The weekend was capped off with Arsenal hosting Manchester City. City have historically had a poor time at the Emirates, having only won one league game and one league cup game there; the most recent being four years ago, courtesy of a super strike from James Milner .
Arsenal, as we all know, haven’t been having the greatest of times recently; Arsene Wenger is under increasing pressure from very vocal sections of the Arsenal fanbase. Both teams went into the game needing a win to keep up their chances of securing Champions League football. City are having a tough run of fixtures, having played Liverpool and Arsenal, they travel to Chelsea on Wednesday, before facing Hull at home at 3pm on Saturday. This is a crucial run of fixtures and given the points they’ve dropped at home this season, in the form of draws against teams that they should really be beating (Southampton, Everton, Middlesbrough and Stoke) City can’t afford to drop too many points on their travels. Arsenal on the other hand, need to pick up the points wherever they can, at least in order for pressure to ease on Arsene Wenger.
City started the game bright and there appeared to be a notable intention to get an early goal. City were playing with pace and glimpses of directness which has been missing far too many times this season. However, the starting line up for City arguably raised the most eyebrows; Guardiola picked only three recognised defenders, with Jesus Navas the surprise inclusion. The media and fans were left guessing who would play rightback, though it was assumed by the majority that Fernandinho would fill this role, as he had done previously at home to Swansea. However, as it turned out, Jesus Navas was the man chosen to fill in at fullback.
City’s bright start paid off for them as they took the lead in the 5th minute. Kevin de Bruyne played a decent long ball forward which set Leroy Sané off. As I’ve said in previous reviews, Sané has been in superb form since scoring his first goal, coincidentally against Arsenal at the Etihad. The young German carried the ball forward superbly, showing pace, strength and composure, as he fended off Hector Bellerin, before taking the ball round the oncoming Ospina and slotting the ball home.
Turning back to City’s defending, to be fair to Jesus Navas, he’s always been a player that put the effort in, he’s been hot and cold for City in recent years and there are a lot of City fans that find him unbearably frustrating. I personally just think he’s past his best, but can still be relied upon to put the effort in – so bringing him on for the last 5 or 10 minutes when you’re 3 goals up is fine… but I can’t help but roll my eyes when I see his name on the teamsheet. Guardiola clearly appreciates his effort though, as he’s clocked up a fair share of minutes this season. He made his mark early on as a rightback too, with a bit of a rash tackle on Nacho Monreal which earned him the game’s first yellow card.
Guardiola has since stated that once City took the lead early in the first half, they forgot to play and push on. That would seem fair, as Arsenal did start to get back into the game as the half wore on. However, not before Kevin de Bruyne struck the post and David Silva forced a good save out of Ospina on the rebound. Though it wasn’t so much Arsenal’s attacking flair that got them back into the game, as it was some awful defensive confusion which allowed Theo Walcott to pull on back for the hosts around the 40 minute-mark. After a ball had been cleared from the City penalty box by the inconsistent Otamendi, it fell to Shkodran Mustafi who looped a header back towards the City goal. The ball bounced to Walcott and after a poor attempted tackle by Clichy, the Arsenal man poked the ball into the bottom corner. City had been wasteful with chances and possession and can only blame themselves for allowing Arsenal to get a goal back.
Less than two minutes after the Arsenal equaliser, City were back in front, thanks to a Sergio Agüero strike. The Arsenal goal had clearly woke City up again, as Kevin de Bruyne hit saw a shot deflected onto the post. Then, in a break that followed, Sterling attempted to lay the ball of to him, an Arsenal defender blocked the attempt and the ball bounced to David Silva on the edge of the box, the Spanish wizard neatly played the ball to Sergio Agüero who, despite slipping slightly, drove a low shot into the back of the Arsenal goal. City ended the first half with their lead intact, despite having only had 48% of the possession.
Both teams made changes at halftime, with Koscielny coming off for Gabriel due to injury and Yaya Toure coming on for Raheem Sterling in what Guardiola has now confirmed was a tactical substitution. The idea being that City could try and claw back some of the possession and get more of a passing game going, by bringing on Toure, who’s refound himself this season as a midfielder, though I must admit, he’s starting to look tired at times – no really tired, not just his lethargic self.
City could’ve had a third early in the second half, but unfortunately Agüero spurned a good chance and put his header wide following a wonderful cross from Jesus Navas. The ball played in was sublime and really deserved a better finish; as the look of frustration on Agüero’s face would demonstrate.
It would be City’s poor defending that would cause them bother again, as they allowed Arsenal to level the score once again following a corner. The ball was whipped in by Mesut Özil – actually only the second notable thing he did all game apart from flounder a tame effort goalwards in the first half. The cross from the corner had plenty of pace on it, but it wasn’t a worldy by any stretch of the imagination. However, Otamendi’s poor ability to mark a man allowed Mustafi to rise up and direct the ball into the back of the City net. It was a poor show really, by Otamendi in particular, but mainly by the fact that a static City defence clearly weren’t communicating with one another in the build up to the ball coming in.
The remainder of the game saw both teams lose their edge, though City did have the majority of the chances; Fernandinho’s half-volleied effort forced a good save from Ospina, Agüero saw a tame header saved and Navas wasted a good opportunity with his weaker left foot late on. After it’s eventful first hour, the game winded down considerably. Though there was a point where Arsenal fans were appealing for a penalty; Alexis Sanchez having been brought down in the City box, but the referee rightly waved play on. Replays showed it was actually a fantastic tackle by Fernandinho, in which he clearly got the ball.
As the game wore on, it struck me, not for the first time this season, that Kevin de Bruyne needed to be withdrawn, as he became less and less influential. I’ve said it before, since scoring that free kick against Barcelona, he’s been quite underpar. Admittedly, he set the bar quite high for himself last season with some superb performances, but he’s drifted in and out of games this season and his passing looked off. Yes, he did play the through ball which led to Sané’s goal and he did hit the woodwork, but off the ball he added little to no value, there were times were he could be seen jogging as the play and more importantly other players galloped past him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a huge de Bruyne fan, he’s an exceptional player, but recent performances have been poor to the point where it’s felt like we’ve carried him for periods of games at times. I’ve also mentioned this before, but it seems more pertinent now, I would not be at all surprised if Pep drops him in the coming games, unless performances improve. That said, he does possess that moment of magic that can turn a game on it’s head. We’ll have to see what the Chelsea game brings.
I has to be said that overall, the game will have been entertaining to the neutral, but as a City fan, it felt like two valuable points dropped if I’m honest. However, if you’d have offered me four points from the two league games against Arsenal at the start of the season, I’d have bit your hand off. The Emirates has always been a tough place to go and so City should be pleased with a point, but the way the game played out, a point isn’t really good enough. One thing’s for certain, if City want to reach the FA Cup final, they’ll have to defend much better against Arsenal in the Semi-Final later this month. Arsenal fans will have mixed feelings about the game, but this is partially likely to be down to the fact that there have been a number of photographs and videos which have since emerged of Gunners’ fans arguing and fighting amongst themselves.
City will go to Stamford Bridge knowing that they have to up there game if they’re to get anything from the champions-elect. Stamford Bridge hasn’t been the kindest of grounds to City over the years, but it’s also a ground where City have fared slightly better than they have at the Emirates, but only slightly.