Arsenal fell to defeat at The Etihad, as a solitary goal from Raheem Sterling saw our sorry away day blues against the big boys continue.
We have to go way back to 2015 for an away day win against United, City, Chelsea or Liverpool – ironically it was at The Etihad thanks to an inspired performance by Santi Cazorla – but we can at least count ourselves unlucky not to be coming away with a point this time around.
City were without Kevin de Bruyne but still could call upon the likes of Aguero, Mahrez, Sterling and Bernardo Silva in attack. Mikel Arteta went with three in midfield with Saka, Xhaka and Ceballos and a front three of Aubameyang, Pepe and Willian. That made it look as though we would be playing our goal-getting number14 through the middle, but that wasn’t the case.
We played with no real recognised striker, but that wasn’t the reason we lost the game.
The first twenty or so minutes were a case of City controlling the game and our team attempting to press. It was half decent at first, but soon enough City were beginning to push us back and they made the breakthrough when Phil Foden dropped a shoulder, went past Bellerin and his shot was pushed away by Leno. The loose ball was put away by Sterling and the home side were a goal up. They also saw Leno save well with his feet soon after scoring, so we could have been out of the game in the first half.
We did threaten though, and Ederson kept his team ahead when he saved first from Saka after a good 1-2 with Auba, then he saved minutes later from Auba. The Brazilian keeper had saved his side.
Then, just before half time, we should have had a penalty. A corner was swung in and Gabriel went for it. As he put his head first, Kyle Walker raised his foot to the same height as the young defender. No penalty was given and Arteta was apparently assured that VAR had checked it.
If they had done, we would have had a penalty.
The second half began and it was scrappy, although Pepe’s header was a decent chance but comfortably saved. We were keeping City from showing any teeth but the impetus was on us to create – and we didn’t really do so. Lacazette and Eddie came on at different times in the half, but City were dealing with us well, new signing Diaz at the back had a decent game.
Thomas Partey came on late in the second half but was limited in terms of what he could hope to achieve. We just couldn’t stretch City enough, who were seeing out the game.
The final whistle blew and we had lost our seventh consecutive match against the Citizens.
There were a few rays of optimism from the game though. What were the main talking points?
VAR not consistent
This system was introduced to improve the rate of errors coming from the match official but it seems we are still talking about a mistake every week. If you have access to slow motion replays from a choice of angles of an incident, 95% of them will – or should – be called correctly. The people watching the replays need to be scrutinised.
The youngster has had quite the year and in this game, he showed why. Even though this was a tough match, every move we made went through the England international. Whether out wide or cutting in, he was always our conduit for all of our decent moves.
False 9 doesn’t work
Auba should have played through the middle, or we should have played the in-form Lacazette. Playing without one leaves you bereft of a central presence, which is what hampered us. Arteta made changes but we couldn’t get a foothold.
Fixture headache incoming
We now play seven games in quick succession. Every member of our squad will need to step up if we want to do well. This is a crucial part of the season. This is where we will see if we have made huge steps – or baby steps.
Next match for us is on Thursday versus Rapid Vienna in the Europa League, followed by a Premier League match next weekend against Leicester City.
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