Arsenal 0 - Manchester City 3 is a sadly familiar scoreline. The Gunners kicked off Project Restart not with a bang but with a whimper. They didn’t manage a shot on target all match. They haven’t won away at a “Big 6” side in 26 tries. They started off well, gave up a goal on a horrible defensive error, and the rest was history. It’s the same story arc with different plot points. Over and over and over again.
Mikel Arteta had a good plan to steal a result. Play compact on defense, hope Bernd Leno made some big saves, and look to break the press with a quick pass into a long-ball for Eddie Nketiah or Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Early on, Nketiah came free twice. The first time he was flagged offside. The second he was dragged down by Eric Garcia and didn’t get the call. Aubameyang had chances to break as well, but Arsenal couldn’t find the pass to release him. It’s a shame that Aubameyang is forced to play out wide; he barely touches the ball out there (only 13 touches in the first half) and could make so much more of an impact through the middle.
Arteta’s plan was also hurt by Granit Xhaka being forced off with an injury in the 7th minute. Xhaka has his limitations, but he can pick a pass, particularly long ones. Dani Ceballos (not a permanent Arsenal player I’d remind you) played well in relief. I thought Kieran Tierney and Hector Bellerin both looked pretty good as well.
As City came into the match more, Arsenal defended decently but gave up good chances too. Bernd Leno made three impressive saves to keep things level; he’s still the player of the season at the club, at least for me.
Then, David Luiz struck. As the first half drew to a close, Luiz, who was on the pitch only because Pablo Mari picked up an injury, completely misjudged a ball, misplayed it, and couldn’t do anything as Raheem Sterling ran onto it to smash it home. But his howler wasn’t over. Minutes into the second half, he got turnstiled by Riyad Mahrez, pulled him down, and earned a straight red (that was a bit harsh). Two-nil to City. Arsenal down to 10. Match over.
David Luiz today: 25 minutes played, one mistake leading to a goal, one penalty conceded, one red card. He’ll be suspended for three matches for the straight red.
David Luiz this season: two straight reds (most in the PL), most penalties conceded, most errors leading to goals.
I cannot fathom how Mikel Arteta could possibly put him back on the pitch unless it’s an absolute, physical necessity. Arteta said after the match that today’s performance hasn’t changed his opinion of Luiz as a player.
And Arteta may not have much of a decision whether to play Luiz when he returns from suspension. The condensed schedule will force squad rotation. Pablo Mari picked up an injury today. Sokratis picked up a late injury and was scratched from the matchday squad. Rob Holding didn’t make the expanded 20-man roster. Calum Chambers is rehabbing from a torn ACL and won’t be available. It’s not as if Arsenal have many options at centerback right now.
I don’t think this match reveals much about Arsenal and the run-in that we didn’t already know. Manchester City are one of the best teams in Europe. Arsenal aren’t very good. David Luiz has made a bunch of mistakes this season and did again today.
The injuries are concerning, and unfortunately, there will likely be more as players get back up to match fitness. Mesut Özil being left off of the matchday squad for “tactical reasons” is worrying — Arsenal need their top earner to be contributing on the pitch. They also need their record-signing Nicolas Pépé to earn a spot in the lineup. It might have been the plan to sub him on at some point today, but if that was the case, that plan went out the window with two early injuries and Luiz’s red card. If he plays on Sunday, I won’t be as worried. Still, when you spend 72-million pounds on a player, you expect to get at least a regular starter.
Arsenal were not likely to get a result today, and they didn’t. If they win the matches they should win on the run-in, they’ve got a good shot at making the Europa League. It would just be really nice if they could pick up a couple unexpected points along the way to ease the pressure.