Arsenal produced arguably the perfect away defensive performance in their 2-0 win at the Etihad Stadium yesterday. It wasn’t the usual ‘tippy-tappy’, slick possession style play we are so used to seeing from the Gunners, they defended magnificently and got their just rewards with two well deserved goals.
Arsene Wenger has finally seemed to have sussed out what it takes to get the right result at one of the Premier League big boys. A disappointing result at the home of Manchester City was becoming a recurrent theme for the Gunners in recent years – prior to Sunday’s win, you have to go back to October 2010 for the last time the north London club tasted victory at the Etihad – when goals from Samir Nasri, Alex Song and Nicklas Bendtner impressively saw off Roberto Mancini’s 10-men City.
But it was a very different Arsenal that showed up in Manchester on Sunday. They were solid right from the first whistle to the last, and goals from Santi Cazorla (pen) and Olivier Giroud earned the Gunners an excellent 2-0 victory. Sky Sports pundit Gary Neville didn’t think too much of Arsenal’s chances pre-match, but the former Manchester United defender was quick to praise Wenger’s side as they proved him wrong in more ways than one;
“I was wrong and I’m happy to be wrong. We’ve seen so many examples over the last four or five years of Arsenal capitulating that if you offered me the opportunity to come back as an Arsenal defender, I would have said no. It wouldn’t have been much fun.
“I have to say, they get exposed and they have no appreciation of their defenders when they’re in trouble. But today, they were protected all over the pitch. Bellerin got beat once in the first half by James Milner and Aaron Ramsey was close to him, and you expect that because in big games, you cannot rely upon defending one on one.”
Arsenal only had 35% of the ball, that’s a stat you don’t see too often when the Gunners are concerned, but it was what they did with it that really mattered. Despite weathering a bit of a storm in the second-half from the home side, Arsenal were never really threatened too much, and little Santi Cazorla was undoubtedly the standout player on the pitch.
Over the years, you always get the understanding with Arsenal that they are too proud at times to try and defend to get the right result. Since Wenger took over back in 1996, he almost instantly imposed a style of play which has very rarely been altered – they love to keep possession of the football, and have been accused in the past of trying to ‘score the perfect goal’, and trying to ‘walk the ball into the back of the net’.
Now the Gunners have proved to the football world they can indeed defend and they’re not just a one dimensional all-out attacking side, it’s vital that they continue that going forward. Arsenal have now moved up to fifth in the Premier League table, just one point off of Manchester United in fourth.
Wenger’s side travel to Brighton & Hove Albion on Sunday to continue their FA Cup defence, and they have the Champions League first-leg knockout game to contest with Monaco at the end of next month. All of a sudden, things are starting to look a little bit brighter for Wenger and Arsenal, and exciting times could lay ahead for the Gunners.