Adversity is revealing for Arsenal players

Posted by Sam Limbert

In many ways, all the pre-match previews and tactical plans for Arsenal against Manchester City went out the window Sunday when Laurent Koscielny was sent off in the first 10 minutes. The odds were stacked against Arsenal, and even though the resulting penalty was missed, it felt horribly inevitable that Manchester City would clinically beat the Gunners.

While the initial selection of the starting XI by Arsene Wenger can be questioned, it's always difficult for the team to adapt and physically cope with playing with 10 men for 80 minutes. Tactically it’s difficult to assess Sunday's game because of being restricted so early on, and I was impressed that Arsenal at least tried a front two in the second half with Olivier Giroud joining Theo Walcott. This was hindered by not having the extra man in midfield so Arsenal barely had any width to get crosses into the two.

The match was still revealing for some Arsenal players however. Having been put in an adverse situation, it was intriguing to see how some of the squad reacted. Some stood out by giving everything, others were anonymous. Having ended up in such a situation, fans expected those left on the pitch to be willing to do the extra to compensate for being a man down, and most tried to do so.

Before looking at those who had to do the extra work, a word on Koscielny. It was a strict interpretation of the law from Mike Dean to send him off. However, it was daft of Koscielny to even give the referee the option of giving a penalty and a red card. He was slow to react to Edin Dzeko turning in the box, and didn’t need to pull him down in such a situation. It was another needless error that massively cost the team, and wasn't one you’d expect from someone like Koscielny.

Jack Wilshere was the stand-out man of those who had to work harder for the rest of the game. If the rest of the squad showed the same level of effort he did, regardless of their ability, Arsenal would be in a better position. He charged around the midfield, made tackles, drew numerous fouls and did his best to stretch Arsenal’s play without the extra man in midfield. His character and commitment to the club shone through in the face of adversity.

Others who impressed me were Wojciech Szczesny, Kieran Gibbs, Aaron Ramsey and Giroud. Although the last two were substitutes, they still made things more difficult for Manchester City than it had been beforehand. Szczesny, who was slightly fortuitous to save the penalty, stood up well to City, and did well to deny Carlos Tevez in the one-on-one situation in the second half. Gibbs could have been stronger in the tackle in the build-up to the second goal, but otherwise I thought he gave a lot for the cause.

On the flip side, there were a few others who disappeared when things got tough. Walcott was virtually anonymous when Arsenal went down to 10. It wasn’t an attractive task to be the lone front man and close down the Manchester City back four, but Walcott could have done more. He also struggled to hold the ball up and occupy the centre backs to give runners the chance to get forward from midfield. Abou Diaby barely looked fit enough had the game stayed 11-on-11, but at a man down he struggled. It was tough for him to be thrust into such a big game and then be expected to put a bigger shift in.

I was also surprised at the performance of Bacary Sagna. He’s not looked himself in recent weeks and seems to have lost the spring in his running he used to have. His form is a concern and isn’t helping to calm any nerves in the back four. I’d be surprised if his performances are down to a lack of effort, so I wonder if there is another problem going on with the right back.

The defeat didn’t offer answers to most of the pre-match questions because of the early sending off, and it does still leave a lot of questions hanging over Wenger which he needs to answer sooner rather than later. However it was revealing which players seemed to stand up to the challenge in the adversity, and which didn’t. Whether with 10 or 11 on the pitch, the whole squad need to be willing to put the work in the next few weeks to avoid a Cup exit and slipping further from the top four.

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