Honours even as Arsenal draw 2-2 with Manchester City as top four spot looks further away than ever
PUBLISHED: 18:01 02 April 2017 | UPDATED: 23:12 02 April 2017
It was honours even at the Emirates today as Arsenal and Manchester City played out an entertaining 2-2 draw – that did little for Arsene Wenger’s men in their bid for a top four spot.
Leroy Sane put the visitors ahead on four minutes before many fans had even taken their seats for this crunch match.
Theo Walcott equalised with six minutes before half time but Pep Guardiola’s men netted moments later through Sergio Aguero – before Shkodran Mustafi powered the ball into the net from a corner eight minutes into the second half.
In truth a point was not much use to Arsenal in their bid to challenge for the top four as it still leaves them seven points behind City.
The Spaniard’s team shocked the home crowd after Sane, the 21-year-old Essen-born German showed a cool head by rounding Ospina before slotting into an empty net. It was a joy to see such a youngster show such a calm presence by being bold enough to take an extra touch.
It was also instructive to see Sane outpace Hector Bellerin after being played through by Kevin de Bruyne after deep lying midfielder Granit Xhaka was lured too far forward creating a hole in the centre of the park which Mustafi got sucked into.
Arsenal’s centre half may have won the subsequent header but the ball fell to de Bruyne who played the ball into the space created by Mustafi playing too far forward as Sane did the rest.
A warning was given seconds earlier after Fernandinho ‘won’ the ball with Mesut Ozil in attendance to play Sane through. In truth there was never going to be any other outcome in that utterly one-sided midfield battle.
It was also revealing to see the joy and spirit de corps from the City men who piled onto Sane after his goal in delight. The former Schalke 04 forward netted his first City goal in his club’s 2-1 defeat of Wenger’s men in December and hasn’t looked back since.
A former Manchester man – albeit of the red persuasion – nearly equalised moments later after getting behind the visitors backline and causing confusion.
The promising but raw John Stones, in attempting to clear his lines, cannoned the ball off Welbeck’s leg with the resultant ricochet narrowly flying past the post with keeper Willy Caballero nowhere near.
On seven minutes many in the crowd started a chorus in honour of the late, great David Rocastle, marking 16 years ago this weekend since his tragic, untimely death.
As anyone who has viewed BT Sport’s poignant documentary Rocky and Wrighty aired this weekend will attest to he truly was a legend. And a player the current vintage could very much use.
The expected heavyweight clash turned out to be more a light-welterweight as both opponents then took turns to attack and counter, parry and jab, but without either managing to land a killer blow, although the lively de Bruyne - one of an incredible seven nominal forwards on the pitch for City - was unlucky with a low strike from distance that hit Ospina’s left hand post.
That was until a hectic two minute spell just before half time. Theo Walcott showing more persistence than he is normally given credit for managed to poke the ball home after a scrappy spell to make it 1-1 on 39 minutes. The goal in truth owed more to a poor header from Otamendi which saw the ball recycled, leading to Waclott’s goal.
The contrast in the low key celebrations was an insight into Arsenal’s lack of confidence. Certainly when compared to City’s Sane joy.
Yet, just as momentum appeared to be shifting to the home side, City knocked the stuffing out of them, by netting a second moments later.
With Kevin de Bruyne troubling the backline through his presence the ball fell to the skilful David Silva. With a quick look up to see the options available to him, he fed Aguero. The prolific goalscorer showed his class by firing from an acute angle low across Ospina and into the far corner to make it 2-1.
It was a sublime finish but credit has to go to the wonderful Silva for sharing such vision and technique. No wonder Pep Guardiola and all his staff leapt from the bench to celebrate. They knew how important the strike could be on the stroke of half time.
Yet in truth it was slack play from Mesut Ozil - ceding possesion twice in a matter of seconds while Xhaka was simply uninterested in bolstering his team’s efforts to win the ball back. It was sloppy play from Arsenal.
But worse than that it was lazy.
Arsenal looked crestfallen as referee Andre Marriner blew for half time but they only had themselves to blame. Could Wenger lift his troops during the break?
We were to find out after Gabriel replaced Laurent Koscielny who is believed to have an Achilles problem. City also made a change as Yaya Toure came on for Raheem Sterling.
Eight minutes into the second half Shkodran Mustafi made it 2-2 minutes after leaping ahead of Nicholas Otamendi in a crowded box, as the Emirates erupted in relief as much as joy in this important match.
It was a poor goal for City to concede. But were their minds on the fact they should have been 3-1 up moments earlier after Jesus Navas crossed for Aguero who was unmarked yards from Ospina – as he aimed the ball wide when it seemed harder to miss?
Both teams pressed and probed for a winner but just like the first half neither side could find a killer blow. A draw in the final analysis fails to suit either side, but judging by the reaction from Guardiola he will be the happier manager.
With Wenger rapidly running out of matches for his men to start their traditional surge into the top four, this season feels more than ever like a watershed one for the Frenchman who still hasn’t cleared up his future – in many ways.
Ospina, Koscileny (Gabriel), Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott (Giroud), Monreal, Mustafi, Welback, Bellerin, Xhaka, Coquelin
Caballero, Sterling (Toure), Aguero, Navas, De Bruyne, Sane, Silva (Zabaleta), Clichy, Stones, Fernandinho, Otamendi