Wenger crisis as Arsenal lurch into disarray
Manchester City 3 Arsenal 0: Hapless Gunners fail to find right response to Gallas' stinging attack and crumble to Ireland-inspired City
Sunday 23 November 2008
Suddenly, that outburst doesn't sound so out of synch after all. "Not brave enough in battle," was one of several ways that William Gallas defined Arsenal in midweek and yes, that pretty much tells the story. If, after a day which included time spent at their London Colney training ground, Arsenal's club captain flicked on the highlights last night, he could have been forgiven for a few well-placed kicks at the coffee table.
His side's performance here, which brought a third League defeat in five games, was shockingly feeble and defensively calamitous. Never were Manchester City's known defensive frailties tested and often did Gallas's absence scream across the turf to Arsène Wenger (right).
Rarely has an air of denial drifted across the City conference room quite so tangibly as when Wenger insisted that this was "a flattering victory" for City and that his side were "quite in control" of the game.
In truth, no one was in control of the game for fully an hour. The first half passed in a blur of misplaced passes from sides whose reputations for aesthetics went before them. Then came a goal which pretty much encapsulated all that Gallas has said about the current Arsenal side. Stephen Ireland – a shining light in the footballing gloom – took a ball from Benjani, eased into the penalty area and, in a comedy of errors, watching Gaël Clichy offer him an unexpected one-two, Ireland gleefully clipped his seventh goal of the season past Manuel Almunia – who was awarded his second shot at captaining Arsenal in Gallas's absence.
Wenger's explanation of the goal – "there were too many players on the same ball" – was almost as painful as the defending and when his players attempted to reverse the deficit there was simply nothing there.
Wenger had arrived in Manchester minus nine first-team regulars. With Cesc Fabregas suspended and Theo Walcott and Emmanuel Adebayor missing, it fell upon individuals utterly out of keeping with title pretensions to propel Arsenal forward. Alex Song was as uncomfortable in a central-midfield role as you would expect. Denilson was febrile again.
As the Gunners floundered, so City prospered, with the fast, counter-attacking game which has now delivered them 29 goals – a record bettered only by Chelsea's 32. The ease with which Shaun Wright-Phillips dispossessed Robin van Persie and strode 20 yards towards goal on 56 minutes would also have disenchanted any club captain. Contrast with that the way Wright-Phillips, displaying precisely the intensity that Arsenal were lacking, placed a ball though the left channel for Robinho, whose lofted flick past Almunia for 2-0, as Gavin Hoyte dashed back, was as exquisite as it was audacious. Arsenal slipped into freefall, light years away from the side which beat Manchester United only two weeks ago.
Clichy had the ball nicked from him by Darius Vassell – when he is tormenting you, it really does spell trouble – and just recovered to place a tackle. Robinho backheeled the ball into the net after Almunia fumbled in front of him, only to be ruled offside. Then Elano, on for Vassell, took his turn to cut open the defence, threading a ball which Robinho took slightly wide in the course of rounding Almunia. It meant his shot was soft enough for Johan Djourou to clear off the line. The knock to the left ankle which Robinho took in the course of the move saw him hobble off, though Mark Hughes does not believe it will rule him out of City's Uefa Cup trip to Schalke in midweek.
Arsenal's day was done in injury time when the young City striker Daniel Sturridge, on the field for three minutes, cut past Song on the dead-ball line, was tripped and converted the ensuing penalty.
Mark Hughes enjoyed only City's second win against Arsenal in the Premier League. His owners are apparently interested in the notion of paying £63m for Juventus' Gigi Buffon. "I don't know what you're talking about," Hughes grinned, when that notion was put to him.
Bereft of any other steel, Wenger might have to put his captain's indiscretions behind both of them. "We can have a captain, we can change a captain without having a political issue of it. Of course he has a future at the club but I believe the less we talk the better it is," he added.
Referee: Alan Wiley
Man of the match: Ireland
Match rating: 6/10
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