Lack of cool heads at the back cost Arsenal against Manchester City

For all the talk of their frailties, there is still no case for the defence at Emirates.

Manchester City's Argentine defender Martin Demichelis, right, celebrates his equaliser in the 2-2 draw with Arsenal. AFP
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There is talk about the lack of spending, talk about the lack of holding midfielders and a lack of cover in defence, but what stopped Arsenal beating Manchester City on Saturday was a basic lack of defensive discipline.

Given City twice hit the post in the final ten minutes and that they might have had a penalty when Jack Wilshere seemed to handle, it would be misleading to paint the result as some kind of injustice, or a smash and grab, but the fact remains that this was a game Arsenal should have had wrapped up early, a match in which they seemed in control for long periods, but lacked the wherewithal at both ends, the streetwiseness, to finish it off.

When City took the lead, after 28 minutes, it came utterly against the run of play. Arsenal, with their heady swirl of midfielders, had created long skeins of passes, produced backheels and flicks, generated rapid back and forth exchanges. They’d moved the ball beautifully from left to right and right to left and back to front, and they’d hit the post through Danny Welbeck, whose movement suggested he will fit very nicely into this Arsenal side, but they hadn’t scored.

There is a strange sense with Arsenal that at times their very comfort in possession, their virtuosity, can undo them. Too many players tried to do too much. Too many players committed too high up the field. Then Sergio Aguero made a challenge on halfway and the ball popped loose. Jesus Navas accelerated away from a dozing Nacho Monreal, while Mathieu Flamini let Aguero get away from him as he appealed for a throw-in in the assumption the ball was going out. Although Navas did superbly and Aguero finished with style, it was a goal rooted in those two moments of sloppiness.

Similarly, as Martin Demichelis thumped in an equaliser with seven minutes to go, he was ridiculously unmarked. Even the corner that produced it came amid a spell of pressure apparently caused by Arsenal losing focus after Mathieu Debuchy succumbed to a horrible ankle injury – turning his foot in the turf with nobody anywhere near him. In the chaos that followed, Arsenal could easily have lost.

Yet such was the quality of their passing, so completely did they dominate City’s midfield, that Arsenal should have won. Perhaps Manuel Pellegrini really was furious about what he saw as fouls in the build-up to both Arsenal goals, but his attack on the referee Mark Clattenburg seemed a classic deflection technique, trying to take the focus off the fact that his side had been outpassed by Arsenal, as they had been in the Community Shield.

Both Arsenal goals were superb, the first dinked in by Jack Wilshere, the second volleyed in by Alexis Sanchez from a Wilshere header, but it was hard to avoid the thought that Arsenal’s control was such that they really should have created more.

Welbeck had earlier chipped an effort against the post, an effort that gained in significance because of echoes of past chances. He scored with a very similar effort against Swansea on the opening day last season, but it was his decision to try the same sort of finish against Bayern Munich in the Champions League last season – after he’d been told by coaching staff that Manuel Neuer, the Bayern keeper, had a vulnerability to low shots in such circumstances – that apparently led to Manchester United losing patience with him. Generally, of course, it takes sense for a player should do what he feels most comfortable doing, but Wenger was non-committal when asked if he thought Welbeck had taken the right option.

That, though, felt a secondary issue, as did concerns about City, who are under severe pressure now not to lose at home to Chelsea next Sunday. Wenger acknowledged that his side has defensive problems to resolve – and with Debuchy injured the paucity of resources comes under even greater scrutiny - but the problem is at least as much to do with mentality. Arsenal make mistakes that the very best sides do not make with anything like the consistency they do.

sports@thenational.ae