Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1 – Pride Restored After Horror Week
Football enjoys plenty of clichés, none more prominent than describing a game as one of “two halves”. But it’s one that is perfectly applicable when reflecting on yesterday’s late kick off at the Emirates Stadium, as Arsenal rallied after the break to grab a draw and restore some pride after one of the more difficult weeks of the season.
In the end, it’s a game we came away from wondering what could have been after dominating the second half but we failed to convert that into three points, with Lukas Podolski, into the starting line up ahead of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in Arsene Wenger’s only change from the side that drew against Swansea on Tuesday, missing the glorious chance that could have earned us the win.
But even being in a position where we could have won the game required some turn around after a sluggish first half during which we spent a lot of time on the back foot.
Worrying and repetitive signs were apparent from the third minute, as Pablo Zabaleta found space in behind the Arsenal defence, but Mikel Arteta cut out his attempted squared ball. Jesus Navas then saw a curling shot fly wide in the following move, as City took control of the game early on and we again looked incredibly open down the left hand side.
Arsenal did show signs of attacking intent though and positive signals were there, despite a lack of chances. Podolski kept the ball alive well on the left, and after an interchange between Kieran Gibbs and Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky charged into the area and went down under apparent contact from Zabaleta to screams of penalty from the Emirates North Bank. Mike Dean had other ideas though and didn’t award it and it looked like he got that one right.
In the 18th minute the visitors were in front and it was a similar goal and borne of the same problems we struggled with last weekend at Stamford Bridge. Podolski got dispossessed in the middle prompting a City counter attack through David Silva. Edin Dzeko was played in on the left and his shot rattled back off the post across goal where Silva was on hand to toe it in to the far corner.
Again we were caught in possession, again we were countered with our full backs too high up the pitch, and again we were behind with it all to do.
Arsenal responded well and we had the ball in the net a few minutes after going behind, but Mathieu Flamini was just offside before he bundled in Podolski’s good cross from the left.
The rest of the half played out with little action of worth, a few bookings here and there and Arsenal were looking lively but making the same mistakes in the middle and at the back and not creating much in attack.
City were good value for their lead at the break and early in the second half almost doubled it. Navas drove down the right, beat Gibbs and crossed dangerously, prompting Wojciech Szczesny to palm the ball away unconvincingly. This rebounded back off Per Mertesacker and fortunately dribbled wide, with Dzeko unable to react in time to try and finish it off.
The game really picked up from here. Cazorla found space and shot from distance and Joe Hart’s save rebounded into the danger zone but no one was on hand to follow up. Shortly after that, though, Arsenal were level and it was through a most unlikely source.
We switched play from right to left quickly just outside the City area after Olivier Giroud held the ball up well, and Podolski’s good cross flashed into the area and it was Flamini who was on hand to guide it into the corner.
Game on and this sprung Arsenal into life, with Bacary Sagna’s cross moments later flying past everyone in the area and put behind for a corner.
The big chance to go ahead came in the 60th minute. Cazorla’s flick ricocheted off a City defender into the path of Podolski, in a position where you’d expect him to bury it nine times out of ten. Unfortunately this was that unlucky tenth as his low shot, aimed between the legs of Hart, was deflected wide by the England goalkeeper.
Clear goal scoring chances were then few and far between, despite the intensity of the game remaining high. Fernandinho saw a long-range blast tipped over by Szczesny and Flamini’s shot-come-cross went over. Giroud headed wide a Cazorla free kick, before a goal mouth scramble in the Arsenal area saw Yaya Toure try to round Szczesny but he couldn’t quite get the shot away and it was eventually deflected wide.
The final ten minutes saw intense pressure from Arsenal but little chances of note. Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Podolski and Yaya Sanogo replaced Giroud, but neither side could find an opening to win the game and a draw it finished, probably a fair result on the balance of the game.
It was a fantastic second half effort from Arsenal and we showed real character and spirit to turn around a match that looked like it could be heading towards another defeat against a rampant Man City.
That was especially the case after an incredibly flat first half where we were again exposed at the back, conceded a similar goal to what we saw against Chelsea last week, and despite some good spells of possession failed to really put anything together in the final third.
The change in mentality for the second half though, was admirable and credit for that must go to Arsene Wenger for rallying the team. If we’re quick enough to criticise him when things go poorly, we must be equally quick to praise him when we play well and after the break we had a lot more control and conviction about our game.
The goal was well worked, from the hold up play by Giroud, the quick shift to the left, Podolski’s cross and Flamini’s gamble into the area and finish, operating in an Aaron Ramsey like forward running midfielder and he applied the gloss in similar fashion to what we had enjoyed seeing the young Welshman do in the first half of the season.
Wenger was quick to praise the Frenchman after the game and credit the balance he gives the team, as well as the fight and determination he possesses and these were qualities that were prominent in our second half response. I think Flamini has had some good and some bad games for us, but he did his job yesterday very well indeed, and you could see what the goal meant to him, particularly after the unfortunate own goal he scored just a few days earlier to deny us three points against Swansea.
In the second half it was Cazorla and Rosicky who drove us forward and made things happen, and Podolski was more than useful in attack but questions will still be rightly asked over his commitment in tracking back as on several occasions Gibbs was exposed on the left. Whether that’s an ignorance in Wenger’s set up or just Podolski being lazy I don’t know, but it’s certainly something that needs to be addressed.
It was another disappointing afternoon for Giroud, though. His hold up play was good at times, but he struggled to get on the ball and when you wanted him to take a gamble in the final third he was often nowhere to be seen.
He wasn’t near Sagna’s cross that beat everyone or Cazorla’s shot that Hart palmed into the danger zone and he looks like a player who is running on fumes at the minute. It again goes back to the failure to bring in suitable competition in the striker position, so I do have sympathy for Giroud as he’s been required to lead the line for a whole season. Particularly difficult with his key partners in crime around him suffering injuries, and if he had a Walcott or an Ozil in support I have no doubt he would have faired better in recent weeks.
He’s what we have though and what we’ll need to get us over the line for the remainder of the season. At 19 goals this season his return has been good, so we shouldn’t over look that, but again the striker department is one that is of severe importance to add to over the summer.
It’d be wrong to fail to mention that Thomas Vermaelen defended well at centre back in Laurent Koscielny’s continued absence. He gets a hard time but I maintain that he’s a useful defender and he showed that yesterday. We were open at times early on with the full backs again pushing forward, but neither Vermaelen nor Mertesacker made big mistakes like what we saw for the goals we conceded against Chelsea and Swansea in previous games.
All in all, a very good point especially considering the position we were in at half time. With Chelsea hilariously losing at Crystal Palace it means we’re still kind of up there, but I still think we should be more looking over our shoulder than ahead.
Everton are homing in on us with games in hand, and they are who we travel to next in what’ll be a big, big game in the race for fourth. After that it appears to be an OK run in, on paper at least, so with six games to go we’re into a territory now where we can’t afford to give much more away.
If we play like we did in the second half yesterday, we’ll be fine in that run in. Hopefully this performance signals a return to the energetic and spirited performances that saw us top the division for so long but have been missing in the past few games.
But it’s the next two games that could now define our season. A win at Goodison Park and a return trip to Wembley would set us up for what could be a great end to the season. Let’s hope the team have got it in them to deliver that.