Analysis: Reasons to be cheerful for Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger - despite Manchester City rout

Manager confident that this is a less flaky Arsenal side, equipped with strong characters

It was their heaviest defeat since they lost 8-2 a few miles across Manchester two years ago, but for Arsenal there were reasons to be cheerful. When Arsène Wenger had stopped making nonsensical claims about Everton and Southampton's parity with the Manchester City team who had just pummelled his own 6-3 – a comment beyond belief – he was jocular, smiling and by no means forlorn in the back corridors of the Etihad on Saturday.

The lift came from seeing Per Mertesacker screaming at Mesut Özil after the game, which was a sign that this is a less flaky Arsenal, equipped with strong characters. "Yes, Mertesacker is a leader," Wenger said. Özil apologised to the travelling fans for failing to acknowledge them after the final whistle.

Leaders were in evidence during the game, too – as Arsenal proved capable of coming at City, again and again to the bitter end, in a way which took us a very long way from that Old Trafford mauling which was so embarrassing that Sir Alex Ferguson later reflected he wanted it all to stop. This was the same indefatigability we witnessed in Arsenal's 1-0 Old Trafford defeat in October, when the quality of the second-half resurgence was obscured by the result.

"No," said Wenger, flatly, when it was put to him that it would be hard to pick the players up now. "Look, honestly – if we cannot pick ourselves up by being top of the league what will happen when we are not top of the league? Let's not go overboard. It's a massive disappointment… but we'll still be top."

And for once, that was not just the customary self-serving managerial propaganda. Theo Walcott, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini performed for him on Saturday, even though it was beyond their physical capabilities to dish out some of the hammering they took in midfield. Even without any midweek exertions of Napoli to sap his energy, Jack Wilshere struggled to hold the line. (He can also expect a one-game ban for his rude gesture to City fans.) But there was certainly a champion's class about the sight of Mertesacker, diving to head a 94th-minute goal.

City's senior Spanish executives are unlikely to have been distressed to see Santi Cazorla on the bench, incidentally. They are huge admirers, considering Cazorla and David Silva to be in a league apart among La Liga players who have left for England. A good retainer of possession, Cazorla might not have displayed the Arsenal profligacy with the ball which was criminal at times on Saturday. It is even more unfathomable that Wenger did not seek to capitalise on the quality of cross Bacary Sagna can deliver. City's Martin Demichelis is a weak link. Mertesacker's goal from Sagna's cross showed up the possibilities. Nacho Monreal's selection ahead of the pacier Kieran Gibbs was also curious. Arsenal were punished by City down their left flank.

"What is important now is how we respond to that," Wenger added. There are more enviable opponents than Arsenal's next – Chelsea at the Emirates a week today – and defeats to both the Manchester teams and to Jose Mourinho's side in the Capital One Cup create an undeniable suspicion that Wenger's side do not yet believe in their ability to win in difficult places. Özil has questions to answer in that respect though he, more than any, can plead for a break. He has missed 153 of the 1,800 minutes of football Arsenal have played since his debut at Sunderland in mid-September.

The problem for Arsenal is that such micro considerations will be an irrelevance if City command Saturday's heights on a regular basis. They played with a power which shows that Ferguson wisely retreated while the going was good. Even if United possessed the extra 20 per cent his management brings, they would not hold a candle to a City squad of this strength and depth.

There are imperfections. Costel Pantilimon revealed without making any transparent clangers that he is the clubs' second-best goalkeeper. Though Joe Hart should therefore expect a Premier League recall this month, no one knows if he can improve his judgement on when to come out of his goal, decision-making vital to the kind of sweeper he needs to be for Manuel Pellegrini's City.

Sergio Aguero, who left the Etihad with a plaster cast from knee to ankle on a thigh injury, may be out for several weeks, too, though City will live. "Listen, we are going to try and break the records," said Samir Nasri, late on Saturday. With 47 goals in 16 games (an average of 2.94 each time they play) City could sweep away Chelsea's 2009-10 record of 103 in a Premier League season and even Aston Villa's 1930-31 total – 128 at an average of 3.04 a game – does not look unachievable. That's what Wenger is up against.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

A nap a day could save your life - and here's why

A nap a day could save your life

A midday nap is 'associated with reduced blood pressure'
If men are so obsessed by sex, why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?

If men are so obsessed by sex...

...why do they clam up when confronted with the grisly realities?
The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3

Jon Thoday and Richard Allen-Turner

The comedy titans of Avalon on their attempt to save BBC3
The bathing machine is back... but with a difference

Rolling in the deep

The bathing machine is back but with a difference
Part-privatised tests, new age limits, driverless cars: Tories plot motoring revolution

Conservatives plot a motoring revolution

Draft report reveals biggest reform to regulations since driving test introduced in 1935
The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory