Monday, 15 September 2014

Gunners made to settle for draw

Arsenal 2-2 Man City

At the end of a truly pulsating game on Saturday, which ebbed and flowed from one end to the next, Arsenal were extremely frustrated not to have secured a crucial victory and all three points. The Gunners had turned the game around with only 15 minutes left, having gone behind in the first half, but could not hold on and ultimately had to settle for a point. In truth a share of the spoils was a fair reflection of the game as Manchester City could have also won the match in the dying minutes.

The Gunners began the game in excellent fashion. They refused to be intimidated by the Premier League champions, flying into tackles, aggressively winning the ball back and really taking the game to their opponents. In fact it was all Arsenal in the opening period as the home side won the initial midfield battle and swarmed all over the visitors. Arsene Wenger’s side were also creating chances but unfortunately didn’t manage to take any of them to really press home their early advantage. The lively Sanchez saw an early shot saved by Hart before Welbeck fired narrowly wide after good build up play from Monreal and Ozil. With 12 minutes on the clock, Arsenal had a golden opportunity to open the scoring as debutant Danny Welbeck latched onto David Silva’s poor pass back and bore down on goal. Joe Hart came running off his line and Welbeck attempted a delightful chip which had the goalkeeper beaten all ends up. The ball seemed destined for the back of the net but unfortunately struck the inside of the post and flew straight back into the arms of a relieved Hart.

Had they taken the lead at this stage, the Gunners may well have pushed on and won the game. Welbeck’s performance on Saturday was very encouraging, offering a real focal point up front; endlessly running the City defence and tracking back to help his teammates. It would have been a wonderful goal with which to open his account in an Arsenal shirt, but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be.

The home side were made to pay for that miss in cruel fashion as City scored with their very first attempt on goal in the 28th minute. It seemed the run of the ball just wasn’t going Arsenal’s way. On another day Welbeck’s effort would have clipped the inside of the post and gone into the net, while in the 28th minute a ball which appeared set to go out for a throw in, instead slowed down drastically and stayed in play, allowing Jesus Navas the opportunity to burst forward. Navas raced towards the by-line and picked out Aguero in the box, for the Argentine to fire home. Arsenal’s hard work had been undone by sheer back luck it seemed, but replays suggested otherwise. In echoes of their notorious away defeats against the top sides last season, the Gunners had rather naively pushed both fullbacks high up the pitch as they launched an attack on the City goal, leaving themselves hopelessly exposed at the back. Flamini failed to cover the run of Aguero and the Gunners were made to pay.

It was a big blow for the home side and they struggled to overcome their disappointment to focus again on the task at hand. In fact they could have been two goals down minutes later as City’s movement opened up the Arsenal defence, forcing Szczesny into a fine save to prevent Silva from doubling the away side’s lead.

The Gunners regrouped during the half time break and started the second period in much the same vein as they had started the first half. Jack Wilshere was at the heart of every Arsenal attack. Playing just behind Welbeck, the young Englishman was enjoying one of his finest games in recent times, pulling the strings with neat intricate passes and driving forward runs to confound his critics. Everything that was good about the Gunners attack was going through Wilshere and highlighted the fact he is slowly but surely getting back to his best. In the 64th minute, Wilshere got the goal his performance so richly deserved. The Arsenal number 10, played the ball into Ramsey, before surging forward into the box to receive the return pass. Once inside the area, Wilshere went past Clichy with a wonderful piece of skill, and then applied a sublime finish to beat Hart at his near post, prodding the ball home with his right foot, having shaped to shoot with his left.

Arsenal were now right back in the game and went for the jugular. The Gunners could sense the match was there to be won and launched attack after attack. As City attempted to clear their lines, Wilshere showed great determination to win a header just outside the box. The ball fell perfectly for Sanchez in the area, to guide a magnificent volley past Hart and give the Gunners the lead. It was Sanchez’s third goal for his new side in as many games and was just reward for another player in a red and white shirt who had produced a magnificent performance. The Chilean was full of running, chasing back when Arsenal were out of possession and taking on City when on the ball, showcasing a vast array of skills to the delight of the home crowd.

Unfortunately, having completed a great comeback, the Gunners just couldn’t hold on to secure all three points. Once they had taken the lead, one look towards the home bench highlighted just how bereft of defensive cover Arsenal are. In such situations the manager could look to throw on a defensive midfielder to help see out the game, but the only player available was Arteta and with such a ferocious midfield battle taking place, the Spaniard’s ageing legs were not really suited to this task. The injury to Debuchy which followed shortly after Arsenal’s second goal, only served to make matters worse.

Callum Chambers replaced the Frenchman at right back, but looked far from comfortable and it appeared only a matter of time before the Gunners would concede. The manner of City’s goal was the cause of much frustration, coming from a set piece in which Arsenal’s marking left much to be desired. Demichelis was allowed a free header on goal, which Flamini was perfectly positioned on the line to clear, but in attempting to save the effort, Szczesny pushed the ball away from Flamini and onto the inside of the post, from where the ball dropped over the line.  It was City who were now in the ascendancy and could have won the game, hitting the post twice in the closing stages and seeing a late effort correctly ruled out for offside.

At the final whistle the Arsenal fans were frustrated and disappointed not to have won the game, but were also extremely proud of the performance from their side. If they continue to play like this, the Gunners will go a long way this season. Unfortunately, their fragile defence let them down once again and the lack of defensive cover was also exposed with Debuchy now facing a lengthy layoff. Nevertheless, Wenger’s side can take a lot of satisfaction from their performance and must now build on it.

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