On Sunday, in the Premier League, something momentous (in football terms) happened. Arsenal went to Man City and beat them 2-0. Last year they lost 6-3. They also lost 6-0 to Chelsea and 5-1 to Liverpool. Collective nervous breakdowns in the big away games. That’s been a trait for a number of years. This was really different.
Arsenal are a team renowned for having 60-70% of possession but not always exploiting it. Their soft centre in midfield and defence has been their undoing so often. They still get in the top four every year, but not since the Invincibles in 2003-4 have they won the League. Their fans, still burdened with high expectations, are fraught with anxiety and frustration. Arsene Wenger, the manager, is pilloried every time they don’t win in style. As for the big defeats against their rivals, they sink into a deep despair.
Yesterday they won the game with 35% of the possession, the lowest that has ever been recorded for Arsenal since Opta Index started collecting the statistics. They played like Chelsea in a big game away from home. Sat deep, deployed Francis Coquelin as the dedicated defensive midfielder in a 4-1-4-1 formation. And broke forward ruthlessly when the opportunities arose. Santi Cazorla, confidence sky high after the run in central midfield he has had, was outstanding. Aaron Ramsey, supporting Coquelin and breaking forward too, was inching back to his best. Olivier Giroud, up front, had a hunger. And the defence, happy with the protection they were getting from midfield, were assured and calm, for the most part. Ospina, in goal, looked more solid than Szczesny.
City weren’t at their best. Aguero is still getting back to full fitness, Silva was neutralised and they really miss Yaya Toure, who is at the African Cup of Nations. Kompany was sluggish, on his return from injury. But this was a highly impressive performance from Arsenal. Disciplined, solid, and incisive when the opportunities arose.
They should take huge encouragement from this result. And it breaks that bogey against the big rivals. Belief will surge through the squad. Supporters will start to dream of League victory, progress in the Champions League, again.
Arsene Wenger was asked after the game whether this was a first in terms of his tactics. He denied it (with a smile on his face), suggesting it was meant to happen in other games but wasn’t executed. Coquelin was the key. A 24 year old, classic Arsenal youth product who has mostly been out on loan in recent seasons. Has it all been a brilliant development plan by Wenger or a slice of luck? Well, I bow to my son Kieran, an Arsenal fan, who has been extolling the virtues of Coquelin for a while – and Bellerin at right back. Maybe it is all just coming good.
Yes, it is only one match, but a hugely important one. If Arsenal have developed a defensive solidity to complement their awesome attacking options, the brilliant Alexis Sanchez to the fore, then they could be serious contenders.
We shall see!
it was a good time to play City.No Nasri or Toure. Their replacements Milner and Navas are several rungs down the ladder and simply did not flow alongside Silva like the normal 3 behind the striker. Silva was the sole creative player and Arsenal rightly sat on him and squeezed him out of the game. Penalty was pretty soft but Chelsea fans were delighted with the result and neutrals pleased to see Arsene get the big game hoodoo sorted out.
All true, but good to see Arsenal playing what was in front of them, tailoring their game effectively for the occasion.
Maybe this is the reversal of pattern – the normal great start to the season petering out in the second half seems to have given way to a rubbish first half to a surprisingly better second. But then again with Arsenal, one must hope with the expectation of it being crushed.
Almost all football fans think things will go wrong for their team – protects against too much disappointment. As a West Ham fan (and an Arsenal admirer) I know this as well as any!
Is 4-1-4-1 formation unusual?
For Arsenal it is!