Manchester City and Arsenal serve up pulsating 2-2 draw at The Etihad full of wonderful attacking and woeful defending
- Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images
Manchester City and Arsenal fought a pulsating 2-2 draw in the heat at The Etihad this afternoon – in a match punctuated by wonderful attacking and woeful defending.
The home team took the lead on seven minutes with a Sergio Aguero low strike which beat a slightly flat-footed Petr Cech to make it 1-0. Yet fewer than 120 seconds later The Gunners replied through an Olivier Giroud header from a corner following a Gael Clichy header back to Joe Hart which was nearly an own goal.
Despite sapping temperatures in the mid 20s both teams continued to enthral despite some ponderous and at times downright appalling defending – by both sides.
Kevin de Bruyne then netted early in the second half to make it 2-1 but Alexis Sanchez then fired home an equaliser to the joy of his teammates – sending 3,000 travelling fans into raptures.
In another subplot Jack Wilshere played more than an hour at a hot and boisterous Etihad this afternoon – boosting his hopes of a place in Roy Hodgson’s starting line-up at Euro 2016 in France a month from now.
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The battling midfielder – who came on as a late substitute at Sunderland two weeks ago – used the 60 minutes of high intensity action to remind people what a quality act he is. Even if it was blatantly obvious he needs more games to increase his match fitness.
The hosts Manchester City - surprisingly lacklustre in losing their Champions League semi-final second leg 1-0 to Real Madrid in the Bernabeu this week – are preparing for a bright new future under Pep Guardiola next season.
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With the dignified Manuel Pellegrini saying farewell at his last home game today, and with Spurs losing at home to Southampton earlier this afternoon both teams could have been forgiven for feeling this match would be a tepid end of season affair.
But with England boss Roy Hodgson stating this weekend the Gunners Wilshere would be in his side if he can prove his fitness – if not match fitness – over the last two games of Arsenal’s disappointing season he, at least had all to play for.
However, one North Londoner who may have been feeling less than positive today was midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – as it was confirm he will miss the rest of the season and Euro 2016 after suffering his second knee injury of the campaign.
It was also announced Per Mertesacker is out for the next two matches with a hamstring problem.
City for their part ruled out David Silva, Pablo Zabaleta and Aleksandar Kolarov through injury.
Although Arsenal had to watch Leicester City’s exuberant – and fully deserved – title celebrations yesterday, the inquest into their failed title bid should have started months ago. Top of the table going to Anfield in early January the team lost two vital points with a last-gasp goal for Jurgen Klopp’s Reds to pull it back to 3-3.
Forget six points dropped in two dismal performances at Old Trafford and The Emirates in successive losses against Manchester United and Swansea City in late February early March those two points lost at Anfield signalled the start of their alarming decline.
Yet again the team was found wanting in character – despite Wenger’s protestations otherwise. For those observers who claim they realised Leicester would win the title after a superb performance here at The Etihad after a commanding 3-1 victory in February – see the Foxes four hard-fought 1-0 victories in a row in late March early April for real proof – because they showed the character champions are made of. The right stuff.
And that is what is singularly missing from this latest Arsenal side under Wenger. Again. Certainly compared to some of the more celebrated vintages he has produced.
City started with more vim and vigour in the first 30 seconds than they showed for 90 minutes in Spain in midweek as Sergio Aguero’s trickery, guile, movement and technique nearly sliced open the travellers defence with less than a minute gone at a loud Etihad.
So dominant were the Citizens in the opening stages they couldn’t even escape their own half as Aguero fired across goal with only four minutes gone.
All it would have taken was a predatory forward to tap into the net – but then isn’t that what everyone needs?
On seven minutes Aguero got the goal that he and his team were threatening, as he fired in a low left foot shot from the edge of the area. His strike evaded the despairing dive of Cech’s left hand and into the net to make it 1-0 after a Fernandinho header fell to him for his 29th goal of the season.
Whisper it but that scenario in terms of low shots from distance troubling Cech has intermittently occurred since the first sunny day of the season.
Yet two minutes later Arsenal were level through an Olivier Giroud header from a corner after former Invincible Gael Clichy in tried to head the ball back to Hart nearly scored an own goal.
Fortunately for Hart and the left-back’s blushes it trickled past the post. But their relief was to last only seconds as xxx fired in the corner which the Frenchman met with aplomb after losing his marker Eliaquim Mangala to level the scores at 1-1.
It was instructive to note it was Giroud’s first league goal in 16 games.
