Arsenal’s slow start
It seems strange to say given that they conceded after just two minutes, but Arsenal were given their warning against Manchester City.
Inside the first 60 seconds of the match Raheem Sterling found himself completely unmarked at the back post but miscued his kick completely.
Less than a minute later the Premier League leaders were in front at the Emirates as Arsenal paid the price once again for starting slow.
The Gunners have now conceded in the opening 15 minutes on each of Manchester City’s last six visits to the Emirates.
“We talked about it. We had to come out of the blocks really strongly, really convincingly,” Mikel Arteta told the press after the game. “We did the opposite.”
It’s not just the manager who think the Gunners’ slow starts are a problem though.
“Right now, unfortunately we have a concentration problem,” Nicolas Pepe told French TV after the game. “We have to learn from it because they were in front after nothing.”
It’s immensely frustrating for Arteta as he tried to find a way to get one over his old mentor Pep Guardiola.
The Gunners boss admitted he feared things could get a lot worse as City really turned the screw in search of a second goal in the opening 15 minutes.
“That was my worry because the formation the players that they used today there’s nothing worse than going behind early,” he said of the possibility of his team collapsing after the early blow.
“Because it puts the game exactly where they want it, with time on the ball, creating overloads with the false nine anywhere they want on the pitch.
“And you become impatient and frustrated and I thought that the team reacted really well to that and we gave them a real game.
“At the moment they are best team because they dominate every single department and credit to them because they are incredible.”
But if he wants his side to take the next step and start genuinely challenging the biggest and the best, then it is impossible to keep giving them the upper hand so early on. It’s a learning experience for Arsenal, but one that they have to take.
Arsenal make Premier League history
The moment Arsenal made Premier League history as it turned out went almost completely under the radar.
In fact as Rob Holding was replaced by David Luiz after being caught in the face by the studs of Joao Cancelo, you would have been hard pressed to find anyone away from the Gunners bench who actually knew a complete footballing first was actually going on.
Arsenal had made the Premier League’s first ever concussion substitution.
The news was confirmed afterwards by Mikel Arteta.
“Well obviously that’s a call that has to be given by the doctor,” he said when asked about the cause of Holding’s withdrawal.
“That’s the communication we got with him so then we decided to make the concussion sub.”
Brought in last month the protocol is designed to incentivise clubs to withdraw players who have suffered head traumas instead of taking the risk so as to keep the extra substitution.
As more evidence emerges about the potential links between professional football and dementia, authorities are stepping up their attempts to increase the protection afforded to the players.
Arsenal will now follow protocols that mean Holding will most likely miss a period of training Arteta later confirmed.
“Yeah, that’s what they told me,” he said when asked if the injury was a concussion. “If that’s the case then I think he will miss a few days.”
This is a blow for the Gunners in the short term as they lose a centre half who despite being at fault for Sterling’s early goal grew into the game to have a decent match.
But in the long run it is a positive step for football that will be looked back upon with gratitude by many players over the years to come.
Arsenal prove that they are not all-right
It is nothing new to say that Arsenal’s attack is heavily focused towards the left hand side of the pitch.
By the end of the first half Kieran Tierney and Bukayo Saka had received a combined 17 passes in the final third, while Martin Odegaard, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Nicolas Pepe had been on the end of just six between them.
It’s a clear tactic from Arteta as he seeks to take advantage of the offensive weapon that is Tierney’s ability to make overlapping runs and provide dangerous delivery from the by-line.
But after a while you do have to question whether it comes at the detriment of his players on the right hand side of the pitch.
Bukayo Saka has thrived in that position in recent weeks, scoring five goals and assisting two since being switched there on Boxing Day, but against City he was back on the left.
Nicolas Pepe meanwhile was put out on the right, and although the statistics may not reflect upon him favourably the Ivorian did not stop trying to make runs in behind until he was taken off around the 70 minute mark.
It is no surprise that Pepe’s best form in an Arsenal shirt came as he was moved out to the left as he was more involved in the game than ever before.
The £72m signing is a frustrating player to watch at times but it is hard to get angry at him if the team’s tactical instructions seem to be to ignore the entire half of the pitch on which he is playing.
The Ivorian’s isolation is made worse by the fact that Hector Bellerin has been instructed to come central in order to play the Guardiola-style inverted full back role and you do have to feel sorry for him on that side of the pitch.
During his time at Lille Pepe showed that his strengths lie in the counter attacking areas when the game is more stretched.
With City’s high line and aggressive approach there is argument that Arsenal could have done more to utilise this skillset. As it was they basically ignored him, and the Ivorian was brought off to face the brunt of disappointed fans on social media.
Arteta’s frustration with Elneny
It is on occasions like the defeat to Manchester City when Arsenal really miss a player like Thomas Partey.
The Ghanaian’s ability to pick the ball up from defence and release it quickly for his side to counter is simply unparalleled with the Gunners squad.
In the second half in particular there was a moment where Mikel Arteta would have been left to rue the injury record of his deadline day signing.
As City pushed forward in search of a second Joao Cancelo, as is his nature, left acres of space in behind him for Arsenal to potentially exploit.
Sensing the opportunity Arteta instructions onto the pitch to Kieran Tierney. “Go high KT! KT go high” he barked from the touchline.
The tactic was generally in vein as the Gunners struggled to hold the ball for long enough to be able to pick out a pass that could take advantage of the City high line.
However, there was one moment where Mohamed Elneny found himself on the ball with the opportunity to release the Scottish full back.
“Now Mo, now!” screamed Arteta.
Elneny looked up and saw the space. To play the ball though required a quick switch on his weaker left foot, and the Egyptian quickly lost his nerve.
The midfielder’s actions drew the ire of his boss who slapped his thighs in frustration before letting on an exasperated yell of “Come on Mo!”
Elneny did have quite a tidy game in possession to be fair to him. In fact he finished the first half having completed 100% of his passes.
But having possession ultimately means nothing if you are not willing to take the risk required to go forward and do something with it.
After the game Arteta admitted this is the biggest problem his side face as they seek to transition from mid-table also-rans to Champions League regulars.
“Yeah for me the biggest issue was when we found some big openings against them which is really difficult because of their organisation, the final pass and the final product wasn’t good enough,” he said.
“But the attacking threat you can create is not only with the shots you that you create, it’s every situation you are able to create that equally leads to results.
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“You have to hit the target many more times to have a chance to win the game.”
Partey would offer a solution to this problem but Arsenal cannot be so reliant on one player if they want to get back to the top level.
Sunday’s defeat to Manchester City was yet another reminder of how far away they are from being able to dine at English football’s top table.