Monday, May 9, 2016

Manchester City 2 Arsenal 2

The significance of this match could have been much different. At the beginning of the season, or in fact, at the start of the year, this match was regarded as a title decider by many. Since then, both sides have faded away from the title race. Amid the disappointment of the fans, this encounter still presented some importance for both  sides. Going into the game, third-placed Arsenal were 3 points ahead of fourth-placed Man City, whose reaction to their limp performance in their Champions League semi-finals against Real Madrid was under the spotlight. We knew a win at the Etihad would guarantee our place in next season's Champions League without going through the increasingly difficult play-offs. After Tottenham's 2-2 draw with Chelsea on Monday night and resulting confirmation of Leicester City's crowning as Premier League champions, you could sense that Arsenal players' ambition had been turned to a second-place finish. To encourage their belief, the Spurs succumbed to a 2-1 defeat by Southampton earlier in the day, throwing away the lead again. This should have served as an extra motivation for the Gunners.

Arsene Wenger made two forced changes from the starting XI who played in a 1-0 victory over a relegation-threatened Norwich side at the Emirates last Saturday. Gabriel replaced Per Mertesacker, whose season was over after suffering a hamstring injury during the narrow victory. Mesut Ozil missed out on a trip to the northwest due to a slight hip problem. Danny Welbeck came in for the German playmaker, deployed on the left wing, with Alex Iwobi in the No. 10 role. Much to the fans' displeasure, Wenger once again stuck with Olivier Giroud. Among the subs  were David Ospina, Kieran Gibbs, Francis Coquelin, Santi Cazorla, Theo Walcott, Jack Wilshere, and Joel Campbell.

It was believed that Arsenal had a blueprint for the success at the Etihad Stadium. Everybody thought that Wenger would copy the template of their 2-0 victory in last season's corresponding fixture or a 2-1 win at the Emirates Stadium earlier this season, in which the Gunners conceded possession and attacked on the break. However, Arsenal's starting line-up on this day looked too cavalier, with Mohamed Elneny and Aaron Ramsey in central midfield. Was Wenger carried away with the prospect of finishing second after the news of Tottenham's loss?

Our fear soon materialised. Man City started brightly and took a deserved lead in the 8th minute. It was a familiar story. We didn't close down. Elneny was deceived by Aguero, with Koscielny behind the Egyptian just watching Aguero's shot pass him. It was disappointing to see a goalkeeper of Cech's calibre beaten at his near post.

However, Arsenal fought back to equalise within seconds. Giroud headed an Elneny corner into the roof of the net. We hoped that the goal had woken up our team, but no. This was going to be a long late afternoon. Danny Welbeck's injury didn't help. He wasn't moving well since an early knock, but he could no longer continue, giving way to his England team-mate, Jack Wilshere, in the 24th minute.

Arsenal managed to end the first half with parity, but City took the lead again through De Bruyne's goal. It was a carbon copy of Bolasie goal a couple of weeks ago. Once again, we failed to close down and Cech was beaten at his near post.

Wenger made an early substitution by his standards to introduce Theo Walcott in place of Iwobi. Theo made an uncustomary impact when he came on. In the 68th minute, Arsenal equalised once again with Giroud turning to  provider with his brilliant flick. Alexis finished Giroud's lay-off with composure. This was a great example of Arsenal's swift counter-attacking moves. Santi was ready to come on before the goal, but the goal changed Wenger's plan. The Frenchman brought on Coquelin at the expense of Elneny. His thought was clear: if you cannot win, don't lose it.

It was disappointing that we could not fully capitalise on the north London rivals' loss, but the hard-fought point saw us move another step closer to securing next season's Champions League football. The result was far more beneficial to us than the hosts. If Manchester United lose or draw on Tuesday night in the final game at Upton Park, we will secure at least a play-off spot for the next season's Champions League. No matter how other games pan out, a draw with Aston Villa on the last weekend of the season will seal our automatic qualification for the Champions League. Playing in front of their families and loved ones, hopefully, our players will play to their full capacity. Besides, we still have a chance of finishing second, depending on how successful Newcastle  fare against Spurs at St James's Park next Sunday. It was vital to grab a point from this game in order to keep any chance of overtaking Tottenham alive.

Overall, it was another frustrating performance from the Gunners especially the very poor passing, but they deserve the credit for their resilience, fighting back twice to earn a point. Another positive was their efficiency in front of  goal, which has been a problem this season. Arsenal scored 2 goals from their 2 shots on target. The worrying thing was that we only had 5 attempts throughout the game. Hopefully, with Özil's return to the side, we will see more goal-scoring chances created at the Emirates next weekend.

Players ratings

Cech: 5
Beaten at his near post twice, it was a disappointing display from the world-class keeper.

Bellerin: 6
Struggled defensively on the right flank at times. Made 2 tackles, 4 interceptions and 3 clearances.

Gabriel: 6

Some blame Bellerin for De Bruyne's goal, but Gabriel could have done better to stop the Belgian from shooting.

Koscielny: 6

Recovered well from the shaky start. Made 1 tackle, 4 interceptions, and a whopping 10 clearances. 

Monreal: 6
Struggled to cope with Navas' attacking threat. Made 2 tackles, 5 intercept
ions, and 8 clearances.

Elneny: 6

Claimed an assist for Giroud's goal. He has started taking corners and free kicks recently, which is a positive for us. His defensive stats (1 interception and 1 clearance) were disappointing on this day. Replaced by Coquelin in the 76 minutes.

Ramsey: 6
Made 7 tackles, but he was dispossessed too easily and too often for our liking. Covered more ground (10.6 km) than any other Arsenal player but his passing accuracy was poor at 69.1% even when the team's average rate was uncharacteristically low at 70%.    

Alexis: 7
He was having a quiet game until he scored an equaliser. Made 3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 1 clearance.

Iwobi: 5
He was out of his depth. Somebody with more experience, such as Campbell (if Santi was not fully match fit) should have started in his place.

Welbeck: 5

Early retirement due to a knee injury. Keep fingers crossed that it's not too bad.

Giroud: 7
Arsenal fans chosen Man of the Match. Scored his first league goal in 15 games and claimed his 6th league assist. As Wenger stated after the match, the French striker was sharper than he had been in recent games, in one of which Ramsey was seen shouting at him when he didn't make a run for the Welshman's through ball.


Wilshere: 6
Replaced Welbeck in the 24th minutes. Great to see him get a chance to prove his fitness. Had a decent game with team highest passing completion rate of 86.7%. 

Walcott: 6
Came on for Iwobi in the 59th minute. Made a few good runs with/without the ball.

Coquelin: 6
Replaced Elneny in the 76th minute to prop up defence. Made 3 tackles, 1 interception and 1 clearance.
Made 6 passes with a 50% passing accuracy.

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