Arsenal and Manchester City played out an entertaining draw in a game that aptly demonstrated both sides strengths and weaknesses. The match played out to the backdrop of a tetchy Emirates Stadium, who had the pleasure of seeing a van drive around the area carrying anti-Wenger billboards before the game.
Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Alexis, Welbeck
Subs: Martinez, Gabriel, Gibbs, Maitland-Niles, Elneny, Iwobi, Giroud
Caballero, Navas, Stones, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Sterling, De Bruyne, Silva, Sane, Aguero
Subs: Bravo, Kompany, Zabaleta, Kolarov, Delph, Yaya Toure, Nolito
Teams exchange blows in chaotic first hour
If the crowd weren’t anxious before the game they certainly were after Leroy Sane put City ahead inside five minutes. Arsenal began the game as open as possible. They tried to defend with a high block and prevent City from playing out from the back, an approach they’ve used before against Barcelona. It seemed a solid approach with such a mobile front four, but it contributed to City’s first goal. With Xhaka and Coquelin both pushing up as part of the high press, Mustafi was required to step forward and head it away. His clearance fell to De Bruyne in acres of space and he sent it back from where it came from. Sane, pinpointed before the game as a threat with his diagonal runs and pace, darted off the back of Bellerin to latch onto the pass, round Ospina and score.
Only the post prevented City from soon doubling their lead. Arsenal were anxious and took a while to settle into the game. Once they did though, they played with a good tempo and caused City problems. Jesus Navas was uncomfortable at right back and received little help from Sterling in front of him. Monreal and Alexis doubled up on the Spaniard. With Ozil drifting over to that side, Arsenal were able to sustain some real pressure on City.
It resembled the first game between the two teams this season. At the Etihad, Arsenal took an early lead, but stopped playing and were powerless to prevent a City comeback. Here, City stopped playing and Arsenal took encouragement from it. Lax City defending from an Arsenal corner saw Walcott pick the ball up in the penalty area and prod in an equaliser.
However, unlike that first game, the visiting team got their act together and retaliated. Arsenal were playing with a lot of energy and emotion, which was overdue after recent games, but they weren’t organised. They panicked the moment City started coming forward again. Ozil played a rare sloppy pass in front of his penalty area, and the defence flailed about trying to clear it. The ball came out to Aguero and he produced a fine finish past Ospina to restore City’s lead.
The game continued to be chaotic going into the second half. The teams exchanged attacks and failed to convince at the back. Guardiola’s decision to put Yaya Toure on at half-time didn’t fix City’s issues with their right-hand side, and it was yet another Arsenal attack down that side that produced a corner. City, again, showed their lack of concentration on set-pieces when Mustafi steamed in and placed a header well into the corner for 2-2.
Final half hour lulls towards draw
The game slowed down after that. With both teams tiring due to their international excursions, and perhaps wanting to prevent further goals from going in, they dropped their intensity and took fewer risks. Arsenal dropped into a deep block and played most of the final thirty minutes without the ball. Tellingly, Arsenal didn’t manage a single shot on target in this period, indicating their struggle to play out and counter.
It was a risky approach, given how dangerous City looked whenever they attacked and Arsenal’s need for three points. They had the occasional scare when Ospina was forced into a couple of good stops and Monreal survived a handball claim against him in the dying minutes. The game finished 2-2.
One point not enough
The good news is that Arsenal didn’t lose another Premier League game. The not-so-good news is that Arsenal didn’t win the game, either. A point stems the bleeding but doesn’t do much else. We remain in sixth, even further behind Spurs and Liverpool after their wins on Saturday, and no closer to City and United. It’s now zero wins in six games.
Yet, while there’s a feeling of two points dropped, there’s reason to be slightly encouraged, too. The effort Arsenal put in was much better than it has been, proving that claims Wenger had lost the dressing room were more wishful thinking than anything. The defending has to be a lot better, but if they can show such menace in attack in the games to come they’ll have a chance of a top four finish. Maybe this will be the point that kicks off our annual charge to the top four trophy.