In the build up to the game all the talk was of Arsenal’s inability last season to perform in lunch time fixtures against their rivals for the top four. Wenger stressed that his side did not suffer from a psychological barrier and having seen a Manchester City team sheet without midfield titans Yaya Toure and Fernando, he must have felt convinced that his side would be able to banish the memories of last season’s capitulations.
Indeed, in contrast to the pedestrian pace at which they began the early kick offs last season, Arsenal flew out of the traps, playing with real intensity and pressing their opponents high up the pitch. This approach nearly paid dividends when new £16 million man Danny Welbeck was presented with the game’s first goal scoring opportunity via a rare misplaced pass from David Silva. Welbeck chose an elaborate lofted finish when perhaps he should have simply have struck it low past Joe Hart. His failure to find the net did nothing to counter Lois van Gaal’s comments earlier in the week that Welbeck was not prolific enough a striker.
Arsenal continued to look industrious in midfield and with the absence of the aforementioned Toure and Fernando, and conversely the presence of an unfit Frank Lampard, Wilshere and Ramsey were being afforded the space and time to dominate midfield. However, despite this early control of the game, in the twenty eighth minute Manchester City broke up the park, Flamini failed to track Aguero and the diminutive and deadly Argentinian ghosted into the box to calmly dispatch a driven Jesus Navas cross. The goal knocked the wind out of Arsenal’s sails and they struggled to maintain any measure of composure as the first half wore on. It was only a smart save from Szcesny that kept the score at one nil.
The ineffective Lampard was replaced for the start of the second half by former Arsenal man Samir Nasri. The Frenchman was busier but the lack of a dominant presence in central midfield allowed Arsenal the space to attack at the heart of the City defence. This was to prove key to Arsenal’s equaliser with Ramsey driving forward and playing in Wilshere who skipped past Clichy and finished with aplomb. These two players were also heavily involved in Arsenal’s stunning second. A Ramsey cross was only partially cleared and Wilshere headed the ball to Alexis Sanchez who crashed home an exquisite volley. This was probably Sanchez’s most effective performance in an Arsenal shirt and he worked extremely hard all afternoon.
As the game wore on it became increasingly open but instead of looking to consolidate their lead and perhaps replace the fading Ozil with Arteta, Wenger instead left his team to continue attacking City. Pellegrini in contrast decided to alter things and brought on Kolarov for Fernandinho. This substitution gave City a greater impetus going forward and given the Serbian’s impact every time he plays, it is a surprise he did not start this game. Kolarov sent in a corner in the eighty third minute and rising high but completely unmarked was Martin Dimichelis who powered in the equaliser. Again, a simple defensive error proved costly for Arsenal and they very nearly threw the game away in the closing stages. Kolarov again threatened and hit the post, as did Edin Dzeko.
As the final whistle went there was a clear air of frustration and disappointment within the home support. However, those fans should recognise that Arsenal were extremely fortunate not to lose the game despite starting strongly, mounting a valiant fight back and playing some breath-taking football. Wenger has to take responsibility for not changing tactics when two one up and defensively this must surely be the last season that Per Mertesacker is seen as a first choice at centre back. Arsenal lack a leader at the back and the ease with which City opened them up at the death was shocking. On a more positive note the Arsenal boss will have been delighted with the man of the match performance by Wilshere who was magnificent, apart from a pretty credible penalty appeal that City had against him for a petulant hand ball in the second half. City will be happy that they managed to secure a draw away from home without their engine room and yet perhaps maybe slightly disappointed not to leave North London with all three points. They have developed the ability to achieve positive results when not playing particularly well and this should ensure that they will be competing for the league title come May 2015.
How enjoyable was did you find the draw between Arsenal and Manchester City and who was the point a better result for? Can Arsene Wenger’s men mount a sustained title push this season, and which areas do Pellegrini’s troops have to improve in to overhaul current leaders Chelsea?