Koscielny crocked, Wilshere facing a ban and a nightmare Champions League draw on the horizon… Has Arsenal’s season just imploded?
The comedy club is open for business again. After this 6-3 trouncing by Manchester City, all those age-old fears and suspicions about this Arsenal team will reawaken once more; that Arsene Wenger’s side are unable to last the distance; that they can’t hack the pressure at the top of the Barclays Premier League; that they are not good enough to win the Barclays Premier League.
On Monday morning at work, Arsenal supporters can expect the gags, the punchlines, the sneers and the wisecracks to return.
This was not just a defeat; this was disintegration, fragmentation and abject humiliation.
By the end of this game, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertesacker were exchanging obscenities and gesturing frantically at one another, Jack Wilshere had given the finger to the Manchester City support and Arsenal had degenerated into total disarray.
If anything, Arsenal got away with it here. The three goal margin does not do justice to the ease and ferocity with which Manchester City tore through an Arsenal side that looked utterly exhausted and stretched to their physical limits after stuttering performances against Everton and Napoli already this week.
The statistics and highlights’ reel will skew the reality. They say that Arsenal had the edge on clear-cut chances, that Manchester City only edged the possession. They make it sound tight, as though it was decided upon fine margins. It was anything but.
In truth, it could have been a cricket score, as Manuel Pellegrini’s side relentlessly pounced on Arsenal errors, blurs of light blue flying into the Arsenal half on those blistering breakaways.
Maths is a sensitive subject in these parts after Pellegrini muddled up his sums in Munich but he may have been reaching for the calculator once again as the scoreline veered towards double figures by the end of this breathless encounter.
In the end, City made do with a tennis score – 6-3. It is not game, set and match for Pellegrini in the title race – not in December and certainly not when Arsenal remain three points clear at the top of the league.
But this felt momentous, as though City unequivocally proved that they are the most complete team in the division.
Speaking afterwards in his press conference, Wenger said some strange things, rejecting the suggestion that City are now the team to beat and arguing that performances by Everton and Southampton against his side were equally impressive to the masterclass delivered by Pellegrini’s team.
For the record, Everton drew 1-1 with Arsenal and Southampton lost 2-0.
Both showings were admirable, but neither came close to this City performance that rippled with attacking brilliance.
On one occasion, Vincent Kompany nutmegged Aaron Ramsey and released Alvaro Negredo with a searing outside-of-the-boot pass. On another, the City captain galloped past three Arsenal players on the left wing. In his cameo off the substitutes’ bench, James Milner – or ‘Milner of Munich’ as supporters around the press box had christened him – revealed a Pandora’s box of stepovers and shimmies.
This was total football and Wenger’s assessment was disingenuous to his opponents. City have now scored more league goals than any side in the elite division in the English, Spanish, French, Italian or German leagues.
Saturday’s demolition marked the first time in 76 years that City have scored six or more in three separate league games in a single league season. They have won all eight Premier League games.
Wenger’s barb was in-keeeping with a beleaguered press conference, in which he began by proclaiming that he would not use the midweek excursion to Naples and an early lunchtime kick-off to excuse his side’s listless showing, and then he proceeded to do exactly that.
He then lamented the the performance of Martin Atkinson, stating that ‘the referee had a bad game.’
Perhaps the parting shots intended to deflect the attention away from his team, which in this last seven days appears to have run out-of-steam before Christmas.
Maybe a frustrated Wenger simply realised that his side’s ambitions had been ruthlessly exposed and he took the chance to take aim at anyone and anything that lay in his way.
Either way, he will know that Saturday was a disaster. Champions do not concede six goals against their most potent rivals.
Nor do they concede goals from set pieces at crucial moments in the biggest games. Again against Manchester City, just as they did in the defeat at Manchester United, Arsenal switched off from a corner to concede the opening goal.
In these pivotal clashes, it is a long way back once you fall behind. In the fourteen matches so far this season between Arsenal, Manchester City, Manchester United, Chelsea, Liverpool, Tottenham and Everton, no side that has conceded the first goal has recovered to win the game.
By way of retort, it should be noted that few clubs, including the continent’s finest – would come away unscathed from Manchester City’s home ground with Manuel Pellegrini’s side in this kind of form.
But even so, nobody expected Arsenal to capitulate quite like this. From back to front, this was a leggy and wretched Arsenal showing.
The heart of Arsenal’s defence was ripped out by Laurent Koscielny’s injury just before half-time, briefed to the media as a ‘deep laceration to the knee’ and the gory pictures suggest he may be absent for the non-stop Christmas schedule. Thomas Vermaelen did little to stem the tide and he must forge a better understanding with Mertesacker.
Poor, dizzy Nacho Monreal, making only his second league start of the season, performed his finest Andre Santos impression at left-back. He was rusty at best, hapless at worst.
In front of him, Jack Wilshere, constantly pushed back by Pablo Zabaleta’s forceful tackles and marauding runs, had one of those tetchy, petulant afternoons, which will likely result in an FA hearing.
Mesut Ozil was anonymous, his most meaningful contribution a rare, stray pass near his own penalty area that teed up Fernandinho for the third goal that took Arsenal to the point of no return.
He was not the only one to self-destruct. Tired minds meant rash decisions, with Bacary Sagna, Wojciech Szczesny and Wilshere particularly culpable as the game wore on.
Up front, Olivier Giroud epitomises the Arsenal exhaustion. Drained, run down, worn out, the choice is yours. Wenger simply must recruit a striker in January.
Disorder and disarray: Olivier Giroud looks tired and Wenger must buy a new forward to help him in January
But this result is not decisive, not by any means. After all, Arsenal remain top of the Premier League. But all of a sudden, the outlook is so much bleaker.
Arsenal could have moved nine points clear of City with a win. Now, the gap is three – and City have a vastly superior goal difference.
Next up is Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea – who can leapfrog Arsenal with a victory at the Emirates. Wenger, of course, has never won a game against Mourinho in nine previous attempts.
Arsenal have already been dumped out of the Capital One Cup by Chelsea and now face a nightmare draw in the first knockout round of the Champions League on Monday – one of Real Madrid, Barcelona, Atletico Madrid, PSG or Bayern Munich lie in wait.
Not many would back Wenger’s side against any of those titans of the European game.
All the eggs may now lie in an assault on the Premier League title but as you came away from the Etihad Stadium on Saturday, there was the total conviction that the champions-in-waiting had been on show – and they weren’t Arsenal.
Source : Daily Mail