Saturday, December 14, 2013

Arsenal Fail Toughest Test, Falling 6-3 at Manchester City

Having lost their previous toughest test - a loss to Man U at Old Trafford, today's match away to Man City, who score buckets of goals and never lose at home, was even more important, especially coming at the end of a very difficult week, when Arsenal were tied at home by an admittedly strong Everton side and lost in the Champions League to Napoli 0-2 (but still managed to back into the next round of the Champion's League). It was not exactly a make-or-break week for Arsenal's title ambitions, but it wasn't far off of that.

Arsenal put in a strong effort from start to finish (albeit with tiring legs), but they were found wanting in comparison to a Man City side that still has stronger players at nearly every position, save Ozil and Szczesny. However profligate Man City's defense may be  - they seem not to worry much about giving up the occasional goal, at least at home, knowing that however many they let in, they will score twice that number. Every time Arsenal scored to bring the game back to a one goal difference, Man City had a quick response that reestablished a two-goal lead. The sad fact of the matter is that Man City are on paper, and at least on their home pitch, a superior squad. That became particularly evident when Niklas Bendtner came on in the 76th minute to replace the hard-working but ineffective Olivier Giroud.

The Gunners did suffer from a few bad offside calls on dangerous moves; the referees' assistants need more instruction about giving the benefit of the doubt to the attacking side to avoid taking away goal-scoring opportunities as a result of bad line calls. Who knows whether Arsenal would have taken advantage of those changes; Bendtner did in fact have a goal disallowed by a dubious offside call. Even if his goal had stood and Arsenal had capitalized on other opportunities cancelled out by poor offside decisions, Man City would likely have cancelled it out by scoring more goals of their own. They seemed almost to be able to choose their number of goals.

Arsenal can take some consolation from the match. No one has beat Man City at the Etihad this season, and they've given up all of seven goals on their home pitch, three of which Arsenal converted today. Most importantly, Arsenal remain in first place on the table, with Man City looking up from second place, two points behind. But the disparity in goal differentials is a bit frightening. Arsenal have scored a healthy 16 goals more than they've conceded, but Man City have an amazing differential of plus 29, after only 16 games.

Today's outcome hardly means that Man City should be favored over Arsenal to win the title. Despite the obvious superiority of their squad, City's away form has been crap. That is mainly a problem of mental attitude, which often sounds easier to fix than it actually is.

The bottom line is that no clear favorite has yet appeared for the Premier League title. And Arsenal are still very much in the mix. Today's result, however, should convince Arsene Wenger (if he wasn't already convinced) to seek big name January signings to buttress his strike force.

Finally, a brief note about Theo Walcott who reentered the starting line-up for the Gunners today. He scored both of Arsenal's goals, the second of which was particularly pretty. So, it might seem churlish  to say a word against him. But why oh why does he insist on taking free kicks, when Mesut Ozil is on the pitch? I've belabored this point before: Theo is simply too inconsistent (though sometimes consistently bad) with his free kicks. At most there are a handful of better passers of the ball than Ozil in world football; Theo isn't even one of the handful of best passers of the ball on Arsenal Football Club.

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