My first Sunday 4pm kick off since arriving here in Sydney, so in other words my first Monday 1am kick off. Soon to be 3am for such fixtures, as the clocks here will go forward an hour, but back an hour in the UK. Having stayed up to watch the game, which finished at near on 3am here, I didn’t go to bed disappointed. The Arsenal gave a performance to be proud of. One point gained only tells half the story.
Going into the game there was a real sense of confidence and belief amongst our fans. Normally such an away fixture would cause anxiety, concern, comments about how we’ll get found out, that the team will once again fall short in a big game. This time was different, however. Last season Arsenal played Man City three times. All three encounters finished 1-0. In the league both fixtures went with a home win. In the Carling Cup Arsenal went down 1-0 at home to a late counter attacking goal. Perhaps it was the closeness of last seasons results, coupled with our improved squad and early season form that led to this new-found confidence going into such a big game. Who knows.
Either way, things started very well for Arsenal. We dictated large spells of the first half, and but for a very poor Gervinho touch and some wayward right foot Podolski finishing, we may well have gone in one goal up at half time. As it is we went in one goal down. Against the run of play Man City scored from a corner. Firstly, it was a corner we shouldn’t have given away; if Gibbs had been communicated with properly he could have let it go over his head and out for a goal kick. Secondly, once the delivery arrived Mannone went for a walk into no man’s land. Whilst this had little impact on his end result (i.e. I don’t think he’d have saved the header even if he was on his line, given the placement of the header), what it did do was confuse the defence. Both Podolski and Koscielny stood watching, anticipating Mannone would claim the ball rather than expecting him to miss it. And that leads me onto point number three – our new zonal marking system.
I’ll start by saying I’m not a fan of zonal marking. That’s not to say it can’t or doesn’t work, but for me I prefer man to man. A running jump will often beat a standing jump, and for this reason I always feel nervous when defending zones. In addition, it allows attackers to drift between zones, making it hard for defenders to read the play. That said, it has served us well so far and Steve Bould is a better defender and defensive coach than I. As the debate around zonal versus man marking picked up a head of steam on Twitter you could almost guarantee one thing – Arsenal would score from a corner, against Man City’s man marking defence. And we did.
City made a half time change of personnel and tactics, which for the first 15 minutes or so seemed to knock us out of our stride. The defence had to work hard and be strong to see us through this spell. They did just that, with Mertesacker putting in a man of the match performance. We were then able to slowly take control of the game again and it quickly became clear that the last 30 minutes would be an exercise of attack versus counter attacking defence. Up top we seemed to be struggling though; Gervinho wasn’t holding up play, and when he did his touch or shooting boots would let him down. Podolski and Cazorla were having one of their quieter games, and Ramsey, who had an excellent game, isn’t a right-winger so was limited in what he could do. Then Arsene changed things up. Giroud and Walcott (I’d have preferred The Ox) came on for Podolski and Diaby. This meant Gervinho and Walcott wide, supporting the central Giroud, with the excellent Ramsey going into his more natural position. Suddenly we had more purpose, created a few openings, and the goal eventually came.
A brilliant strike from Cazorla was just about saved by Hart, but from the resulting corner came the equaliser. Lescott’s poor headed clearance fell to Koscielny, who slammed it home emphatically. It was a goal he deserved personally (both for his performance and his patience in waiting for a start), and it was a goal we very much deserved as a team. We could, and maybe should, have had another when late on Gervinho blazed over. That he didn’t hit the target was poor, but that Giroud was standing unmarked just to his right, in a better shooting position, was also an oversight on the Ivorian’s part. That said, Aguero missed a sitter just before that, following a lapse in concentration / poor clearance from Koscielny, so perhaps a draw was a fair result in the end. After the game Arsene said:
I am pleased because [a point] was the minimum we deserved today. I am pleased also with the quality of our performance and our spirit. Also a bit frustrated because I feel there was room to do more. We had early chances and very late chances, especially Gervinho at the edge of the box where he missed the target. But overall I hope this will reinforce our belief and confidence and reassure us about our potential in this league.
And for me that’s the key thing about this point. The one point chalked up on the league table tells us of the result, but not what it represents. I can’t recall who tweeted the stat, so apologies for not giving credit, but I read that this was the first time since August 2003 (The Invincibles season) that we have gone a goal down in Manchester (to either City or United) and not gone on to lose the game. On that occasion a bizarre Lauren own goal gave City the lead, before goals from Wiltord and Ljungberg gave us the win. Since then a goal down in Manchester has always resulted in defeat. As such, you could forgive the team for dropping their heads, for giving up belief, but they didn’t. The squad has changed a lot over those years, significantly so in the last 12-18 months, and I’m liking what I see. Mertesacker, Arteta, Vermaelen when he’s present, they are all fighters. Jenkinson would run through brick walls for his boyhood club; he’s one of us. Ramsey ran his socks off. And Cazorla and Podolski have enough quality and experience to believe we can always get a result, that they can make a difference. The team spirit, the way they fight for each other, but more importantly appear to be fighting for the shirt and their manager, is fantastic to see. The bundle style celebration for our equaliser was proof of the togetherness in this squad. They never gave up, they always believed. For that reason alone this is a very good and positive point, worth much more than just the one point it scores us.
Coventry City will be our next opponents, at home in the Capital One Cup. Or should I say the League Cup; not a fan of this using the sponsors name nonsense. You’d imagine we’ll see quite a few changes to the starting line up, with senior squad players like Santos finally getting a game and youngsters like Yennaris getting another chance to show us what their capable of. It should be a good game to watch, but I’m not yet sure if it’s televised here in Sydney so I may not get to see any of it.
Here’s to another win on Wednesday, to continue our good early season; come on The Arsenal.
Ps – sorry for the lack of Sydney update again; I promise to do a full Sydney update shortly.