What a game that was. It was one of two parts. One lasted 12 minutes and basically meant the game was almost certainly lost, and the other lasted 80+ minutes and showed us that the Gunners have a lot of passion, pride and quality within them. We had the better players but were tactically undone by the Self-Adoring One, and that really hurt.
Just like against MC, we were undone within the first 15 minutes of the game….. through tactics. Back in Manchester we hung on a bit longer but we all knew it should have been two or three nil to the home site. Against the Northern Oilers, we tried to press them high and left acres of free grass behind us and we got punished. Against the Self-Celebrating One’s first eleven, we had no answer to the early and aggressive pressing of our mobile, but rusty looking, ‘three at the back’, with devastating consequences.
Koz made an uncharacteristic mistake that needed a lot of quality attacking moves (to be fair) to see us go 1-0 behind; and then Mustafi – normally our rock and lucky charm – was not able to get his feed sorted out in time to simply pass the ball to our deepest midfielder, Xhaka. Instead, he was robbed off the ball and they could pounce again. 0-2 and we all felt sick in the stomach. For the first goal, Koz also had an opportunity to play the ball to Lacazette early on, but he did not see his fellow Frenchman or simply made the wrong decision; who knows? Fact is, they were well prepped and aggressive from the start when our defenders were hoping to ease themselves into the game. And boy we paid for it.
The risk of playing three at the back is that they can get targeted through aggressive pressing; and we have proven to be vulnerable to this time and again this season. Our full backs – in my view our weakest area on both sides – are often too far away or isolated to help out; and CBs like time and space to pass the ball around. It was clear that the Self-Loving One has prepared well for this game and our weaknesses were exploited to the max. The first goal is something that ‘can happen’, but the second one was utterly avoidable and therefore extra painful and very, very costly.
After going down two nil, both players and supporters, could have given up but we did the opposite. We showed real pride and belief, hunger and an ‘over our dead body will we lose this game’ attitude. This made me really proud of our boys and it is something I have not seen for a long time when going behind against the despicable Mancs. I reckon our fine fellow Gooner on BK, Retsub, summed it up brilliantly with:
“…. I thought our boys were fantastic. The ups and downs of our team, must have taken its toll over the years, because I have to admit I haven’t found this season as exciting as previous seasons. But on Saturday they played so well, I found myself yelling at the TV, the ref, the dog and any other poor sod who walked in the room. I hate losing, even as much as I hate Manchester United, but if we have to lose, let’s do it in style as we did. Brilliant game, I nearly enjoyed every of it. How we didn’t score 10 I don’t know.”
It is true that De Gea was outstanding, but we were also lacking coolness in front of goal. I can forgive our boys the latter. In order to put the pressure on as we did against our Arch non-North-London rivals, we needed to have extreme levels of testosterone pumping through our red and white veins, and this does not easily allow for a cool head. I guess the best opportunity we had to turn the game round was when our most experienced attacker on the field and so often the embodiment of COOL, Alexis, pounced on a rebound from another on goal effort by the very impressive Lacazette; he needed a cool head to put that one past De Gea but the Spaniard must also have hypnotized him, as the Chilean’s effort was saveable and so it was kept out.
Not much later, they restored the gap to two and we all knew it was not to be. The boys, though, did never give up and fought on and on till the 96th minute. That is all I can ask for, all we can ask for!
Still, I also ask for an urgent review of our 3-4-3 system’s defensive deficiencies and better tactical preparations from our loyal manager. The two games against our Manchester-based rivals have clearly shown that we have a very good first team but can still be undone tactically/positionally.