Good Morning .
We lost a narrow match away at Man City. You can talk about schedules, fatigue and whatnot, but it’s hard to be upbeat about going out. This wasn’t the League Cup, which you can always shrug off; no, the FA Cup is part of Arsenal’s identity.
Still, there are a few reasons not to go too far with a narrow defeat away at Man City, of all opponents. The first is that this was a horrible tie, against a team that has dominated English domestic football for half a decade.
They almost never lose at home, and picked something approaching their strongest team, even if a Man City first XI is theoretical, given all their rotation.
The other is that we made a lot of changes. Without injuries, I’d say that only four of the players who started would make our outright best XI, although that’s up for debate.
And yet we competed well. Cheered on by what sounded like a stadium full of Arsenal fans who occasionally broke into Blue Moon, we had the better of the first half. We carved out some minor chances, and enjoyed spells in which we kept finding all of the dangerous space and they looked blunt.
If you want more positivity, it’s that ITV will not cover another Arsenal match in 2022-23. Hopefully that will give you the warm glow you need to get you through the rest of this report.
I have no idea what formation Man City were playing in the first half. It looked like three at the back, with Rico Lewis playing as less of an inverted full-back than an all-out central midfielder.
Our defensive plan was to play with an even higher line and get as tight as possible to Haaland, who was their only direct threat in-behind.
I say “only”. We nullified him tonight, but his presence affects everything around him. When he’s dormant, it’s like there’s an immense celestial body that can only be observed by its gravitational pull.
Holding spent 45 frantic minutes in its orbit, in a battle that resembled a cartoon fight cloud, with fistfulls of shirts, a platinum bun and a toupee poking out of the dust. Once he got that yellow, few substitutions have been more inevitable.
At the other end, all of the space was opening up on our left flank, and Trossard was eating it up. He set up Tomiyasu for a strike, tested Ortega and later found Nketiah following a great run, Eddie couldn’t quite make the right contact.
At half-time, we were feeling good about things, knowing that Holding’s work was done, and that we had looked the more likely. Saliba came out, as expected, accompanied by Lokonga for Thomas Partey. Nobody wanted to see that. Please let this rib thing be bruising.
The bad vibes stalked us into the second half, and in those first 15 minutes things began to unravel. Sambi Lokonga deserves some sympathy. Being thrown onto the pitch cold against a reinvigorated Man City is a test most central midfielders would fail.
Just as everyone was starting to find their feet, Julián Álvarez slammed a long shot off Turner’s right post, City won the second ball, and Nathan Aké took advantage of our imbalance with a low, guided finish into the bottom corner with his weaker foot.
The minutes that followed the goal were our best of the half and we carved out our best chance. Xhaka’s cross from the corner of the area almost picked out Nketiah, but was diverted by the lightest brush from Dias’s studs.
We threw on our starters, but had lost momentum through a lack of midfield control, stuttering rhythm, and Man City’s maddening capacity to keep the ball and kill a game of football.
Clearly, Arsenal can still improve, and if there’s something we can learn from tonight’s opponents it’s in those dozens of anaesthetising jabs that put a game to bed.