Poor marking at a corner in the last ten minutes of the game allowed City to equalise and prevent the Arsenal from grabbing their first league win since the opening day of the season after the home team appeared to have come from behind to defeat the League Champions.
Circumstances prevented me from attending today’s Ashburton Grove lunchtime kick off so I found a pub in my hitherto unnamed London satellite town where the audience gathered around the screens were split 50-50 supporting Arsenal and non football fans having lunch, hence “Man at the pub”.
Noteworthy points on team selection being Arsenal’s fifth signing, Danny Welbeck, starting in the middle up top, the prospect of Sanogo being there may have sent the goonersphere into a post interlull induced tailspin, and Monreal keeping his place while consigning Gibbs to the bench.
For the visitors the omission of Yaya “Birthday boy” Toure weakened the City midfield with the down grade Fernandinho taking his place, otherwise both teams were at full strength bar a few (Theo/Giroud for arsenal; Toure/Jovetic for City).
Pellegrini – whose appearance and style far from being that of “The Engineer” comes across as being more like a supply teacher – must have felt he had sufficient resources to avenge City’s last league outing, a defeat at the paws of the Orcs of Staffordshire.
Refreshingly Arsenal started the game with little of the usual hesitancy that had become a feature of some of their early kickoffs with the extremely robust front three of Alexis, Welbeck and Rambo leading the high energy pressing against the visitors, suggesting that the Arsenal were not overawed by City.
This urgency led to Welbeck running onto a loose pass from the the City defenders and chipping over the dandruff free Hart, the watching Gooners in the bar expecting the net to ripple. Sadly a Dulux coat of paint was enough to send what would a been a deserved opening goal for Arsenal and Welbeck back off the post into the grateful clutches of a grateful keeper.
Arsenal’s early dominance rattled the visitors and there then emerged a pattern of rotational fouling which broke up our attacking play, Fernandinho and Milner guilty of a couple of potentially yellow card tackles on Jack and Debuchy respectively.
Jack’s upswing in form seemed to continue as he exerted a degree of control on midfield and, to my eyes, was therefore targetted for fouls, however he hadn’t completely shed his habit of hanging onto the ball a little too long before releasing.
Emboldened by City’s lack of control in midfield Arsenal began to commit more men forward with Monreal being a little too eager to stay upfield, and this would lead to the sucker punch. Navas on the City right used all his pace to keep a ball seemingly destined to go into touch in play. The out of position Monreal was unable to defend his rampaging run to the Clock end penalty box where an onrushing Aguero expertly applied the finish.
Undoubtedly a blow but thankfully not one that seemed to knock the Arsenal out of their stride too much and they soon resumed their aggressive attacking approach.
This continued from the start of the second half, which saw Fatty Lampard withdrawn, possibly due to him picking up a yellow as well as looking off the pace, proving that Arsenal’s forward line is one of the better aspects of the squad.
Özil was feeling his way back into match fitness with some, although probably not enough, decisive interventions in our forward play and some smooth, slick passing.
At last Fernandinho joined Fatty and Zabaleta in the book after one lunge too many, even by referee Clattenberg’s somewhat lax standards, although shortly afterwards he just had to “even” things up by booking Flamini.
Eventually a particularly pacey combination of passes in front of the City penalty area, started by Özil winning the ball in the Arsenal half, allowed Jack to run onto Rambo’s pass then chip Hart delightfully for the equaliser.
An exquisite goal that heartened the team and the supporters, who may have started to fear a home league loss for the first time since last season’s opening day debacle made. The celebrations were made funnier by Aguero being booked for dissent in the aftermath of our equaliser and then subbed shortly after.
Continued Arsenal pressure led to the highlight of the game, Jack flicked on a cross to Alexis who lined up a right foot volley that arrowed into the top corner of Hart’s goal with the accuracy of a laser guided exocet – what a world class finish!
As our Chilean wheeled round in celebration I could see him bursting to take his top off, he unpeeled the Puma skinny fit top as I realised ruefully he was going to get a yellow, but to be fair the adrenalin of scoring such a goal would do that to many a player.
Arsenal’s superior attacking play had been rewarded and the game settled into possession football by the home team till the turning point of the game.
An aimless cross field ball in the last ten minutes of the game was chased by Debuchy who got his studs stuck in the turf and ended up turning his ankle – the “oofs” and groans heard around the bar when the slow mo showed the awkward angle the right back’s ankle landed confirmed the severity of the injury.
Now we could be down to five senior defenders covering four spots, only Bellerin looks ready for the first team at a push, so let’s all hope he is not out long term.
Chambers came on and soon after conceded a corner which was to provide the denouement – the inswinging corner saw Chesney flap a little and fail to claim with Demechelis rising to prod the ball goal ward.
Chesney got a hand to the ball but was unable to keep it out, in fact he seemed to divert the ball away from Flamini who was at the back post all set to clear, Mathieu slapping his forehead in frustration knowing that he could have prevented the goal.
The remaining minutes, plus six minutes of injury time, saw a helter skelter finish to the game during which it was Arsenal’s turn to be saved by the post when Dzeko’s effort was kept out by the woodwork.
An amusing moment in the closing minutes was Nasri poking in the net after the off side flag was raised and being given the bird by the Arsenal supporters. You could just see him itching to start his Adebayor-like celebration for the winner he thought he’d scored. Plenty of middle finger salutes from the Arsenal supporters in the pub.
Eventually time was blown and the feeling was predominantly of relief at not losing but slight disappointment that the lead could not be kept.
Negatives – the old failings of the inability to defend from set pieces and being vulnerable on counter attacks, especially on our left side, however today this could be more due to Özil’s lack of protection of the left back when he plays wide left than anything. The injury to Debuchy means we are now using an inexperienced teenager to cover centre back and right back spots which is a worry. Being young and inexperienced means we are going to see a few mistakes from Calum but we can only hope they won’t be regular or costly.
Positives – an encouraging debut for Welbeck which combined with our pace up front means opposition defences won’t be able to expect continued slow sideways passing in front of their penalty area to give them an easy game. We genuinely looked like we could go toe to toe with any other teams forward line and with the return of Walcott next month things look good up top.
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)