Napoli 2-0 Arsenal and Manchester City 6-3 Arsenal: Worrying Times Ahead

What worries me about these two results is how quickly we've reverted to Bad Old Arsenal once the first series of important matches came up. Every bad trait that I thought had been eradicated from the squad - poor turnovers in midfield, shockingly-bad fullback defense, inability to defend set pieces, listless attacking play, a total lack of killer instinct - have returned in spades, like an unwanted party guest who we thought we showed the door to hours ago.

There's a long way to go in this season and it is definitely no time for panic. But, the Arsenal needs to sort this out, sharpish.

Perhaps there is some explanation for the reverse in Naples, with qualification all but assured. Still, it's just like Bad Old Arsenal to respond to "Don't lose by three goals" with "Cool, we'll lose by two." No killer instinct, no ambition, no realization that it's easy to fall into bad habits. The shambling mess that was the first half (offensively, at least) looked remarkably similar to the first 20-30 minutes of the City game. The very best teams ease off on the throttle only when victory is guaranteed. Note how Barcelona massacred Celtic to win points they didn't need to qualify, and compare that to our willingness to only lose by just enough against Napoli.

Another aspect that I noticed was how, whenever we ship tons of goals, poor fullback defense is usually the root cause. The City match was uncomfortably similar to the first leg against Bayern Munich last season. Despite the strength and ability of the opponent, the result was far more about our inability to defend than anything they did. Actually, I'll prove it - almost all of the goals against this week were due to breakdowns on our end.

Napoli 1-0:  This one was the outlier. Higuain's turn and shot with Per Mertesacker draped all over him was sheer class on the Argentinian's part.

Napoli 2-0:  In fairness, it didn't help that we were down to 10 men thanks to one of the most ridiculous second-yellow card decisions I've seen in my life. Callejon dived risibly on what was barely a foul, if that. Viktor Kassai is a joke of a ref, and always has been.

That said, this was a classic example of a poor giveaway leading to a break up the other end. Ramsey gave away possession cheaply deep in Napoli territory, and you can see the red shirts jogging listlessly back as the home side break. Jenkinson is miles off of Insigne, giving him time and space to pick his pass. Mertesacker and Koscielny are static as Callejon runs onto the pass that Insigne looped over them. Kos does get back in time, but his attempt at a clearance goes over Szczesny and in. Had he just cut off that side of the net, he gives his goalkeeper a chance to make a save.

City 1-0:  This was always coming, given their dominance in the middle of the park and Arsenal's ridiculous inability to string three passes together. Arsene blamed tired legs and the referee after the match, but I think Arsenal's nerve failed them in a big game yet again. Anyway, this one was down to poor set-piece marking. Nasri sends in the corner, Demechelis beats Nacho Monreal to the first header, and who knows what Koscielny was thinking on the follow-up. He allows Aguero to blow right by him to volley it in. Disgraceful.

City 2-1: Our boys managed to last a whole three minutes after the equalizer before shipping another ridiculous goal. City have an innocuous throw-in. They pass it around a bit, and then send it long down the flank for Zabaleta, who is in acres. Why is that? Because Monreal is in the center of the penalty area, leaving that wing completely open. Wilshere tries to assist, but has to cover too much ground. Koscielny is asleep at the switch, lets Negredo get goalside on him, and that's that.

City 3-1: Goals at the very beginning or the very end of a half are killers, and this is arguably where the Gunners let the match get away from them. Frustratingly, we could not have gift-wrapped this any better, either. We have a throw deep in our end - Ozil to Sagna back to Ozil, and so far we're fine. The German plays an atrociously loose pass in front of Flamini, in a central location. The Frenchman can't get to it, taking himself out of the play in the process. All of a sudden, Fernandinho has all the time and space he could ever ask for to place his shot around the stranded Szczesny.

I mean, would not expect this from a Sunday league team.

City 4-2: If the one before wasn't the dagger, this one was. Again, Arsenal could not last more than a few minutes after scoring before conceding themselves. It's frustrating and deflating, especially when it's completely preventable.

Monreal was once again too far off his man, allowing him to settle on the ball and decide what he wanted to do. Navas' low center was a good one, but Monreal still should have prevented it. He didn't, and Silva was left with an easy tap-in thanks to Thomas Vermaelen's poor positioning and awareness. Horrendous defending all around. 

City 5-2: Jack Wilshere gives the ball away cheaply on the halfway line. Bacary Sagna is glacially slow getting back, allowing Nasri the run of the wing, Mertesacker has to cover, but Vermaelen again shows his astonishing lack of awareness by also coming over. That leaves Fernandinho alone, as Monreal was left with two men to mark.

City 6-3: Not that it mattered in the end, but note again how Arsenal concede so soon after scoring themselves - it belies an utter lack of concentration and discipline. Gnabry was the catalyst, his sloppy pass to nowhere sending Fernandinho away. Sagna is again astonishingly lazy getting back, giving Milner free reign in the penalty area. Szczesny has to try and play sweeper-keeper again (having already done so twice well outside his area, his defense doing nothing to shield him) and clips the Englishman on the way. The ref has no choice but to award a penalty, which Yaya Toure easily dispatches.

The worst part about it, for me, is how winnable this game actually was. City have been iffy defensively themselves this season, and their bizarre insistence on playing their second-best goalkeeper is baffling (stop by O'Hanlon's sometime if you ever want the full rant on how England will never produce another world-class goalkeeper again as long as they keep witch-hunting their own). The momentum was there for the taking after Ramsey's quick thinking started the break for our equalizer - and man, was that ever crappy keeping from Pantilimion on that one (you'll note that the same hacks who are after Hart with torches and pitchforks won't say much here, I guarantee it).

Even after we went down 3-1, the contest still was very much there to be won if we wanted it - especially after Ramsey's gorgeously-weighted dink pass to Walcott ended with a perfect finish over the diving Pantilimion. Down only one goal, dominating possession, thirty minutes to was right there. Right bloody there.

It doesn't help, of course, that Olivier Giroud had an absolute shocker. You only get so many chances against a side of this quality, and a player of the HFB's quality has to put them away in a match of this magnitude. He hasn't turned into a poor player overnight, but it's obvious that he needs a rest. Whisper it, but Nicklas Bendtner looked pretty good when he came on, and perhaps has earned a start.

So, we come to the end of a tough week with no wins out of three. As mentioned, there have been mitigating circumstances along the way - Everton played a brilliant away match, Napoli was largely a dead rubber and City is a frightening place to play in any event, let alone after a midweek trip to Italy. However, we have another huge match coming up next weekend, and there are no excuses this time. There will be a full week of rest, and this Chelsea side are not overly impressive. If we are the title-threatening team that we believe ourselves to be, that is the kind of match we have to win. End of story.

Personally, I think we're going to. I just hope my optimism is not unfounded. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings (vs. Napoli):

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7, Jenkinson 7, Arteta 6, Flamini 7, Rosicky 6 (Monreal 7), Ozil 6, Cazorla 6 (Ramsey 7), Giroud 6

Man of the Match: Higuain, for the goal. 

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings (vs. Manchester City):

Szczesny 7, Monreal 3, Koscielny 5 (Vermaelen 3), Mertesacker 7, Sagna 5, Flamini 7 (Gnabry 7), Wilshere 4, Ramsey 8, Ozil 6, Walcott 8, Giroud 4 (Bendtner 7)

Man of the Match: The only Arsenal players that would even be in the conversation are Walcott and Ramsey, both of whom had legitimately excellent all-around performances. However, Fernandinho was a monster in the center of the park for City, and capped off his day with two astonishing goals. Sadly, it can't be anyone but.