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The City reaction: defensive analysis, Lawro and his pie and an Arsenal infiltrator

By Phil Gregory

A 1-0 defeat was certainly difficult to take from a valiant performance away at City. We went there with a multitude of defensive injuries but in fairness, a defensive unit that appeared fairly solid until changes were forced upon us. Indeed it is no coincidence that an injury to Djourou early in the second half led to us conceding the first goal. That forced Arsène to shuffle the back four, with Koscielny moving to right back, Vermaelen replacing him in the centre and youngster Miquel coming on for the injured Djourou and playing at left back. The footballing gods are indeed fickle, and that now makes it all four fullbacks out injured, plus one of the centrebacks somewhat capable of playing there.

I was lucky enough to be taking up my seat in the ground for this game, albeit in the City end so I had to be on my best behaviour. Sadly I couldn’t join in the away fans barracking Nasri with a colourful chant or two: getting myself ejected from the ground wouldn’t look very good if they traced the tickets back to City bigwig Brian Marwood! That said, the latter did secure us cracking seats, right on the halfway line and next to the media, which can’t be too shabby. Mark Lawrenson was certainly enjoying his half time pie and chips, I can confirm. I also saw the blonde haired lad from Arsenal TV, though I’m not sure of his name. He was looking a bit disconsolate at half time – to be fair, it was bloody freezing in Manchester – but I decided against saying hello as I didn’t want an overzealous steward to hear me saying I’m an Arsenal fan and giving me the boot.

Unfortunately I was sat two seats away from an absolute prat. His barracking of the referee was cringeworthy, with every minor foul “A fu*king booking that ref!” to quote. Every Arsenal player who dared go near a City player in possession was also in line for some lovely racial abuse, with Mertesacker not merely a centreback, but a “f’ing kraut twat” and Vermaelen’s solid defensive work went unrecognised for the heinous crime of, well, being Belgian, according to this idiot.

With that in mind, I can’t say enough how great our away fans are, and they must be some of the best in the league. The home atmosphere does come in for some admittedly justified stick, but really the away crowd are top drawer. If I wasn’t a daft sod who forgot to go online and grab my ticket for Villa away I’d be in there with them in a few days time. Credit to the away fans then, singing their hearts out all the way through the game, from start to finish.

The game itself was very cagey. At half time I said confidently there would only be one goal in it, as both teams were defending outstandingly well. City were very strong in midfield, and covered their fullbacks well whilst our biggest strength was the solidity of the defensive unit and the intelligent use of possession. I often refer to this as “recycling the ball” whereby instead of simply hoofing it clear, we play short passes and work it out, even from within our own box. That is anathema to the British “school” of football, and indeed if you don’t have the technical quality to do it, then it is an excessively risky technique. Fortunately for Arsenal we have technical quality in spades, and it really helps us take the pressure off the back four, and create some tidy chances too.

Dowd concerned me going into this game, and the early yellow for Song did nothing to dissuade those fears. From the stands however, there’s no replays of contentious issues so I couldn’t sensibly moan about it until reviewing the highlights this morning on Arsenal.com. It was a trifle late but doing by the rulebook of “careless = foul, reckless = yellow and dangerous = red”, it can only be a free kick in my view. I’ll wait for the ref review, who are vastly more experienced than me, but for me a final warning and a stern talking to for better timing is all that is required.

Szcznesy made some absolutely outstanding stops, not least the point blank save from Balotelli. Perhaps he could’ve held the one he pushed away only for Silva to finish, but I would say largely if you were going to assign blame for that goal you’d look at the defence. Even after Djourou’s injury, you had a back four made up of four centrebacks, so how Silva got free in the box to finish, and indeed how Song was unsupported when he went wide against Balotelli confuses me to be honest.

Watching it again, City get a good break and Balotelli is free out wide. Koscielny is fairly narrow when the ball is played wide to Balotelli, and the Frenchman just fails to make the interception to cut out the pass.  Song pursues Balotelli to cover for the lack of a right back, and Koscielny goes to cover in the centre, looking to cut the option of going to a City player lurking on the edge of the box. For my money, both Koscielny and Song should’ve gone for Balotelli, one pressing the City man and the other covering. Even with Koscielny covering Song, we’d have had four versus two in the box on City, so Koscielny could’ve cut out the ball to the City player on the edge of the box, AND someone else could’ve covered Song versus Balotelli, and we’d still have had an extra man on City’s two attackers in our goalmouth. Instead we had two on Aguero, which isn’t the worst of ideas to be fair, and nobody on Silva, with Miquel not tight enough. Watching carefully on the Arsenal.com highlights Ignasi Miquel is surely the man who should’ve marked Silva but instead stands a few yards off him, achieving relatively little. Too late, he darts back to mark Silva as he realises the danger with the ball flying toward the City man. A poor mistake from the youngster, and one that certainly wouldn’t have happened had Vermaelen been at leftback, so poor defending and a bit of bad luck with the injury forcing a defensive reshuffle can be equally blamed. Frankly, when you’re playing what is effectively a fourth choice left back (Santos, Gibbs, Vermaelen, Miquel), who is a kid who prefers to play at centreback, mistakes are going to happen, unfortunately. I wouldn’t be too harsh on Miquel myself, he put in a decent game overall all things considered, but in top level football you cannot switch off for a second.

