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Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal choke again after Manchester City fight back to win 2-1 following early Theo Walcott goal

PUBLISHED: 17:54 18 December 2016 | UPDATED: 18:25 18 December 2016

Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

Arsenal's Theo Walcott celebrates scoring his side's first goal of the game during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.

PA Wire/PA Images

Arsene Wenger’s team threw away a 1-0 lead at half time to cap a miserable week for Arsenal by losing 2-1 at Manchester City at the Etihad today.

The Gunners had taken an early lead through Theo Walcott - before Pep Guardiola’s men hit back with two goals after the break from Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling.

It capped an awful week for the club after two defeats in the North West severely dented their title ambitions.

Aaron Ramsey, Shkodran Mustafi, Per Mertesacker and Santi Cazorla were still injured as Arsenal looked to put Tuesday’s hugely disappointing 2-1 defeat at Goodison Park behind them.

The Citizens started without suspended duo Fernandinho, Sergio Aguero and unfortunate midfielder Ilkay Gundogan who picked up a serious knee ligament injury during their comfortable 2-0 against Watford earlier this week.

There has been a revolution at Manchester City in the last few years. With a world class line up, silverware galore, a new ground, and sparkling academy in a previously run-down part of the city - they are very much a club on the up.

If you throw in the fact they have the legendary Pep Guardiola as manager – some old school City fans told me before the game they still have to pinch themselves at such a change in their team – you could be forgiven thinking this club is set to rule English football for many years to come.

However there has always been something of an inferiority complex among the club and their loyal fans. A sense that no matter what they do they will always be overshadowed by their bigger rivals across the city.

Forget Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘noisy neighbours’ jibe, this is very much a club with fans whose first thought is: ‘What can go wrong?’

It used to be called City-it is. In 1968 City clinched the league title at Newcastle United by winning 4-3 – the very same week Manchester United’s Best, Law and Charlton won the European Cup 200 miles south at Wembley by beating Eusebio’s Benfica 4-1.

City’s glorious comeback against Gillingham to get out of the third tier was the same week United won the 1999 Champions League final with two late, late goals.

Or how about capturing the lauded Pep Guardiola – the same pre-season The Red Devils finally employed Jose Mourinho.

The feeling is whenever City do well something is bound to go wrong.- or simply be overshadowed.

And so it has appeared this autumn. After a superb start – which even had the normally cautious Catalan scoff at the ‘so called’ fabled intensity of the Premier League – City and Pep entered a sticky patch.

All the while Chelsea kept winning, Arsenal showed solidity and Jose Mourinho’s United started to steal headlines and points – so much so that some pundits and fans even exclaimed loudly that today’s match was something of an early fourth place play off.

Arsenal for their part came into the game on the back of a crushing defeat at Everton, not so much for the result - though that was painful enough – but more for the way the meekly surrendered. A capitulation which gave rise to every jaded, tired observation that Arsenal lacked mental toughness

What hurt most was that they got an airing from friend and foe alike because it was true.

If you want to win the league you avoid defeat at Goodison Park. Arsenal won 3-1 in 1988/89, drew 1-1 in 1990/91, 2-2 in 97/98, won 1-0 in 2001/02 and drew 1-1 during the Invincibles year.

And if Arsenal want to win the league this season, they needed to forget about Tuesday’s debacle and start showing character against City at the Etihad.

They did just that on five minutes. Alexis Sanchez played a reverse ball behind Nicolas Otamendi and into the path of an onrushing Theo Walcott. The 27-year-old evaded a desperate, last-ditch tackle by Pablo Zabaleta to calmly slot the ball into the right hand side of Claudio Bravo’s goal.

The 3,000 travelling supporters leapt like demented salmon in the away end – and so they should have done after a long and expensive trip 200 miles up north on the final weekend before Christmas. But what was instructive was that the home fans didn’t seem to be shocked by conceding to Arsenal.

If ever there was a time for Wenger’s men to make a statement victory it was today.

The game then fell into bouts of well-meaning endeavour with Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling threatening, and Yaye Toure showing flashes of his power.

But there was no end product, and no real penetration from both sides.

On 35 minutes Granit Xhaka fed the ball into the box. It must have been exasperating for City fans to learn that Guardiola’s ethos – the majority of which is wholly admirable – also includes distaste for tackling.

Sorry Pep but this is English football. Tackling is an essential part of the English game – and always will be.

What must have been equally galling was a strange momentary unwillingness in his centre halves to head the ball – as Walcott found himself in acres of space.

The fact he headed over was not as perplexing as the fact he was allowed time and space to aim a powerful header towards Bravo’s goal.

Truly it was like watching Arsenal - as referee Martin Atkinson blew the whistle at half time to make it One-Nil-To-The-Arsenal.

It was certainly like watching Arsenal two minutes into the second half after City worked the ball back into the box after a Cech goal kick. The 20-year-old attacker Leroy Sane signed from Schalke earlier this year found himself with space and time as he slotted the ball past Cech to make it 1-1.

With 43 minutes remaining it was most definitely game on.

On 61 De Bruyne fed the lively Mane with an inch perfect through ball which beat the ponderous Arsenal backline – undoubtedly missing Mustafi – before Cech closed the angle and blocked the shot.

It was a warning Wenger’s men failed to heed as ten minutes later the lively Sterling received the ball on the right flank. He ran at Nacho Monreal before coming inside before firing a left footed shot that beat Cech to make it 2-1.

Questions were asked of Cech at this ground in May after he conceded a long, low shot from De Bruyne in a 2-2 draw. More questions can be asked after he allowed Sterling’s low shot to beat him at his near post this afternoon.

As the game drew to a close Arsenal pressed but without real conviction or effectiveness as City held on to complete a miserable week for Arsenal.

For Wenger and his men, no matter how hard they try the past week has underdone so much.

How they recover from it during the Christmas period will reveal whether all the talk about a new mental toughness is just that – empty talk - in the face of disheartening defeats at Everton, and today against Guardiola’s team - who went a long way to banishing their ‘City-its’ label.

If only Wenger could do likewise with the accusations of weakness in his team.

Manchester City

Bravo, Zabaleta (Sagna h-t), Reges, Sterling, Kolarov, De Bruyne (Iheanacho 83), Sane (Nava 75), Silva, Clichy, Otamendi, Toure,

Arsenal

Cech, Gabriel, Koscielny, Sanchez, Ozil, Walcott, Iwobi (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 64 – Elneny 77) , Monreal, Bellerin, Xhaka, Coquelin (Giroud, 74)


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