After an electrifying encounter between Manchester City and Arsenal, the two sides were forced to settle for a draw at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday. At the beginning of the season, we would have perhaps thought a lot more of this game than just the potential decider of third and fourth place in the Premier League. Having seen Leicester City be crowned champions the day before the fixture, the motivation of both managers was well away from what was expected of them prior to the campaign.
Arsenal and Manchester City have both massively underachieved in the league this season, with massive amounts respect to Claudio Ranieri’s miraculous title winning team, their biggest threat for the majority of the season was Tottenham Hotspur, with the challenge from City and the Gunners minimal. The annual ‘end of season, could’ve done better’ performance was evident by both teams during yesterday’s contest.
Low quality contest
The game was not won tactically, but more by a lack of tactics leading to defensive exploitation and individual error which resulted to the goals. Following their departure from the Champions League semi-final at the hands of Zidane’s Real Madrid, it was Manuel Pellegrini’s team that came out showing more of a state of intent, however Arsenal’s reluctance to take control of the game was not something rare.
Sergio Agüero’s opener came as no surprise after some lackadaisical defensive work from Arsenal. While we must not take away the excellence of Agüero to finish the goal marvellously, it was ironically Arsenal’s player of the month at fault for the goal; Mohamed Elneny.
The Egyptian felt there was no need to clear the ball in the box as it momentarily slipped from Agüero’s possession, allowing City’s top goal scorer to open up space by shifting the ball onto his deadly right foot and volley the ball into the bottom corner of Petr Cech’s goal.
While Elneny’s backing away from the ball was primarily at fault for the goal, could Cech have done better with denying Agüero? Should a 'keeper of Cech’s experience and ability be beaten at his near post from ten yards? There was no time for these questions to be answered during the game, as pretty much instantaneously, Oliver Giroud headed the Arsenal equal with the hosts.
The goal was gifted to Arsenal. Former Gunner and Invincible, Gael Clichy headed the ball back to his keeper with no thought; literally, no thought. Joe Hart was alerted as the ball began to creep towards his far post, but to Clichy’s relief, it rolled out for a corner. Arsenal were rewarded the set-piece from little attacking threat, a corner in which they scored from. Olivier Giroud claimed his first league goal in four months, and Arsenal were given a lifeline.
Manchester City centre back Eliaquim Mangala was wrongly positioned in the build up to the corner, regardless of the form of Olivier Giroud, he should never be left unmarked in the box when a corner is floating in. Giroud lost his compatriot with ease and fired his header past the reach of Joe Hart.
The game visually told the story of the importance of missing players for both teams, Mesut Özil for Arsenal and David Silva for City, not forgetting the importance on and off the field of City skipper Vincent Kompany who was injured in their midweek game in Madrid. Arsenal in particular lacked that creative spark in the midfield, someone who can pick out an intricate pass and dictate the tempo of play in the way that Mesut Özil can, the German was ruled out before the game due to a hip injury.
The third goal was another defensive shambles for the visitors. Kevin De Bruyne was almost guided towards the penalty box by the defenders, who seemed to tempt him to come closer to the goal as they continued to back away from making a challenge. De Bruyne’s run began in deep midfield, and eventually scored from just outside of the box, no Arsenal player attempted to get a challenge in, despite the lack of threat in position should they commit a foul on the Belgian. The goal told the story of Arsenal’s trip to West Ham a few weeks ago, not learning by mistakes made in the first half and then allowing themselves to be punished almost identically after the break.
However, the goal spurred Arsenal on even more, and they earned themselves a vital point through a wicked counter attacking goal finished by Alexis Sanchez. Quite like Arsenal’s faults in De Bruyne’s goal, City allowed Sanchez to run through the midfield, before changing pace, in which he began to panic the City defence who were left ball chasing. The Chilean played a stunning one-two with goal scorer Olivier Giroud, before burying the ball into Hart’s net with a first time finesse finish.
A one city race for the top four
The result left Manchester City deflated, as their top four hopes are now in the hands of local rivals Manchester United. Should the Red Devils' win their last two games, Pep Guardiola will be introduced to life in Manchester playing football in the Europa League. Arsenal, on the other hand. have secured a top four finish; should their bitter rivals, Tottenham Hotspur lose in Newcastle next weekend, and Arsenal win against Aston Villa, they could finish their horrifically inconsistent season in second place, above their North London rivals.