From going one goal down, we did have some good chances. Van Persie’s goal was ruled offside and Arsenal’s Stewart Robson agreed with the decision, though he did so without the magical line being drawn from the second last defender as was done on Match of the Day. Had he seen that I think he’d have made a different decision, for me it was marginally onside. Theo also had a good chance, as did Vermaelen late on with a couple of crackers. Gervinho seems to coming in for some criticism, but from where I was he seemed to be beating men and creating chances. Certainly his game needs more goals, but with dribs and drabs of service from a tightly fought midfield, I though he did well and will kick on as he settles in. Certainly I can see him providing ten goals and ten assists next season, provided he remains fit.

The Richards handball wasn’t highlighted on Arsenal’s highlights, nor was Song’s yellow, which seems daft to me if you want to give your fans a fair overview of the circumstances. Ridiculous to think that an incident that Wenger felt strongly enough to raise in the press conference wasn’t even deemed worthy of making it into the highlights package, perhaps Arsenal need to have a bit of a think there. I’m unsure about the handball myself. Yes it hit his hand, but his arm wasn’t a million miles away from his body so I’m not convinced it was intentional. I look forward to the thoughts of the ref review team.

Some pinpointed Theo Walcott’s impact as lacking, and I would agree that the youngster wasn’t as involved in the game as he normally is. The eagle eyed Zonal Marking however pointed out today that Van Persie was playing up against Touré, so slightly to the left of centre (unsurprisingly, as the former Gunner was looking a little out of shape). That meant our Dutchman linked up more frequently with the left sided player, Gervinho, and also meant that City’s right back (Zabaleta) had the imperious Vincent Kompany free to cover him. City’s fullbacks played fairly defensively on the whole, likely wary of Arsenal’s pace on the break, and this fact combined with Kompany covering Zabaleta probably explains Walcott’s lack of impact on the game. With Van Persie up against Touré for most of the game you’d have expected that to reap dividends for us and indeed it would have, if it were not for the linesman’s flag which ruled Van Persie’s tidy finish offside incorrectly, though it was a tight call.

Overall, not a bad performance from the Arsenal, and much can be taken from a solid display with an injury-hit backline. As Wenger said however, there are no points for performances and With Spurs picking up the three points again we need to be matching them. Realistically, we should take fifteen points from our next five games to put real pressure on Chelsea and Spurs. Third place, let alone fourth, is not unreasonable, so let’s push on, get some serious points on the board and hopefully have a few more fit defenders for the visit of United to the Emirates.

Sixteen hundred words there. If that had been written on the topic of my essay due in on January 9th, I’d be over a third of the way there. Better get cracking, really….

13 comments to The City reaction: defensive analysis, Lawro and his pie and an Arsenal infiltrator

  • Prasanna Veeraraghavan

    I really don’t know how the linesmen and the referee missed the handball. Or I cannot decide if it really was missed or it was meant to be missed after all.

    From the replays Robin Van Persie was a bit offside. Like many whom I read and talked, I won’t call this a bad performance too and like many think we have come a long way too. But many forums seem to take immense pleasure in highlighting something else.

  • Prasanna Veeraraghavan

    As a matter of fact from what I saw live the Man City goal looked offside to me. Sky Sports later showed some replay which looked it was pretty close but I cannot say its conclusive. A touch and go decision may be.

  • menace

    Once again beaten by the PGMOL mafia. Song carded for the fifth match so that gives PGMOL another five matches to ensure he is not available for the United game. There are instances of bias that are so annoying but so hard to prove that it is bias and not just error. Dowd did not have a bad game but was poor in many areas with a negative impact on Arsenal.

