Arsène Wenger said before the City game on Sunday that Arsenal would come to the Etihad to attack. He wanted his team to score goals and not to defend, but in the first half he made some tactical errors that made this approach impossible.
Firstly, it was wrong to put Francis Coquelin in central defence. Coquelin was booed by some fans midweek at home in the Europa League – he couldn’t have gone into this game with any degree of confidence. So it was a strange decision to start him in an unfamiliar position against the most dangerous attacking side in the league.
To be fair to Arsène, he tried something different, but it was a mistake. Arsenal never really threatened City in the first period and he was forced to change his mind at half-time – which worked almost immediately.
Another mistake was not starting with Alexandre Lacazette. He’s a natural goalscorer, and Arsenal needed a physical presence in the penalty area. Sanchez’s workrate, vision and technique are good, but something was missing.
The Frenchman wasn’t long in scoring a goal and helping his team get back into the game. But City generally tire in the second half of games, and Arsenal’s resurgence may have been down to that as much as anything else.
Moreover, City knew they could simply sit back in the second half and wait for the opportunity to break or capitalise on an Arsenal lapse. Which is exactly what they did – albeit helped somewhat by the referee. But the Manchester side deserved to win the game – Arsenal only showed up for one half.
Arsène was honest after the game, acknowledging his opponents as the superior side. But in the first half, he was too shy. He was afraid of Manchester City and his team were passive as a result. I think more substitutions should have been made in the midfield area: Ozil was on the pitch, but he was just a ghost.
Wenger needed to cut City off at the source, namely Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva.
This duo require tight marking – you must do everything you can to take them out of the game. Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling can run likely crazy horses, but if they don’t have the ball, nothing can happen.
Arsène adapted his team. He knew City were dangerous and tried to do something different – he just got it wrong. With such a defensive approach, at least initially, he also sent a message to his players that the opposition were something to worry about – his decision said to his own team, ‘these guys are better than us.’
At the moment, every time Arsenal have the ball, they are a danger to themselves, because as soon as they lose it, they look disorganised. There is no balance in this team – they lack concentration. The fault for this lies not just with the manager, but also with the players. They’ve been making simple mistakes and consequently allowing the opposition an easy ride.
It has been a long time since I saw Arsenal play well from the first minute to the last – this is surely down to a crisis of confidence among the squad. Arsenal’s problems are mostly mental, not technical.
Against Everton, I saw a glimpse of the old Arsenal. They lined up that day in Goodison Park in a 4-2-3-1 – this is the system that suits them best. When Sanchez, Lacazette and Ozil played together, the movement and skill was a real pleasure to watch – which makes it even more of a mystery why Lacazette didn’t start on Sunday. If you want to compete against the best team in Europe, you have to play your best players.
Motivation is a major problem for several of Arsenal’s players – it’s clear that they aren’t always giving 100% out there.
When the chips are down, several of them keep going missing. Sometimes talent wins you games, but sometimes spirit is also vital.
That said, it’s too early in the season to consider Arsène’s future at the club. There has been so much speculation about his job, and he’s under such pressure – but if you look at the table, Arsenal are not too far behind their rivals, except City, who are on another level to everyone. Tottenham, United and Chelsea are all within arm’s reach, so it’s not all bad.
The next game, however, is vitally important. Not just for the table, but also for the team spirit, and for the message it sends to your own players and fans. This game may be exactly what Arsenal need in order to lift supporters – if they can win, it may get the crowd back behind the team.
Tottenham are better than Arsenal, and have been for quite a while, so it will be a tough game. Arsenal will need to show character. Spurs will go at Arsenal; they’ll try to humiliate the Gunners at home.
The Arsenal fans need a message from their players in response.