Monday, 31 March 2014

Pride restored

Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City

Following a terrible week in which their title challenge was virtually extinguished, Arsenal restored some sense of pride on Saturday with a fine display against Manchester City, earning themselves a draw against Manuel Pelligrini’s side.

It would have been easy for the Gunners to retreat into their shell, given the fact so many media outlets had rightly torn into them in the aftermath of that crushing 6-0 defeat at Chelsea, which was followed by the players being booed off the pitch against Swansea. However Arsene Wenger’s side showed great resolve and character to face up to adversity and put on a performance for their manager and supporters. 

During the opening minutes of the match, Arsenal had to concentrate greatly on the task at hand, as Manchester City sought to press the Gunners hard in the hope of scoring an early goal which would have silenced the home crowd and potentially turned them against their side. City were keeping the ball well and Arsenal were finding it difficult to win back possession. However, the home side managed to restrict the opposition to half chances at best and slowly grew into the game.

Given the ease with which Chelsea had torn them apart it was vital for Arsenal’s midfield not to get overrun. With the tireless Flamini deployed alongside Arteta at the base of the midfield there was never any danger of that happening against City. The Frenchman was excellent all night, cutting out City attacks, flying into tackles and organising the team defensively. Behind him, Thomas Vermaelen, once again deputising for the injured Koscielny was equally impressive, winning the aerial battles against Edin Dzeko time and time again, while not once appearing flustered, as he worked in tandem with Mertesacker to restrict the City attack.  

With twelve minutes gone, the Gunners should have been provided with an opportunity to take the lead from the spot, but Mike Dean turned down Rosicky’s legitimate penalty appeals. The Czech international had clearly been brought down by Pablo Zabaletta but the referee only awarded a goal kick to City. Rosicky was also outstanding on Saturday, with his mesmerising ability to carry the ball past several City challenges, as he moved through the gears, enabling the Gunners to move up the pitch.

The home side were made to rue that penalty decision only seven minutes later as the visitors took the lead through a simple counter attack. The main problem Arsenal face is that when they attack, both full backs push high up the pitch. Therefore, if the ball is lost in the midfield area, the Gunners can quickly find themselves outnumbered at the back. It is what undid them in the early stages against Chelsea and what led to City opening the scoring on Saturday. As Podolski lost possession. City pounced, with David Silva finding Dzeko on the edge of the box, in the right back area that should have been occupied by Sagna. Yet Dezko’s shot was not great and Szczesny should have done better with his save. The Polish goalkeeper simply parried the ball against the post and the rebound fell invitingly to Silva for the Spaniard to poke home into an empty net.

Arsenal responded well to this setback and unlike the previous week, the Gunners regrouped, regained their composure and began to enjoy greater possession. Unfortunately, during the rest of the first half, the home side seemed to have no real attacking options when they reached the final third. There was little movement, no one running in behind the City defence and therefore very little pressure on the City goal, as the Gunners struggled to create any real goal scoring opportunities.

Yet having gone into the half time break on top, Arsenal almost pressed the self-destruct button at the start of the second half. Szczesny parried a Navas cross against the legs of Mertesacker but fortunately the ball trickled inches wide of the Gunners goal. Arsenal had rode their luck on this occasion and a few minutes later, restored parity with a wonderful flowing move.

Podolski raced through down the left flank before crossing the ball into the box, for Flamini to steer a shot away from Joe Hart and into the bottom corner of the net, for the Frenchman’s second goal since returning to North London. The Emirates crowd were on their feet, backing their team and there was a great energy inside the stadium. In fact the Gunners could have taken the lead minutes later as Sagna’s low cross flew right across goal, begging for an Arsenal touch which unfortunately never came.

Still the home side continued to press forward and they had a glorious chance in the 60th minute of the game as Cazorla’s through ball saw Podolski bear down on goal. Such is the German’s finishing ability, that if Arsenal fans could have picked one player to be in that position it would have been him. Unfortunately on this occasion, his finishing let him down as his powerful effort hit the inside of Joe Hart’s leg and went behind for a corner.

As the game wore on, it seemed perfectly set up for the introduction of Oxlade-Chamberlain from the bench, to exploit City’s tired legs with his pace. However Wenger delayed this decision and therefore when Oxlade-Chamberlain did enter the fray, he had little time to make an impact on the match.

At the final whistle, the mid-week boos were replaced with applause for a side who had clearly given their all. It was a hard fought point and one which the Gunners would have taken before the game. However, following Chelsea’s defeat to Crystal Palace, only a win would have propelled the Gunners back into title contention. That late own goal against Swansea, now looks extremely costly.

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