Is Arsenal’s victory over Manchester City down to the manager or the players?

I don’t quite know what to make of Arsenal’s win over Manchester City. My initial response was, like yours, one of shock. An Arsenal side guilty of making the same mistakes again and again appeared to have suddenly learnt from them. Frustration at their slow uptake was secondary to the joy of an unexpected victory. Arsene Wenger had got it right, and in doing so acknowledged he was wrong.

And then came his tetchy post-match interview, in which he effectively denied his side had done anything dramatically different to their normal gung-ho approach. Ignore it, I thought: he’s just struggling with publicly compromising his principles. No-one wants to climb down from their aesthetic mount on national television.

But then came this Olivier Giroud interview (“The boss didn’t say to stay back and counter-attack”), in which he appears to reveal that the players weren’t specifically instructed to let City have the ball. Arsenal’s tactical masterclass, Giroud seems to suggest, came about as much by accident as design.

Now, there is evidence against Giroud’s crude ‘big bang’ theory that re-establishes the divinity of Arsene. For example, our approach at City was fairly reminiscent of our cautious display at Stamford Bridge earlier this season. There were indications then that we had adopted a more conservative set-up. The difference, as so often in these big games, was the first goal. Individual errors granted Chelsea the lead, and recovering from that deficit away from home proved impossible.

However, if we take Giroud’s comments at face value, what does that mean for Arsenal’s newfound resolve and discipline? Where does that come from? Certainly not Steve Bould, who appears to be as impotent as Pele before his lucrative endorsement deal.

A potential answer arrives in the form of the players. Is it possible that, in spite of their manager’s intransigence, they have simply adjusted of their own accord? There are enough new ingredients for me to believe it’s possible: the eerie calm of David Ospina, the fearless physicality of Francis Coquelin, the inspirational athleticism of Alexis Sanchez. Perhaps this Arsenal, with these personnel, has taken matters in to their own hands. If the manager wasn’t prepared to teach his team some necessary lessons, perhaps certain players have – inadvertently or otherwise.

In reality, our win may be down to both players and manager. The two possibilities are in no way mutually exclusive. That would certainly fit with Wenger’s ethos: he is always eager for his players to take responsibility for their own actions on the field. The intriguing thing is how difficult that makes it to apportion credit.

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ps. TRANSFER BUSINESS: I talked about it on Twitter the other day, but my understanding is that Arsenal are confident they would secure a work permit for Villarreal defender Gabriel Paulista without too many problems. The Spanish club are holding out for something close to his €20m buyout fee, which sounds a lot until you remember just how hard it’s proven to find a half-decent centre-half. For more on Paulista, read this profile piece I wrote on him for ESPN.

Gunnerblog is the brainchild of childbrained football writer James McNicholas. Aside from Gunnerblog, James currently contributes to Bleacher Report, The Mirror and ESPN.

5 Comments

  1. Dennis Trees   •  

    Absolute fcukery article. Maybe they just didn’t want to tell you biased media anything. And yes I spelled fcukery wrong.

  2. Hap Bryant   •  

    A provocative theory, James, but not one that the evidence supports. Have a look at yesterday’s blog from 7AM Tim, “This season Arsenal sacrificing possession but with a purpose” . It makes a convincing case for a shift in the system in away matches against formidable opponents.

    It’s hard to believe that such a fundamental change would have happened without the manager’s involvement.

  3. Brendan   •  

    Great win, but media reading too much into it, just like they read too much into every loss. Monreal’s wayward clearance could have easily been own goal, ref could have easily missed the pk. It was a stroke of good fortune that we catch City with Aguero and Kompany returning from injury and perhaps not 100%, and Toure in Africa. I mean Coq and Cazorla were excellent, but we didnt see City’s best.

    This is not a club where the players do there own thing. AW is the captain of this ship.

  4. Hi there, its nice paragraph on the topic of media print,
    we all be familiar with media is a wonderful source of information.

  5. BigDave   •  

    When you talk about the amount of possession, you have to remember there’s another team on the pitch!

    I’d suggest that this Arsenal team had a spine, with Coq in front of Koz and BFG, and Olly leading the line. This has not been possible this season so far, partly because of injuries, and partly because Le Coq wasn’t considered ready. Everything was more solid as a result. Of course, playing against an attacking team like Man City, you are going to get pushed back, but generally Arsenal handled it well. If, when you get the ball, you attack quickly, you’re going to lose the ball a lot more, which means the defence has to be well organised. As long as we can keep that solid spine together, then the playmakers can strut their stuff, and we’ll see the best of Cazorla. Alexis will still be a great player, but he won’t stand out as much because he won’t be trying to beat teams on his own! There was real shape to the team. Arsenal may have got more possession against a lesser team than City, but we defended well and created chances on the break.

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