I always look forward to watching the big games – those against Liverpool, Manchester United, Chelsea, Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur – because these are the games we live for. But the fact is when we visit these teams we’ve struggled, badly.
We don’t need to go through the disasters we’ve faced recently (especially last season) but even this year it seemed like we hadn’t learnt our lesson – against Chelsea we we never really in it and got beaten 2-0. At Liverpool last month, it looked like we learnt some lessons but it was the same old story as we found ourselves 2-1 up with about 40 seconds to go – but then predictably blew it.
So onto today. Before the game, the line-up didn’t fill me with confidence. We had Monreal at left back, who I always feel can make a mistake, and the inexperienced Bellerin. Alongside Ramsey we had Francis Coquelin, who also lacks match experience. I was surprised that Rosicky was on the bench after his performance against Stoke last week, and I thought Theo may have started (to come off later, but I suppose he’s not match fit yet).
The Manchester City side (Yaya Toure apart) was a full strength, with the deadly Kun Aguero upfront for his first start in 6 weeks.
But once the game started, it was clear to see how Arsenal were setup.
We were disciplined, focused and executed the game plan perfectly. Every single player knew their role in the team, and we defended from the front. Olivier Giroud was hassling the Manchester City defence, and Alexis Sanchez and Santi Cazorla (the two more attacking midfielders) were chasing and tackling like mad men. Francis Coquelin was outstanding, marshalling the midfield and making many important tackles and interceptions.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey ran tirelessly for the team, but their performance levels were just a bit short. They gave it everything but their passing and timing was off – Aaron Ramsey had a great chance to score a second when put through by Giroud but he fluffed his lines and fired high and wide. The Ox was full of running but couldn’t pass to a team mate – but both couldn’t have tried any harder.
The makeshift back four (and that’s what it is) was really fantastic. And it makes you wonder how a defensive line with two second-choice full backs can perform so well and look extremely solid – perhaps it’s been Arsene’s naive tactics and not the players who have let us down against the big teams over the last few years.
And David Ospina, who wasn’t called upon much because of the solid defence, did well when needed. He had a couple of crossed he had to deal with and dealt with them well, and he put his case forward for getting a run in this Arsenal team.
Overall, a brilliant match to watch and a game where we could have won by three or four and it wouldn’t have flattered us. Manchester City, the reigning champions, looked tame but that was mainly because of our solid performance and excellent tactics.
Today we showed that we are capable of travelling to one of the biggest teams in the Premier League, customising our tactics and getting a well deserved point. At Liverpool, Arsene tried a different approach and it almost worked (although the performance itself was disjointed) but today we executed the perfect game plan.
The six million dollar question though is can Arsenal replicate this again against another top side, or is this result and performance a flash in the pan?