Let me preface this by saying I normally get to see Arsenal in the flesh about 5 or so times per year. I went today to witness the start of a new era and because City are the current EPL benchmark. I hate to say this, but the first 45mins were the most frustrating since the second half of the Bayern away game 2 seasons ago. That game comes to mind as we were so incredibly outclassed in the second half we at times struggled to get the ball out of the 18 yard box. Today was no different in the first half.
Starting Guendouzi was a brave and bold opening marker by Emery. Though, I think Pep was probably rubbing his hands in glee to let his men rip into the 19 year old’s Premiership debut. At kickoff the Arsenal formation was clearly 4 2 3 1; with Guendouzi and Xhaka as the 2; Bellerin, Mustafi, Sokratis & AMN as the 4 with Cech behind; Ozil, Ramsey & Mhki the 3; and Auba up front. But Ramsey seemed to make it 4 2 2 2 often he was so far forward!
Very quicky it was obvious the team had been instructed to not kick long, to use Cech to distribute from the back, play out ALWAYS from the back. Sounds easy. But the City press is formidable and some of our players can be liable to lapses and mistakes, Xhaka and Mustafi I’m talking about you two! So, we REALLY struggled to get the ball out of our own 3rd at times, and to my eyes the players were very uncomfortable - so much so at one stage Cech almost ‘passed’ the ball into his own goal... the atmosphere on the Upper East was shock and disbelief.
The opening goal was soft, but the crowd had already resigned to City’s supremacy if I’m honest. I will say for the record, that the Sterling goal celebration was classless - poor old John Wooden would never allow such a talented young man to behave like that. I digress, but I think certain players fan the flames of abuse themselves. City were in total control and I commented that getting to half time at 1 down would be a result. We did, but in truth City were playing in second gear.
We lost AMN to injury in the first half, but imho he was truly outclassed on the left wing. Worth mentioning that if memory serves correct, Mahrez intentionally stopped a City attack to let Ainsley be subbed off when obviously injured. Bravo Sir! Lichtsteiner replaced, and despite obviously playing the wrong side and thrown in deep end, the crowd appreciated the old fox’s darker arts! He does like to let his man know he’s there with the odd ‘friendly’ tap and niggle. Great to have him teaching Hector and the others these sides of defending.
The second half was a very different affair, despite another goal to nothing 45. Firstly, who Emery would hook first was fascinating, and Ramsey got taken off for Lacazette - who I have to say was a game changer. After Cech, I would say Laca was our best player and he had one great chance late on which he should have done better with. Ramsey wasn’t particularly bad, but played so far forward it was odd.
I must say I thought Guendouzi did make some howlers, but his attitude and industry was great. The next plyer to be hooked, if I recall correctly was Xhaka - and that was a well appreciated decision by those sitting in my vicinity! I am totally biased against Xhaka, so whenever I talk about him please take with a pinch of salt .... But, we cannot play out from the back if he’s going to make silly mistakes like he did today. I did think it was no wonder we had a great preseason given he wasn’t involved more than once. Torreira came on and oozed control and composure. When I buy my son a shirt this season it will have 11 on the back. I think he will quickly become our midfield lynchpin.
At 2 - 0 down, we did have some good chances with Laca a definite threat. But the atmosphere was very very flat and the City away supporting fans dominating the chants. Thankfully their ‘Arsene Wenger left because you’re sht’ was properly put to bed with a full bodied ‘He won more than you, Arsene Wenger - won more than you’! But, the new normal is City are a class above. Today was extremely frustrating, but unlike the back to back 3 - 0 defeats last season, this loss comes with some early signs of hope. COYG, to the Bridge we go!!