When the final whistle sounded at Etihad Stadium on Saturday evening, it felt like a missed opportunity for Mikel Arteta and Arsenal. A missed opportunity to secure a first away win against a ‘big six’ side since January 2015, when Arteta was still an Arsenal player.
Manchester City were certainly there for the taking. They were without an injured Kevin De Bruyne and conceded five goals in their previous game at home to Leicester. But once again, it was not to be.
However, this was a wacky weekend where Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool all dropped points.
The first positive in defeat comes from the fact that the Gunners stayed in the game for the full 90 minutes, not allowing a potent City attack to run riot. In tricky trips to the Citizens and Liverpool, Arsenal stayed in both games from first minute to last.
This is clear evidence that Arteta has prioritised substance over style in games where his team were the underdogs. Despite that making for frustrating viewing as a fan, it has resulted in Arsenal having the second-best defence in the league after five matches.
Gabriel’s first performances have shown early signs of promise. His ability to win aerial balls and assuredly play out from the back bode well for the future. Bernd Leno has also given spectators a timely reminder of his quality, re-affirming his status as first choice goalkeeper following the controversial departure of Emiliano Martinez to Aston Villa.
It is a testament to the performance of Arteta’s defence that, for the first time in an age, it is not the weakest unit in an Arsenal team. All the question marks have been centred around the creative capabilities (or lack thereof) of the team’s midfield. Arsenal are the only side in the league’s top eight to have scored fewer than ten goals.
Due to a lack of incisiveness in attack, it is worth reminding the reader that Arsenal finished eighth in the Premier League last season, drawing as many games as they won. Therefore, Arteta clearly identified a need to turn his side into one that is difficult to beat, so that potential draws can be turned into wins by staying in the game. Evidence of this came in a creaky performance at home to West Ham United earlier this season. The Gunners did not deserve to win that day but managed to do so through fight and fortitude.
For a fanbase that has enjoyed football as somewhat of an art form over the past two decades, this newly solid style may take some getting used to. Rest assured that this period is unlikely to last long – Arteta has a clear long-term vision to eventually alter the team’s formation into an attack-minded 4-3-3.
For now, it is about sitting tight and trusting the process that Arteta has for Arsenal.
The fall out from Arsenal losing 1-0 to Manchester City was surprising.
The amount of criticism and negativity I read after the game was over the top.
Mikel Arteta’s game plan in the games against tough sides is clear. The aim is to stay in the game, defend well, and take your chances when they come.
It is the same game plan that saw us beat Manchester United & Liverpool in the league last season. That saw us knock out Manchester City in the FA Cup and beat Chelsea in the final. Beat Liverpool in the Community Shield and draw with Chelsea in the league.
In the 12 games Arteta has faced the “Big 6”, his record reads:
Saturday we played to the same game plan that saw us win some big games under Arteta. At 1-0 down we stayed in the game. We just failed to take our chances when they came up, with Aubameyang missing a big one in the second half.
It was similar to the Liverpool defeat, when 2-1 down Lacazette missed 2 great chances to nab an equaliser.
Some might see “staying in the game” as negative football, but it is not.
There is not point lining up to play positive and being 3-nil down after 20 minutes. Not every team collapses like Tottenham.
How often have we been away to Chelsea, Liverpool or Man City in recent years and the game has been over in the first half? The answer is “too often”.
At least if you are within a goal as the clock clicks over to 70 minutes, it gives you a chance to have a go in that last 20.
Remember the limbs at Chelsea away in January? That would have been impossible if we were 2 or 3 goals down.
Instead we were losing 2-1 and got it back to 2-2 in the closing minutes.
We have to understand where we are at the moment.
Arsenal are challenging for the top 4, not the title.
For now Arteta is right lining us up to “not lose” away to top sides. As the team progresses, and the defence continues to improve, we can start travelling to these sides thinking we are in the chance of winning again.
Some might see this viewpoint as negative, but it is realistic.
Arsenal fans (in the minority) are moaning about Arteta’s defensive football. But this change in style was needed.
In the last 3 season, we have conceded on average 50 goals in the league. That is more than one a game.
That meant Arsenal needed to score at least 2, often 3 goals just to win the game by 1 goal. You are not going to finish top 4 needing to score 2 or 3 goals a game every game.
By working on the defence, it means that when we do score 2 or 3 goals, we are winning 2-0 or 3-1/ Not drawing 2-2.
Adding the likes of Thomas Partey and Gabriel to the squad will improve us defensively.
Once Arteta trusts the defence to play a back 4 rather than back 5, and Partey adds solidity to the middle of the park, we will become more attacking.
The transition from 343 to 433 will make us more attacking and give the side more balance.
Ultimately, you can take losing to Manchester City 1-0 if next weekend we go and beat Leicester City.
There is not point going to a top 6 side and putting 6 past them if you then do not win your next game at home.
We are 5th in the league after 5 games having travelled to both Manchester City and Liverpool.
Our next 6 games are at home to Leicester, Aston Villa and Wolves, and away trips to Leeds, Manchester United and Tottenham.
The simple equation is to win the 3 home games, beat Leeds and set ourselves out not to lose against Manchester United or Tottenham.
A draw and a defeat for those two tough away games will see us on course for 76 points. Taking into account we would have played 4 of our 5 hardest away trips in the opening 11 games, a realistic target could be 80 points. That will be more than enough for top 4.
Arteta has a game plan. He knows what he is doing. He has already won some big games in his short time as manager.
Losing a game is always tough to take. But we have to understand the process. We have to trust the process.