Manchester City (3) 5 Arsenal (0) 0
Etihad Stadium, Ashton New Road, Manchester M11 3FF
Saturday, 28th August 2021. Kick-off time: 12.30pm
(5-4-1) Bernd Leno; Cédric Soares, Calum Chambers, Rob Holding, Sead Kolašinac, Kieran Tierney; Martin Ødegaard, Emile Smith-Rowe, Granit Xhaka, Bukayo Saka; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
Substitutes: Alexandre Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Nuno Tavares, Pablo Marí, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Aaron Ramsdale, Arthur Okonkwo, Gabriel Martinelli.
Red Cards: Granit Xhaka
Yellow Cards: Cédric Soares, Sead Kolašinac
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 19%
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Assistant Referees: Lee Betts, Richard West
Fourth Official: Andy Madley
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Darren England; AVAR Peter Kirkup
Playing devil’s advocate here, perhaps there is another side to “Bloody” August for Arsenal. Unfortunately, despite the well-publicised awful on-field issues, another one of our problems this season appear to be the fact that we are victims of the random selection of the fixtures computer; how else can anyone explain the trio that we have faced so far? A newly promoted London team that had never been in the Premiership before who played as if their very lives depended on it, followed by the Champions League winners, and today, the current Premier League champions. How unlucky can one club be? Just another thought in this time of trouble.
Anyway, today our players line up in an unusual five-four-one formation, probably to reflect the danger of the opposition, of course. In the early stages, we played the ball around between us very well, and a superb cross from Kieran Tierney which didn’t quite reach Bukayo Saka looked good, but soon went behind the line for a corner that was easily cleared, unfortunately. Four minutes later, we were a goal down when Gabriel Jesus crossed the ball to Ilkay Gündogan, who simply headed it into the net. We were pushed back into our own half, and our defence looked all at sea when a loose ball came into our penalty area and Ferran Torres was on hand to score with a ridiculously easy tap in; although VAR were called in to question the possibility of an infringement on Calum Chambers, it made no difference as the goal was allowed to stand. A terrible start to the match; within fifteen minutes, we were two goals down with no prospect of reply; the nearest we came to scoring was when Ederson, the City goalkeeper made a silly error that Emile Smith-Rowe tried to capitalise on, but sadly his block led to the ball dribbling just inches past the far post. Cédric Soares picked up a pointless yellow card for a foul on Jack Grealish after twenty-four minutes, and a couple of minutes later Granit Xhaka had a strong shot saved by Ederson, after yet another mistake found our man in space on the edge of the City penalty area. Sead Kolašinac was booked unjustly for a foul on Gabriel Jesus, and thankfully the resulting free-kick (and subsequent corner) was easily dealt with by Bernd Leno. We had a penalty appeal turned down when Kieran Tierney was brushed off the ball by Kyle Walker, and with ten minutes to go before half-time, Granit Xhaka got his marching orders for a careless two-footed tackle on Joao Cancelo. Down to ten men, with fifty-three minutes of the match remaining, which meant that we were playing a game of containment, trying to keep City from scoring more goals, which was a difficult prospect. And sure enough, a couple minutes before the break, Jack Grealish turned Calum Chambers on the left, tapped the ball across into the six-yard box for Gabriel Jesus to tap the ball into an empty net, behind a stranded Bernd Leno. Thankfully half-time arrived before yet more embarrassing goals were leaked.
The second half started with Bukayo Saka being replaced by Mohamed Elneny, and unfortunately the second half started the way the first half finished, with intense City pressure on an Arsenal defence that looked completely swamped. After fifty-three minutes, Rodri swept a curling right-foot shot down the side of our stagnant defenders into the bottom right-hand corner for the fourth goal of the match; shortly afterwards the stranded Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was replaced by Alexandre Lacazette, and with half an hour of the game remaining, it was very hard to see how we can stop Manchester City scoring even more goals today, try as we may. Bernd Leno prevented a fifth goal when he made an acrobatic save to tip a header over the bar from Raheem Sterling, and in an attempt to halt an onslaught, Martin Ødegaard was replaced by Ainsley Maitland-Niles with twenty minutes of the game remaining. The home side were just toying with us, and we don’t have anything to offer here at the Etihad at all, and quite frankly, it all looks very embarrassing now. It made no difference, as City scored a fifth when Ferran Torres scored with a header after Riyadh Mahrez put a cross in from the right-hand side of the edge of our penalty area with six minutes remaining of the game. Mercifully, we managed to prevent the home side from scoring any more goals, and when the full-time whistle was blown by Martin Atkinson, it came as one of relief, quite thankfully.
What is there to say about such a performance in Manchester today? We were extremely fortunate we didn’t ship even more goals, and we would have done had it not been for Bernd Leno in goal. This is our worst start to a season since 1954, and quite frankly, we are all at a loss as to how we can turn this around with this squad of players. The statistics are damning: played three; won none; drawn none; lost three; goals for, none; goals against, nine; goal difference, minus nine. Bottom of the table. The players are totally shell-shocked, with no visible on-field leadership and have no idea what to do next. The manager looks entirely out of his depth, the coaching staff appear to have no answers and the storm clouds are gathering. Next week we have a break due to international commitments, and we resume this nightmare in a fortnight. Let’s hope that the enforced break brings some kind of Biblical miracle at Arsenal Football Club, but somehow I doubt it, as “Bloody” August may just get worse in September.
Remember everyone, it’s going to be tough, but try to keep the faith, get behind the club, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Norwich City at the Emirates on Saturday, 11th September at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.