  • Zinc

    Watching the replay on MOTD you can see Van Persie was onside for his goal, as he was when he was flagged for the header – I’m pretty sure the linesman had decided he was offside before the ball was even played – at the other end we saw Richards around a metre offside and the linesman didn’t blink. The handball could have fairly been given but it wasn’t stonewall – it definitely hit him and he didn’t appear to be moving his arm out of the way, however his arm was quite close to his body. The ref certainly wasn’t favouring us over anything.

    We were good, but not good enough, we clearly need more attacking options, let’s pray to the footballing gods that Wenger splashes a little cash in January.

  • M.V

    The goal seemed kinda soft to concede…I looooove Wenger, but why oh why did he play Santos against the greeks…that could come back to haunt us all 🙂 However that’s just hindsight anyways. I think miquel made some nice interceptions (a bit risky maybe?) inside the box, and looked comfy on the ball…but he’s just 19…It was a game I really felt was there for the Taking! City = overrated. Or maybe Arsenal = Brilliant

  • T Ross

    http://imageshack.us/photo/my-images/834/notoffside.png/

    Here is an image of the offside decision. Note that the freezeframe is just after the ball has been played AND that the the Man City players left leg is a blur. For me, it’s basically dot on ‘onside’. Certainly given that I believe the attacker is meant to be given the benefit of the doubt when it’s neck and neck, it should have been given onside.

    And then we would have drawn… and then there was the handball decision. The other two patently wrong offside decisions were worse – had Ramsey scored the header or … Man City scored from that massively offside chance, there would be even more to be angry about.

    But at the end of the day, we can once again curse a single fact: we lost once again, not because of ourselves, but because of the officials.

    Which is the case in almost every game this season, bar one, which is probably the worst game I’ve ever watched, the 8-2 loss.

    I mean… Liverpool had two offside goals
    Tottenham had the handball goal and van de vaart should have been off
    Blackburn had the offside goal and we should have had a penalty

    there were a couple of travesties too in the draws we’ve had.

    and it goes on and on. It seems almost amazing to me that every single game we lose is caused at least as much by the officials as by us! If only the mainstream media would see it.

  • rusty

    I thought Miquel looked fairly good — I was more concerned by the positioning of our right-back (at times both Djourou and Kos), who didn’t track back quickly enough on a number of occasions and forced Song wide to cover, where he can’t dominate the space they way he does in the middle.

    Theo, I thought, drifted inside too much, allowing City to play a narrower defense, and I don’t recall him running into space at all. It seemed like he was too eager to audition for center-forward, when we needed him to play more like a winger (especially without the fullbacks overlapping).

    Vermaelen’s long shots toward the end were an easy highlight, though, and that short corner (with Mertesacker on a decoy run into the box and causing utter chaos) was delightful.

    Of greater concern was the way City were able to effectively press in our end — it seemed like the defense couldn’t link with the midfielders, forcing Szczesney to hoof it long more often than normal, which led to a couple counters. After seeing Dortmund close down effectively as well, it’s a tactic the team needs to solve moving forward.

  • M.H

    I’m with T.Ross – something odd is going on with the refs decisions. Each time they seem to be game-changing. How did the ref reviewers call the incidents he lists. And as for Dowd and his cronies yesterday, it was like playing a game with your mother-in-law in charge. You know you are going to loose out at every turn.

  • WalterBroeckx

    T.Ross, yesterday on MOTD they showed very clear that RVP was onside.

  • Gooner Gal

    @ Phil, so you say the way to cheer Mr miserable up is to stick a pie and chips under his nose? Interesting. The BBC should stop paying him so much and just take note. I used to like Man City fans, but now they are turning into a bunch of northern chavs.

    Yesterday, was a slow burner and I found myself getting angrier and angrier with what happened to us in the game. I have now returned to a serene state of mind and just think that the players deserve a lot of credit for their performance. Aston Villa is a big game in two days and I hope that we can channel our disappointment into some thing good.

  • T Ross

    Good to know Walter. Didn’t see MOTD, and knowing them they are blinder than bats.

  • WalterBroeckx

    T. Ross,
    I now included the picture (of MOTD2) in the ref review

  • Ed

    it was a very good performance from arsenal.

    i felt man city were dangerous, but neither team really dominated and considering man city are top and we were playing away, that says great things about our players.

    I thought the handball would have been harsh if it happened to us… his arm was by his body, so some of them are given, some are not… the problem is that if it was against us… it probably would have been given!

    i also read an article by Phil mcnulty on the bbc website this morning about Phil Jones. He was exaggerating how good he was, saying he was the next paul mcgrath, bryan robson, baresi etc… i was thinking of the talents – good pace, good runs from deep, good technical ability, good in defence – he sounds like the next koscielny!