We could come up with excuses but what’s the point. When we drill down to the bottom line, we only have ourselves to blame. At home, and seemingly in form, and Manchester City without some of their big stars, this was a winnable game which we threw away. This sort of thing is happening time and again, and is the reason we aren’t challenging for honours. We cannot expect to be this inconsistent and expect to win honours.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and its easy to blame the team selection given the sending off of Koscielny, but for the second time this season, you started Vermaelen and Koscielny and left Mertesacker on the bench. Both times it has backfired big time. I understand Mertesacker is more vulnerable to pace and the selection in this game and indeed the Chelsea game was more of a ‘horses for courses’ selection, but in both games Koscielny self-destructed. Indeed just like against Torres, Koscielny struggled physically with Dzeko, and both events they were turning points in the game. Ironically, while you selected Koscielny to counter the pace of the opposition, it backfired as they used their physicality to get the better of us and bring about our downfall. While I understand the selection I don’t agree with it. If anybody is to be dropped it is to be either Vermaelen or Koscielny. Mertesacker has been our only central defender this season who has shown any sort of consistency. Tactics or not I do not believe in changing a winning combination unless absolutely necessary, especially if a player is in form. I’m afraid, not for the first time this season, your Koscielny gamble has not paid off. Its a real shame, he had an amazing season last year and now he’s really struggling. Vermaelen as well has gone off the rails this season. Just not good enough at the back and was responsible for a goal that made us look very silly.
The frustrating part is that even with a man up, Manchester City didn’t play that great. In the second half we showed a lot of spirit, but had nothing to show for it. I am convinced that without that sending off we probably would have won here. It was a harsh sending off, but it was technically right. He had his arms wrapped around the defender and prevented a goal-scoring opportunity, was a definite penalty and probably a sending off. A ‘nicer’ referee probably would have let him have a yellow, so as to give him a warning and not ruin the game 10 minutes in, but referees aren’t there to be nice. Sometimes when you commit a stupid act like that you can get away with it and be lucky, I’ve seen a lot of that sort of thing before go unpunished or the player not being shown a red card, but nonetheless, Koscielny only has himself to blame. I would go as far as to say without this sending off we would have definitely won, or at the very least got something out of the game. The spirit in which we played in the second half, I think we would have scored with the extra man on the pitch. Conversely we probably wouldn’t have conceded two silly goals had we not been distracted by the sending off.
Another weak point was Diaby. He is a class act but he really wasn’t match fit. One game for the u21s isn’t preparation for a big game against City. While we was sound, he didn’t look at his best and I feel the engine room needed that extra spark with Arteta out. Wilshere once again played his heart out and was probably our player of the match. Could have done with a bit of help in an otherwise poor midfield. Wilshere was clearly being targeted and was fouled numerous times. Showed tremendous character to keep going. I pray that he doesn’t get another long term injury. Without our passing game Walcott playing as a striker is pretty useless. We saw Ramsey come on later to play in his natural position and he created our best chance. Makes me wonder why you play him on the wings. I understand there’s no place for him in the centre when everyone is fit, but I’d rather not play him, than play him on the wings.
Once again we lacked that little bit extra. Positives to come out of this were the way we reacted in the second half, but we only had ourselves to blame after a stupid red card, and two equally stupid goals. Vital game against Swansea today, in the FA Cup, our only realistic chance of a trophy. I am not worried so much about form, moreso about fitness and whether the players can back up after three days for yet another crucial fixture. We can only hope and see.