. What a brilliant day!