Football fandom’s unofficial laws dictate you must feel a sense of optimism however unrealistic they may be.
But surely even Arsenal supporters were just hoping to keep the score down at the Etihad Stadium before kick-off?
After all, history provided very little cause for positivity given they’d lost their previous six games against whichever team were the Premier League’s defending champions and been defeated in each of their past eight top-flight meetings with City.
And, true to form, it happened again.
This 5-0 embarrassment made it nine successive losses to City, a new Arsenal record for the most consecutive defeats to the same opposition in league competition.
While Arsenal and Mikel Arteta relieved the pressure slightly in midweek with their 6-0 thrashing of West Brom in the League Cup, in reality that will carry little importance within the wider narrative of the Gunners’ hapless start to the campaign.
Of course, they have had a tricky beginning to 2021-22 with injuries and coronavirus cases, plus Chelsea and now City in their first three matches… though they also lost to promoted Brentford on matchday one, so it’s not all just down to facing deeper or better squads.
Against City, much that went wrong initially was more to do with Arsenal being quintessentially Arsenal than City being excellent.
The hosts were in front after just seven minutes, Ilkay Gundogan nodding home after Calum Chambers misjudged the flight of Gabriel Jesus’ cross, while Bernd Leno seemed to do his best to get out of the way.
Gundogan and Bernardo Silva in particular were causing Arsenal significant issues with their forays between the lines, City’s fluidity and flexibility going forward leaving the Gunners’ backline panicking on a regular basis.
City’s control in those early stages just seemed to startle Arteta’s men – whether by design or not is unclear – into a state of hyper-defensiveness and that too backfired as they fell 2-0 down after just 12 minutes.
Arsenal simply refused to press City after a short free-kick. Bernardo had the freedom to play a cross into the box from deep, and although it wasn’t even particularly good, Cedric Soares’ feeble attempt to clear just nudged the ball through to Ferran Torres for an easy finish.
At that point, the only thing preventing this from being ‘peak Arsenal’, as the kids would say, was a red card for Granit Xha…
With half-time approaching, the Swiss midfielder went flying in on Joao Cancelo with both feet off the ground. He may have got the ball and the contact on the City man seemed minimal, but it was dangerous, reckless and a blatant red card.
Of course, he’s become accustomed to those, with his four red cards since the start of 2016-17 a joint high in the Premier League.
Eight minutes later, City had their third through Jesus after great work by Jack Grealish and there will surely have been a few Arsenal fans fearing the worst on what was the 10th anniversary of their worst Premier League defeat – that’s right, the 8-2 loss to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Ultimately – and this may or may not be a consolation to Arteta – it didn’t get quite that bad as City only added two more goals through Rodri and Torres in the second half, but in fairness to Arsene Wenger, at least his team scored two of their own 10 years ago.
At the Etihad on Saturday, just getting a shot away would have been considered an achievement for the Gunners, as they only managed one in the entire match. That sixth-minute Bukayo Saka effort’s xG value of 0.11 was higher than their xG-per-shot average of 0.06 going into the weekend, though no team in the division had a poorer record before the game.
On top of that, striker Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang didn’t have a single touch in the opposition’s box during a game he started for only the fourth time in his Premier League career – three of which have been against City – and the first time since October 2019.
Sure, Arsenal were a man light against a very good City, but it would still be expected to see a little more fight. Instead, they looked resigned to a hammering.
Questions of Arsenal’s mentality have been rife throughout Arteta’s time in charge, particularly relating to their discipline, and this performance was just another in a long series of no-shows.
Heading into Saturday, so much of the talk surrounding this match wasn’t even focused on the fixture, rather City’s inability to bring in a new striker – or, more specifically, Cristiano Ronaldo.
But Arsenal’s meek performance stole the show. Just as the Premier League table now shows for at least a few hours, this was top versus bottom in every sense, and from Arteta’s perspective there’s no more damning conclusion to be made than that.
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