The Arsenal fixation that gave up the title race to Manchester City

Mikel Arteta, right, looks anguished on the touchline

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Sitting there defeated, in demeanour as well as in result, Mikel Arteta was asked a pointed question. Has the Premier League got to the point where it needs Manchester City to have a bad season in order for anyone else to win the title? The only time anyone else has won it in the last six years, after all, was the only time they got fewer than 86 points.

Arteta was naturally not in the mood to really get into this.

“I don’t know the answer to that. We’ve been nine and a half months here so… We lost today here, we have to accept that. We lost in a very different way at the Emirates. Today the quality of the performance was very far from what was required.”

It leads to another question, that is actually remarkable when you consider that Arsenal still top of the league with only five games left. Can Arteta’s side actually do what is required to still have a title race – let alone win it?

The problem they face was inherent to the profoundly emphatic defeat that Arsenal suffered.

It is certainly difficult to remember a supposed title showdown where the nature of victory was so emphatic, where the true gap between the teams was so brutally revealed.


Liverpool did beat Manchester United 4-1 in 2008-09 and, while that was a well-deserved victory, the scale of it felt borne of the relatively freakish circumstances of the match. Not so here. This felt like reality asserting itself, after Arsenal had pushed themselves to the limit to offer the illusion of a title race.

They can still disprove that, of course. It’s just that the evidence of the game indicates the way this season is evolving.

Arsenal look like they are falling away, unable to maintain the same level as senior players drop off. They really need to win all five of their remaining matches but that looks a lot more difficult than even a month ago.

One of their next games is probably the most difficult challenge in the Premier League right now after City, which is away to Newcastle United. Before that, they at least have a farcical Chelsea, who are now on the brink of going a remarkable six games without even a point. This should be forgiving enough to at least get Arsenal firing again, to get back on track.

Except, that’s what everyone would have thought before their match against the team in bottom place, that 3-3 draw at home to Southampton.

This is what happens when a team is in bad form, when they have been derailed. It is not about the difficulty of any given fixture, it’s that every fixture involves the team having to get over its own issues. Arsenal are currently in a funk.

Arsene Wenger summed it up best when he insightfully and instinctively spotted a crucial difference in their recent displays. He noted that Arteta’s side had stopped doing what they needed to do and going through the processes in the manner that had launched them to this position. They had instead become fixated on needing to win. That brought a hesitation and a rushed nature to their performances all at the same. It was so visible, to the point they couldn’t possibly hope to match City at their own game.

Manchester City players celebrate after VAR awards their second goal

It is why there might be fair criticism about why Arteta didn’t change approach for this match. Why didn’t he sit deep and seek to hit City on the break? He was asked this and offered fair rationale.

“We wanted to tweak a few things, especially there. But when they are able to execute and score an early goal you have to understand where we’re coming from, you have to be loyal to what has brought us all this way. We’ve done it in the past in different ways and that doesn’t guarantee you anything. It’s time to look in the mirror at what we could have done better or differently.”

The one other element to this is that Arsenal’s fears have come true. They’ve surrendered their lead and now given the initiative to City.

Does anyone doubt that Pep Guardiola’s side will continue their run to win the games they need to win the title and probably the treble? That was something else inherent to this match. It was the complete nature of City’s display.

It could, however, have a releasing effect on Arsenal. That extreme level of pressure is gone. It may bring that rise after a flatlining. The problem is that all the pressure isn’t gone.

Arsenal have to stop this season tailspinning, especially as so many looking on will ask whether that is exactly what’s going to happen.
 Arteta was ultimately asked about arresting this.


“First of all, accept the reality. That’s the best way to move forward. Accept that today they were better than us, that they deserved to win the game, that we never had a chance to win the game and that we have to improve and be better and humble to accept that. You have to do that even though they were better.”

They now need to be much better just to keep a title race going.

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