Man City v Arsenal: Coulda. Shoulda. Didn’t.
I'm convinced Gervinho is Ivorian for Dead End. I hate to pile it on, when it's been done to death, but he may quite possibly be the most frustrating player I've ever had the agony to watch.
Watching Gerv play is like watching baby polar bears bob for salmon.They're standing shoulder deep in a river that's 90% tired, juicy fish, they slam their heads into the water, and come up with nothing but a slightly bemused expression on their faces. And all those plump, pink, tasty salmon slither upstream, laughing their little salmon asses off.
It doesn't impress me that Gervinho's quick and wily and prepared to take on (and on and on…) Sure, he runs circles around most of the lumbering oafs who inhabit the opposition defence, but circles don't go anywhere. Every now and then you want him to throw in a vector or two: a line with some intention, direction, purpose – something that gets you from A to B, where B is the ball in the back of the net.
To be honest, observing him play, I'm not sure Gervinho has the slightest clue what he's going to do once he gets the ball. And neither does the rest of the team. He's like a pinball on steroids: clackety clack! buzz! bing! dong! – and all you can do is stand there, fingers on the flipper buttons, praying it'll end up somewhere useful, and not squirting down the center of the table into the dead zone.
When the cameras show his expression after he's dribbled the ball into touch, or sliced a sitter into the stands, or completed his triple inverted pike in the half-twisted swallow position routine with his customary belly-flop: he always looks startled… like someone just splashed cold water on his face. It's as if he might have been oblivious to the last few seconds – and he's trying to figure out what just happened by the reactions of the other players.
Did I score? Did I score? Did I score?
I was hoping that Wenger might have found a bulb to light Gervinho's stringy lampshade, but it turns out I was wrong. The monkey's back, the circus is obviously still in town.
My frustration was compounded by the fact that we seemed to play a 2-8-0 formation. We dominated the midfield, sure, but our players were all over each other. Smothering each other, tripping each other up – clustered around the ball like eight-year-olds.
And without an obvious target up front – Giroud benched, Poldi in stealth mode – we had no-one to aim for. Jenks and Rambo hurtled forward, creating chances out wide, but there were no Arsenal players waiting in the box to cash in on their hard work. Without a real striker, we resorted to trying to dribble the ball into goal again. Old habits die hard. I must have counted eleventeen great (missed) opportunities to test the keeper.
Pretty, pointless foreplay, with no penetration.
Please don't get me wrong – I'm encouraged by so many things: the fact that our defence stood firm against the best attacking force the Premier League has to offer; the way our bargain bin midfield dominated their costly playmakers; the rise of Jenkinson and the return of Rambo; Cazorla's genius, Diaby's flashes of brilliance, Arteta's calm 'pivote-ing'; Mertesacker was immense and Koz… What can I say?! We have three fine centre backs to choose from. Its a pity we can only play two of them at a time…
The goal conceded was a soft one: whether it was Mannone or the Zone to blame is irrelevant. (Mannone and the much-maligned zonal marking redeemed themselves plenty of times throughout the game.) In the Battle of the Crania though, City's scary Lescott came out in front by a forehead. (Sure – it was another set-piece goal conceded, reminiscent of seasons past, but I don't believe it's indicative of some systemic shortcoming).
I'll gladly take an away point from the reigning Champions. We remain unbeaten this season, and that's fuel in the tank for next week's game against the European Champions. Wenger is obviously experimenting with possible line-ups, trying to find a way to balance our majestic midfield with our fledgling attack, but in my humble opinion, this last experiment was a failure. I don't think 2-8-0 will ever work.
Final point: I'm NOT going to comfort myself on how close we were to beating City. Shoulda, coulda… That's the old Arsenal. The one that has been a wallflower at the Trophy Ball for the last seven years.
Thanks for reading. “Normal” off-the-wall service to resume shortly… 😉