Okay, so here’s the context and the central beef. Arsenal have been criminally non-durable for years; which is why we all doubt them. Wenger’s beautiful but psychotic purism has left them vulnerable to the memory of boggy pitches, the assumption of intimidation, or real-world Bigger Blokes or teams playing with simply more passion. In an ideal scenario perhaps a Gooner title triumph might elevate the lot of us… but the bulk of us still suspect this is contingent on the absence of (say) Tony Pulis and Cheik Tiote from the Prem landscape. Because if the level of inspiration dips at all, that seductive, metronomic not to say metrosexual heartlessness of Arsenal is just not enough; we know that. Like we knew The Arsenal came up to the Etihad early in crunch-month, with games against principal rivals rammed together. This is tough – like life.
But Arsenal’s perennial weediness kindof gets on our nerves, right? How can it be that they remain, so endlessly, a side unprepared for inevitable, sinewy, earthbound onslaughthood? How can that flaw persist so? Through year after year of more or less successful butterfly meadows later sprayed out. Wenger, to his credit and to his detriment and ‘midst the gnashing of our teeth, produces teams that will not set their sights so low as to block or to crunch or to stifle with physical oomph when they need to –that’s all we ask! They look to outplay the opposition only.
Look he knows – we’ve been telling him for years – that in this bitterly anti-meritocratic universe that ‘quality’ alone ain’t enough; sadly. He may even know (but not accept) that the result of the Arsenal Concept’s near-perfect one-dimensionalism is there will be a slide into capitulation (to generally lesser talents) and that it’s looming now. Six weeks, maybe, in which that lead at the top is swallowed up and the likes of Ramsey return to planet ordinary. And we watch as the mood music changes, as Arsene turns from the pitch again, exasperated, cut further by the sheer unfairness of everything, the anti-perfectness, the No Santa-ness, his Arsenal shot down by a sequence of either worthy and slightly unfortunate defeats and/or that dispiriting leakage of points to opponents that might a month ago have been imperiously (or should that be impishly?) dismissed.
Naturally then, after an emphatic win for City, in a pret-ty fabulous game that Arsenal, as always, contributed to generously, the odds have shortened on this Wenger trauma revisiting. For me their chief real-life weakness today concerned the failure to press the ball around the 35 yard mark. (Mind you, City weren’t much better at this.) Despite the presence of Flamini, Ramsey and Wilshere, City had abundant time to play heads up football – to pick their runs, their passes – as they faced the Gooner defence. Toure and Nasri and Silva are all half-decent; you don’t need to be giving them time and space to consider things. And if Zabaleta ends up with acres to race into… lookout. This stuff happened, infuriatingly commonly for the Arsenal bench.
From early in the game City were allowed some comfort where for me it should have been denied. Without the ball, Arsenal dropped into two banks – midfield at about thirty yards out and Mertesacker’s posse on the eighteen yard line; give or take. It might have been nerves but for me they looked worryingly slightly like England in World Cup mode – faux resistant, unconvincingly solid – deep. Like England, they let the opposition play. Whilst this undeniably led to a hugely entertaining game – and some well-constructed goals – the policy of late (or non-)intervention demonstrably failed. Maybe the predictability of the concessions brought out the miserablist in me; I found myself forever tweeting about dreadful defending rather than glorious attacking. (Shit! Did I just sound like Alan Hansen and Morrissey in the same paragraph?!? HANG ME. Irrespective of whether I have a point on this…)
But lest I inadvertently take too much away from City a sentence or two about them – and their incontrovertible topness. Firstly – hey – they put six past Arsenal. Secondly, they are surely the best-equipped side in the league – by some distance, perhaps – though this may not necessarily be reflected in the stats come the end of the season. They have that sureness, in particular going into the final third, where an intimidating mixture of power and movement is often irresistible and proved so again today. Thirty-five goals in eight home games is absurdly good going.
Aguero is close to sublime every week, Toure is often unplayable, Silva (even at 70% capacity) just class. And with Zabaleta unzipping defences on his own – nominally, from right back – no wonder they are pulverising anybody foolish enough to turn up at the Etihad. I expect this dominance to convert soon enough into stronger away form and for City to go on and win the Premiership –chased home, I imagine by Chelsea rather than Liverpool… with the Arsenal somewhere behind… (inevitably.)
Perhaps fair (to the other home keeper) to mention that the home keeper was Pants today and also that City like Arsenal were hardly error-free in their own half. But Pellegrini’s boys are candidates alright – not just for the Prem but at European level. So tangible was their superiority that it’s truly hard to imagine that they could finish behind Arsenal come May.
Further notes from the Arsenal angle might include reflections on Walcott and Wilshere. The former was often ineffectual or absent then scored his second with a fabulous curled stroke for the far corner; the latter is buzzing less productively currently and was I think guilty of an offensive sign to the opposition support. Up front Giroud – who, for me has received lashings of praise more for being present in the line-up than being brilliant in it – was mixed again and Ramsey has understandably returned to mortal levels. Ozil jogged round.
On the plus side Arsenal rallied bravely after the catastrophic third goal had been conceded but the necessary withdrawal of Flamini left them increasingly open to counter… not ideal against the free-running Nasri and a Toure with licence. The Southern Softies had little luck with borderline calls from the officials but City simply had bigger and better gears with which to travel and they travelled with ominous purpose.
So, after a Match of The Season So Far which really probably was match of the season so far… this. Just as we feared or imagined. A Christmas unravelling and a statement of intent. The Wenger stocking still needs filling (as it were) with urgent physicality, whilst the Pellegrini equivalent looks short of very little. Unlucky, unlucky Arsenal.