Finger-pointing is easier than introspection, scapegoats more convenient than hard truths. But after another disappointing result in a largely disheartening season, the truth about Arsenal burns hot and bright on the scoreboard at the Emirates Stadium tonight.
Wagging fingers won't work and refereeing conspiracy theories won't fly. Arsenal are not only not in Manchester City's class, but the Gunners are also in serious danger of finishing outside the Premier League's top four.
The latest evidence came Sunday as James Milner and Edin Dzeko scored the goals and Manchester City eased past Arsenal 2-0 at the Emirates. It was City's first win at Arsenal since 1975, and Milner's strike was City's first goal at the Emirates since 2007—in modern Premier League terms, a Middle Eastern oil fortune ago.
Inevitably, the fingers will be pointed in referee Mike Dean's direction after an eventful match saw both teams reduced to 10 men. Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny was first, seeing red inside the opening 10 minutes.
Dean's decision admittedly changed the complexion of the match, but it was the right decision, and Dean was not, in fact, the reason Arsenal lost Sunday.
Those reasons were numerous, and they ranged from Arsenal's pass-completion rate of 77 percent (down 10 percentage points of their seasonal average, via Squawka) to Manchester City's Arsenal-esque possession and passing to the home team's frequently poor defending in the first half.
And yet, that doesn't fully cover it. As so often this season, Arsenal's problems were numerous Sunday, and, once again, they were on conspicuous display.
As clearly as those problems presented themselves, it's even more clear that Arsene Wenger must take action in the transfer market to to remedy them.
Wenger on transfers: "We are in the market. We try very hard (to strengthen)." #AFCvMCFC— Arsenal.com (@Arsenal) January 13, 2013
Make no mistake: Arsenal were second-best on Sunday, Koscielny deserved to be sent off, and reinforcements—plural, and preferably top-class—are badly needed. Dean, though admittedly a questionable character, made all the right decisions, and Arsenal were simply not good enough to win.
After Koscielny's sending off, City dominated the rest of the first half playing a style normally associated with Arsenal. Crisp passes and flowing moves kept the visitors in control, and though Dzeko missed his early penalty following the red card, the breakthrough goal always seemed inevitable.
It came in the 21st minute, with Arsenal's shuffled back line caught off guard. Still arguing over a (correctly awarded) City free kick, Arsenal failed to react in time as Carlos Tevez freed Milner with a clever pass inside the box. Milner's rocket to the far post made it 1-0 and gave the Gunners a steep hill to climb.
The task became tougher still in the 32nd minute as Dzeko doubled City's advantage. Tevez was again involved, redirecting a cross off Wojciech Szczesny's hands and into Dzeko's path. The Bosnian couldn't have missed from there.
At that, the match felt finished, and City had to wonder whether a rout was possible. Arsenal regrouped at halftime, however, and showed new life for much of the second half. But despite the rally, the Gunners failed to truly threaten Joe Hart's goal until Theo Walcott saw his shot cleared off the line in the 90th minute.
Will Arsenal finish in the top four this season?
The turnaround will have heartened weary fans in need of positivity, but it also illustrated a gnawing issue at the heart of Arsenal's season. Against top sides this season, Arsenal have produced only moral victories and what-if scenarios.
And against everyone else, Arsenal are only a borderline top-four team.
City, meanwhile, proved that the title race is not quite over and that, seven-point gap and all, Manchester United won't run away with the league just yet. Roberto Mancini has issues of his own—not least of all Mario Balotelli's endless antics—but his Blues were able to push aside Arsenal with startling ease.
As Wenger said beforehand, a win was vital for both teams at the Emirates on Sunday. With City trying to keep pace with United and Arsenal facing a trip to Chelsea next weekend, a draw would have satisfied neither fully (via Sky Sports).
At least, that's what he said before the match.