On 15 minutes Aguero found the ball at his feet in the box unleashing a powerful strike that appeared to be heading into the net until it struck Laurent Koscielny, whose deflection caused the ball to fly over the bar.
Surely the red-hot action couldn’t continue at such a frenetic pace on such a humid day in Manchester? Or more to the point would both defences finally start doing their job and defend properly?
City had Arsenal on the back foot as the crowd roared their approval. Which made you wonder what happened to the team in Madrid? Were they overwhelmed at the occasion? Did they show Madrid too much respect? Or were they simply not as good?
Whatever it was there were no such questions raised at their display this afternoon.
On 23 minutes Danny Welbeck limped off down the tunnel which heralded Jack Wilshere’s return to first team action.
The Salford-born forward had tracked back well moments earlier to block Sagna and appeared to hold his knee from that challenge.
As the away fans spread out over three tiers sung their paeans to the Hitchin man the thought sprung to mind – just what would Arsenal achieved with a fit and firing midfielder version of the England midfielder?
In keeping with the chaotic tempo of the game Aguero was clattered by an onrushing Cech which ultimately saw Jesus Navas fire over the bar.
Wilshere showed his undoubted class and character in the most significant appearance to date. The combative midfielder was keen to influence proceedings and showed neat touches and positioning, even if he looked understandably ring-rusty.
As the half wore on the tigerish footballer from North Herts – which he is actively looking to banish as a misnomer in itself – looked to become more and more involved in the play from his position as a defensive shield.
It brought back memories of his superb display at the base of Roy Hodgson’s midfield diamond in the Euro 2016 qualifier in Switzerland - as his vision and timing prompted wave after wave of attack that night while his defensive maturity surprised many observers.
Based on that performance alone no wonder Hodgson sees the Arsenal man as a shoo-in to his squad. And with an in-form and injury-free Wilshere in the side hopes may rise again for England’s young tyro’s in France next month.
And with that mixture of promise and regret fresh in the mind - not for the first this season - referee Anthony Taylor blew his whistle with the score 1-1 at half time.
The second half started with Wilshere again looking to influence the action as the heat eventually started to sap activity levels.
That was until de Bruyne went on a meandering run which initially saw him corralled by four Arsenal players out wide on the left flank. Undaunted the former Chelsea player simply carried the ball inside evading their presence. With the defence dropping off allowing him space and time he fired a low shot to Cech’s right.
With memories of Aguero’s goal still fresh in the mind you started to feel pity rather then any inherent frustration at seeing what is perhaps the beginning of the end of a great goalkeepers career.
For the fact is a keeper of Cech’s calibre should not have been beaten by two such goals. Not if you want to challenge for the league title.
Soon after Iheanacho went on a run through the heart of the defence as the Gunners backline opened up again – rather than the City man talented and promising as he is opening them up – the youngster snatched at the plentiful bounty in front of him and shot wide.
The line about the definition of insanity being to conduct the same things but expecting different results readily sprang to mind in terms of the second-rate Arsenal defending so apparent this afternoon.
But then there are so many issues you could apply that quote to – not least Wenger’s failure to address it such problems.
Yet on 67 minutes a hitherto quiet Alexis Sanchez curled a powerful right-footed strike away from Hart and low into the net to make the 2-2.
Moments later de Bruyne was unceremoniously blocked by Gabriel on the edge of the area. You could argue it was a cynical ploy which fully merited his yellow card. Or you could use it as evidence that the Arsenal defence had suddenly become more resolute.
De Bruyne fired in the free-kick which Cech palmed away for a corner which came to nothing.
The 120 seconds were a microcosm of the match – unexpectedly vibrant attacking play interspersed with awful defending, as Aguero again fired narrowly wide moments later after de Bruyne cleverly lifted the ball over the defence to set the Argentine free.
As the clock ticked down both teams continued to attack, even though ultimately a point apiece was a reasonable result.
For those basking in stands in the late spring sunshine it was a game to remember for its relentless attacking qualities.
For those same fans – and the backline of their teams - it was also a day to forget if what you want is high-quality defending of the type Leicester City have consistently shown.
The type that wins you league titles.
For there was none of that on show today.
Hart, Sagna, Mangala, Otamendi, Clichy, Jesús Navas (Bony), Fernando (Y Toure), Fernandinho, De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Sterling), Agüero
Cech, Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny (Coquelin), Ramsey, Sánchez, Iwobi (Walcott), Welbeck, (Wilshere), Giroud
Ref: Anthony Taylor