Arsenal shook off a pre-match injury to Mesut Ozil and an in-game knock to Danny Welbeck to peg Manchester City back twice at the Etihad. City needed to win this game with Manchester United breathing down their necks, and took the lead through Sergio Aguero after a fast start. But Arsenal hit back almost immediately, with Olivier Giroud ending his long goal drought in the league from a corner. City started the second half with an alacrity similar to the first, Kevin De Bruyne rifling in a shot past Cech’s near post. The introduction of Theo Walcott sparked Arsenal’s response, with a sustained period of pressure ending in a lovely Alexis strike.
Here are five conclusions we can draw from this back-and-forth encounter in Manchester:
- City’s advantage on the wings
Man City had the better of Arsenal on both wings in this game. Jesus Navas, who has had an iffy season overall, troubled the usually reliable Monreal all day. Mayhem on Monreal’s flank is what led to City’s opener, the ball ricocheting and falling to Aguero who swivelled and flashed the ball expertly past Cech. It didn’t help that Danny Welbeck, tasked with helping Monreal defend the right flank, twisted his knee and headed for an early shower. Jack Wilshere came on for the departing Danny, and his proclivity to drift inside left Monreal even more exposed.
The other wing didn’t fare any better, with De Bruyne regularly getting the run on a jittery Bellerin. A miss from the young Spaniard is what let his Belgian opponent through for City’s second goal. Just like Monreal, Bellerin didn’t have much protection on his flank. Sanchez’s random bursts of pressing ended up leaving him out of position more than helping his full-back.
- Giroud gets his mojo back
2016 has been an unforgiving year for Giroud so far. The striker’s previous league goals came against Liverpool at Anfield in January, his rut tragically coinciding with Arsenal’s reversal of fortunes in the title race. Although it wasn’t a great performance against Man City, Giroud will be happy to have been involved in both Gunners’ goals.
Barely a minute after City’s opener, a calamitous Clichy back header cannoned off the post and went out for an Arsenal corner. Giroud lost his marker with a clever swerve and dispatched the open header confidently past Hart. He battled bravely with Mangala and Otamendi all game, winning scraps and loose balls for Arsenal’s wingers and midfielders to run on to. The fruition of this one-touch play came in the second half, when Giroud laid a fizzing Alexis pass beautifully back into the Chilean’s path to hammer home.
- City’s Mangala problem
Eliaquim Mangala has had a stop-start time at Manchester City so far, a handful of strong performances interspersed among shaky showings. It was the shaky Mangala at hand today, coming off decidedly second best against an Olivier Giroud hitherto shorn of self-belief. The striker lost Mangala far too easily from a corner in the 10th minute to head home Arsenal’s equalizer. Mangala was successfully marshalled in the second half as well, as Giroud held him off to put Alexis in for the second goal.
Unpredictable outings from Otamendi and Mangala coupled with incessant injuries to captain and talisman Vincent Kompany have harmed City across competitions this season. With Kompany’s problems not looking like abating anytime soon, Pep Guardiola will have his work cut out in coaching Mangala and co. into shape next season.
- Arsenal’s midfield two – who?
Ever since Coquelin and Cazorla got hit by long term injuries in successive weeks in November, Arsenal have experimented with various midfield pairings with varying degrees of success. Ramsey and Flamini oversaw a solid Gunners run in December but the Frenchman’s ageing legs and the Welshman’s positional indiscipline saw that pairing eventually shelved. Coquelin and Elneny have the makings of a solid base, but lack the adventure and ball-playing capabilities that come with Ramsey’s inclusion.
Ramsey and Elneny started at the Etihad with Coquelin relegated to the bench, but this pairing too didn’t impress to a great degree. Elneny kept the play ticking with quick and simple passing but failed to win any of his attempted tackles. On the other hand, Ramsey won seven tackles but struggled to get the play going. The introduction of Wilshere for the injured Welbeck helped shore up Arsenal’s midfield, but Arsene Wenger still hasn’t solved the conundrum of the central two.
- Wilshere’s Euro audition
While early signs indicate that Welbeck has damaged his meniscus and may miss the upcoming Euros, the door now seems well and truly open for Jack Wilshere to stake his claim in the England side. The injury ravaged midfielder got a solid 70 minutes under his belt against Man City, tightening up Arsenal’s overrun midfield and providing a guiling balance to Sanchez’s gusto on the other wing.
Wilshere’s old habits are still manifestly present: a tendency to show too much of the ball and risk opposition tackles, and a tendency to go into tackles with counterproductive enthusiasm. He was on the receiving end of a few shake-ups from Fernando and Fernandinho, but hearteningly shook the tackles off and continued playing in trademark Wilshere fashion. He will hope to get more minutes against Aston Villa next weekend and stay fit throughout the Euros ahead of next season.
The draw clearly suited Arsenal more than Man City, with the latter now having to hope that Man United slip up against West Ham for them to have a chance of a top four finish. Arsenal head into a seemingly easy fixture against Aston Villa looking upwards; if Tottenham lose against relegation battling Newcastle, Arsenal can climb up to second and celebrate St. Totteringham’s Day once again.