This is real Captaincy
I'm sure the neutrals enjoyed the game yesterday. Sod the neutrals. I know that by the end of this piece any of those neutrals (or City fans) picking it up will be button-holing me as a bitter Arsenal supporter. Again, sod the neutrals. I know the stuff I'm going to write about the match officials will sound like sour grapes, and maybe that's what it is. Do I care? No.
Let's start with Arsenal's deficiencies and these were pretty much all over the pitch. Nacho Monreal is not an alternative to Kieran Gibbs. Monreal is a back-up. He's a squad player, and that's fine as he's perfectly adequate as that. What he can't do is come in to the side for a big game and take over while Gibbs is given a break. There are times when rotation is necessary. There are times when rotation is welcome. Your biggest Premier League game of the season is not one of them. We don't play for 9 days after the game yesterday. You do not rest players in games like that. Monreal was so far out of his depth and so far off the pace at times that he looked like he was playing in a different match. The lack of pace in the Spaniard is a massive handicap against decent opposition.
Monreal wasn't helped by the fact that his centre-backs chose yesterday to play their worst game of the season. The first goal saw everybody standing still, but none moreso than Laurent Koscielny. The lack of concentration was unforgivable. It wasn't as though Aguero had to make a decent run to get past him (though the corner should never have been given as I will write about below). Mertesacker was equally culpable for David Silva's goal. He must have seen the Spaniard a yard in front of him, but he made no move to get closer. With Vermaelen doing his usual walkabout at the near post it meant Silva was all alone once Monreal had been beaten too easily again. It says plenty about our play that Szczesny let in six goals without being at fault for any of them.
The defence, if I'm being fair, had so little cover in front of them. I felt that Aaron Ramsey was basically playing all alone in there for most of the game. Only Ramsey and Theo Walcott come out of yesterday with credit as far as I'm concerned. There was no running, no tackling, no spirit in the midfield. Jack Wilshere was an absolute passenger pretty much throughout and the way he gave the ball away at times was criminal. To react to the crowd like he did showed a terrible immaturity that will now see him banned thanks to the media coverage (Alan Shearer couldn't hide his delight at highlighting it on Match Of The Day last night - perhaps Jack should tell the FA he won't go to the World Cup if they ban him as such behaviour has been enough to allow BBC pundits to play in FA Cup Finals in the past, hasn't it Alan?) The worst culprit, however, was Ozil. Setting up Theo's first goal was his only contribution of the day. Sadly he also set up Man City's third goal with one of the most careless passes I've ever seen. I've seen people saying Flamini should have cut the ball out. Nonsense. The pass from Ozil was woeful and Flamini couldn't quite rescue the situation. A £45m player should not be going missing in big matches. I read people on Twitter giving abuse to those criticising Ozil and saying that anyone having a go "doesn't understand what sort of player he is". I understand fully that, at the moment, he's a player that doesn't earn his money in the way he should for someone with such ability. I read a stat earlier that David Silva had as many tackles, interceptions and headers as Ozil yesterday (zero) but saw more of the ball so influenced the play more. The reason Silva saw more of the ball than Ozil was that he worked a thousand times harder to make sure he could get on the ball. I was so pleased to see Mertesacker absolutely fuming with his good friend at the final whistle over his disrespect of the travelling Gooners. That's what I want from my Arsenal Captain, and definitely not what I want from my star player. Ozil needs to step it up and I hope the rocket he got from the BFG is enough to make him come out against Chelsea and show us all just how great a player he is.
The last player to get the sharp end of my tongue today is Olivier Giroud. I've said all season that he has been outstanding. His improvement has been immeasurable. However, if there is a fault in his game it is that his finishing ability is sub-standard. We saw it last week against Everton, and yesterday was an embarrassment. In five minutes after we went 3-1 down Giroud missed three open goals. I can just imagine the hatred that would have been pouring forth had Nicklas Bendtner been falling over his feet when faced with a ball six yards from goal and a choice of scoring or laying one on a plate for Theo Walcott. Ultimately, as important as Giroud is to the way Arsenal play, he is not the centre-forward that can win games on his own. The very best sides have a goalscorer who can win matches with their ability to put the ball in the net (I've just watched Suarez score another cracking goal for Liverpool). Giroud sadly misses too many chances at the moment. We saw it in the game at Stamford Bridge last season. We saw it again yesterday. In the big games, with the fine margins, you have to take your chances. Man City scored with six of their seven shots on target. As I've already said, Szczesny didn't stand a chance with any of them. Giroud, meanwhile, missed the target completely every time.
So now the other stuff. I have been beating a drum over corruption in football in this country for a long time now. The events of the past couple of weeks have shown that English football is most definitely bent. It stands to reason that the Premier League, where the big money is, is the most likely to be the most corrupt. What I witnessed yesterday was the biggest clue to things being not quite right since we lost at Old Trafford to end the 49 games unbeaten in 2003. As bad as Arsenal were on the day they created plenty. They were done for by the officials.
In the first half the two linesmen laid down their markers. For City's first goal there should never have been a corner in the first place. Koscielny had to play the ball because a City player was standing behind him. That player was offside. Had he not been there then Koscielny would have been able to let the ball go. Just because the City player didn't touch it doesn't mean he wasn't offside in that situation. The pass was clearly intended for him. The defender only played the ball because he was aware of the run being made behind him. Meanwhile, at the other end, we twice saw Arsenal pulled back for offside when they weren't even particularly close. Things would only get worse.
In the second-half Martin Atkinson, a serial offender of incompetence (or something more sinister?) allowed Yaya Toure (the best player on the pitch) to get away with a studs up, near knee-high, foul on Giroud. He gave the free-kick which would indicate he saw the incident. Why, then, was Toure not sent-off? He then chose to ignore a clear handball by Zabaleta which prevented Theo Walcott from being one-on-one with Pantilimon. It was a penalty. There is no doubt that it was a penalty. Why, then, was it not given?
Let's get on to the two goals Arsenal had disallowed, shall we? Neither of them were offside. Given what we'd seen from that particular linesman for City's goal earlier on I would have to wonder what was different with our players, who weren't infringing. The one good thing Giroud did pretty much all game was score a fine strike on the turn, only to see the flag up when he knew absolutely that he wasn't offside. Nicklas Bendtner buried a good header and suffered the same injustice. Who knows, that goal could have been a turning point for Bendtner as it might have seen Arsenal come back and get a result. As it is he has nothing to show for scoring a fine goal.
If I was a journalist I'd be investigating the officials in the Premier League. As a fan I fail to see that such things can be simply mistakes when it always seems to be certain teams getting the benefit of them. It just so happens that those teams are the ones with massive resources. It doesn't help that the FA chooses to bury its head in the belief that the officials are completely beyond reproach. They also constantly fail to deal with poor performance from the officials. Even if you accept that the bad decisions yesterday were nothing but honest errors there will be no punishment for those responsible. There is so much at stake here that there should be penalties (pardon the pun). If I made such horrendous, obvious, and regular errors in my job I would be unemployed by now. Steve Clarke has seen his West Brom team not given numerous decisions in recent weeks, and he is the one who has been sacked. The likes of Marriner, Atkinson, Dowd etc simply move on to the next pay cheque. The only question for me is who is paying it?