Arsenal and Manchester City put on a masterclass in defensive ineptitude in their clash at the Emirates on Sunday, playing out an entertaining 2-2 draw that, in truth, benefitted neither side.
Heading into the game, the smart money was on a lot of goals and so it proved as Arsenal’s defensive frailties were matched by Pep Guardiola’s City, perhaps the only other side in the Premier League which has a similarly laissez-faire attitude to defending.
After some truly rotten showings in recent months, it was nice to see a performance with a little more incision and intent from Arsenal, and yet, despite that, it still felt as though something was not quite right.
Whether it’s a crippling fear of making mistakes, general discontent among the players, or the protracted saga surrounding the manager’s future – the team is not clicking as it did even six months ago. They don’t even look like they are enjoying their goals as they should.
I had hoped the team might come out fired-up and fighting from the first whistle but, by the 10-minute mark, I feared we were in for a real thrashing as City ran amok. That is just not right.
To the Gunners’ credit, they did enough to peg the visitors back twice and they should be commended for that, for continuing to play and for forcing their way back into the match.
But the manner in which they ended up falling behind on both occasions is such a cause for concern. It was so easy for City simply to shift through the gears when they needed to, so easy for them to get numbers in the Arsenal box and find acres of space as and when required. Why was that?
Yet again, defensive solidity, concentration and organisation eluded Arsenal in the most woeful fashion. The only saving grace was that their fallibility was equalled by the visitors, allowing us a way back into the game that many sides might not have – take West Bromwich, for example.
After the Baggies defeat, and long before that in fact, it was clear that defensive lapses urgently needed addressing but we don’t seem to have addressed them in any meaningful way. If anything, we look as bad now as we did back then.
The team is as open and exposed now as we were in two crushing defeats to Bayern Munich, or in a fortunate draw at Bournemouth way back in January.
When I saw the team sheet, I felt the decision to include Danny Welbeck and Francis Coquelin was a wise one. It seemed they might provide a touch of pace and power in defence and in attack. Sadly though, it didn’t seem to be the case. There was no appreciable improvement in our defensive efforts, even if it was against a supremely talented City attack. The team is surviving on its wits and the seats of its pants and that has to come down to a lack of direction from the manager and his coaching staff.
I will admit that the draw was more than I expected from Arsenal, particularly given the mood around the club at the moment, but the result is still tinged with disappointment. City are a top club, there is no doubting that, but Arsene Wenger’s side really did need the win.
A failure to get that victory has left us seven points adrift of Manchester City in fourth place and hope of closing that gap is fading very fast indeed.
We have two or three games coming up in which, once upon a time, you would have fancied this side to pick up some points but, given how we are playing at the moment, I’m not sure what will happen.
With Andy Carroll bound to be a starter for West Ham on Wednesday, can we trust the team not to allow him free reign in the penalty area as the free-kicks, long balls and corners rain in? One thing is for sure, we are due a half-decent run or a few slices of luck and now would be a great time for either to kick in.
We won’t come up against a side as talented and as festooned with talent as City every week but you don’t have to boast a squad full of world beaters to fashion yourself a goal-scoring opportunity or two and you never feel as though a goal is far away against Arsenal this year.
So if you’re expecting a comfortable win against West Ham on Wednesday, strap yourself in, because, as today proved, there’s plenty more turbulence ahead.