Monday, March 31, 2014

Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1

If the Swansea game was a match for which the result mattered most, this was a match in which the performance was most important. And Arsenal delivered the performance the supporters wanted.

Arsenal have been criticised for their mental frailty and lack of leaderships when it comes to big games. The way they completely submitted at Anfield and Stamford Bridge (in our opinion, the 6-3 defeat at the Ethihad Stadium is another story. We could have won the game 6-5, if all the decisions had gone our way) raised serious questions about the Gunners' mental strength. In that sense, this clash with one of title contenders was a stern test.

Arsene Wenger made only one change to the side that started in a 2-2 draw with Swansea on Tuesday night. It came as no surprise as there was no change on the injury front. There were no fresh injury concerns, while nobody on the lengthy injury list had made a comeback. Lukas Podolski came in for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who was dropped to the bench.

Man City started brightly. Arsenal had to weather their attack, but gradually settled into the game. Rosicky had a penalty claim when he was tripped by Zabaleta, but if it was a 50:50 chance, you knew that Mike Dean would give us nothing. When we thought we had lasted longer than against Chelsea, Man City broke the deadlock in the 19th minute. Poldi was dispossessed in midfield and Silva broke quickly. Silva fed the ball to Dzeko, whose shot bounced back off the post to the feet of Silva. It was another unlucky goal we conceded, although Silva deserves a credit for being in the right place and right time. The difference to the Chelsea game was that we battled back after going down 1-0. At half time, we were quite happy to see the determination of our team. Although the TV panels and most of the media seemed to think that Man City controlled the game in the first half, we thought Arsenal also had their moments and made the game very difficult for Man City.

The pace and intensity of the game stepped up in the second half. Arsenal grabbed a deserved equaliser in the 52nd minute through Flamini's sweeping shot into the far corner. Minutes later, Podolski had his goal-bound shot deflected by Hart. Man City also had chances to win the game, but Arsenal ended the game on top. It's safe to say that they were the better side in the second half.

It was an encouraging and decent point against the arguably best team in the Premier League. If we had been offered a draw prior to the game, we would have happily taken it. Man City were odds-on favourites and after two setbacks Arsenal suffered in the recent week, we didn't expect them to get anything out of this game, especially immediately after Man City came out of a Manchester derby with a comfortable 3-0 win. However, what we were pinning our only hope on was the fact that we were unbeaten at home since the opening day of this season's Premier League. Six of the current top 7 teams came here this season and we beat Liverpool 2-0, Tottenham 1-0 and drew with Chelsea 0-0, Everton 1-1, and Man U 0-0. Arsenal's lack of character in big games have come under the spotlight recently, but our home record against these top teams have been fairly decent this season. Considering how we ended the game on the front foot, some even felt that we were unlucky not to come away with all three points.

There are a few positives from this game, but the biggest one is the team's desire and passion. Everybody showed their commitment. After trailing so early, Arsenal demonstrated their resilience, trying to get back in the game.

Secondly, this was Arsenal's best performance we have seen for a while. Injury to key players took its toll on the football they play and the depleted squad haven't played very well for some while. A section of fans even started questioning the quality of the players we currently have. However, all the players put in impressive performances in the second half in particular. They showed that the team has enough quality to match the title favourites even without a number of influential players.

Also, it was encouraging to see that the Vermaelen-Mertesacker partnership worked just fine. In addition, the Flamini-Arteta central midfield partnership offered the right balance on the day. Many fans complain about Wenger not giving the French midfielder enough playing time, but earlier this season, the Flamini-Arteta partnership was not successful as it made the set-up too defensive. However, in this game, both players went forward, covering each other effectively. Flamini even made a Ramsey-esque run through middle just like a box-to-box player and scored a goal.

After the disappointing draw with Swansea on Tuesday night, both Arsene Wenger and Carl Jennkinson predicted that there would be a few more turns and twists before the end of the season and they were right. Earlier on the day, Chelsea suffered a huge blow to their title aspiration by the hands of a relegation-battling Crystal Palace. If Man City were to win this game, they would leapfrog Chelsea and go top on goal difference with two games in hand. Winning the Premier League title is still a long shot for us even after Chelsea's second shock away defeat in a row, but the media started including us back in the title race after the draw against Man City. Then Everton beat a bottom-table Fulham 3-1 on Sunday and the media started hyping Eveton's chance of qualifying for Champions League at the expense of us. Football does change quickly in a short space of time.

The draw with Swansea was definitely two points dropped, but we would like to think that this was a point earned. Prior to the match, the scenario written by the media was that Arsenal would visit Goodison Park with 3 points lead over Everton and if the north London club lose, the Blues could overtake them on possibly improved goal difference after their victory over Fulham. The point from this game at least prevented the scenario.

Now the pride and confidence have been restored, the Gunners should be able to take on Everton in a positive mindset next weekend. This is going to be a massive game as our more realistic target in the League is to finish fourth (at least to start with). After this game, we have a relatively easy fixture schedule in comparison with Everton's, which include Manchester United and City at home and Southampton away. Also, we should have some of key players back from injury for the last five games. If the team can produce the same performance as this from now till the end of the season, they will secure the 17th consecutive year's Champions League football without doubt.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 7
Made some good saves.

Sagna: 7
Delivered an excellent cross which only needed a contact to put it at the back of the net.

Mertesacker: 7
Did not check Dzeko's run leading to Man City's goal (or was it Sagna' responsibility?), but otherwise solid.

Vermaelen: 7
Didn't put his foot wrong. Won 8 aerial duels.

Gibbs: 7
Man City targeted his flank in the first 20 minutes. He was caught out of position, but that's because he didn't get much defensive help from Poldi. After the early difficult period, he settled well. Had a hand in the equaliser.

Areta: 7
Did his job well. Made 2 key passes, 2 tackles and 4 interceptions.

Flamini: 9
Scored an equaliser. Instilled steel in the team.

Rosicky: 8
Showed his physical and aggressive side in this game. Our best player in the first half.

Cazorla: 8
Sky Sports and's Man of the Match. Orchestrated attack. Had 1 shot on target, Made 3 key passes, 72 passes with a 79% accuracy and 3 tackles.

Podolski: 7
He was guilty for Man City's goal by allowing himself robbed of the ball and didn't help Gibbs enough in defence, but improved his defensive efforts in the second half. Picked out Flamini in the great position and delivered a perfect cross for him. Unlucky not to score himself immediately after the equaliser.

Giroud: 6
His hold-up play and control of the ball improved in this game, but finishing was poor. Had 3 shots well off  target. If he had shown more aggression in front of goal, he could have latched onto the end of Sagna's brilliant cross.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Replaced Poldi in the 79th minute. Lively. 

Sanogo: 5
Came on for Giroud in the 85th minute. Had only 6 touches and made 4 passes with a 50% passing accuracy.

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