There was cautious optimism among Arsenal supporters that a win over Manchester City this weekend was achievable – a belief backed up by an extraordinary record against City in north London over the years, which has seen the Gunners remain unbeaten since 1975. Alas, the victory was not to be.
With 10 minutes on the clock, Laurent Koscielny felt it necessary to haul down City striker Edin Dzeko inside his own penalty area. The defender’s poor excuse for a tackle was more akin to that of his fellow countryman Thierry Dusautoir, who has undoubtedly executed many similar challenges during his time captaining the French rugby union side at the Stade de France.
While it would have been rewarded in that context, here Koscielny saw red and the remainder of the game was a relative breeze for the champions, despite themselves seeing Vincent Kompany dismissed in the second half of the 2-0 City triumph.
It is somewhat hard to analyse a team’s performance when they suffer from an early numerical disadvantage. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain had to make way for Per Mertesacker only 10 minutes in – a move which obviously was not in manager Arsene Wenger’s game plan.
However the match did serve to highlight the Gunners’ defensive uncertainty. Despite having played one game less than most of the rest of the top half of the Premier League, Arsenal have conceded 15 goals at the Emirates Stadium – only ninth-placed Swansea City, with 17, have seen their net bulge on more occasions.
For all the talk of new-found solidity in the early exchanges of the season, inspired by former centre-back Steve Bould’s promotion to assistant manager, questions have continued to emerge about the Gunners’ options along the back line.
Koscielny’s most recent misdemeanour is, on the whole, symptomatic of his performances this season. His lack of decisiveness and positional sense have been a worry – never more so than in that extraordinary League Cup match against Reading in which Arsenal conceded five goals in farcical circumstances, yet still managed to win, hitting seven in reply.
In addition, Thomas Vermaelen, usually so composed and consistent at the heart of Arsenal’s back four, has endured a turbulent season by his standards. German international Mertesacker has probably been the Gunners’ best central defender this season, but was left on the bench for the match against City as Koscielny was preferred.
And so, on the face of it, it looks as if Arsene Wenger could ideally do with adding to his beleaguered set of defenders, especially with Johan Djourou having now left the club. However there have been very few rumours about Arsenal recruiting a new defender this month and therefore a move appears unlikely.
In their pursuit for Champions League qualification, Arsenal’s defence must tighten up, especially at the Emirates Stadium. Keeping the entirety of their team on the pitch would also be advisable.
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