Arsenal strike late to take point from City
Manchester City 1 Arsenal 1:MANCHESTER CITY are so unaccustomed to dropping points on their own ground that Arsenal are entitled to cite this performance as evidence that, at the very least, they can have more input on the title race than they managed last season.
Arsene Wenger’s team left it late, Laurent Koscielny lashing the ball past Joe Hart after 82 minutes, but they deserved their equaliser and can be encouraged by the way they matched and frustrated the champions. City rarely played with the style and control that has established the Etihad as the most formidable territory in the Premier League, with no home defeat for approaching two years.
Joleon Lescott’s headed goal, from a corner five minutes before half-time, was out of keeping with what had preceded it and an unsatisfactory day was epitomised by those moments in the second half when, first, Sergio Aguero played a simple pass to an opponent and then David Silva rolled the ball straight out of play for a throw-in.
Wenger’s team always displayed a little more poise and, though they also endured periods when their football was not as clean and slick as their manager expects, there were spells when they threatened to wear their opponents down. Santi Cazorla was prominently involved, always wanting the ball and knowing the right thing to do with it. Mikel Arteta played with similar composure and Aaron Ramsey impressed in an unfamiliar wide role. When Jack Wilshere is back playing, this is going to be a delicious midfield.
Their problem is an obvious one, namely how to make do in attack without Robin van Persie. Lukas Podolski was substituted after a peripheral performance while Gervinho is too erratic, his touch frequently poor. One superb pass from Ramsey sent him running clear, at 0-0, but the striker’s clumsiness wasted the opportunity, knocking the ball too far ahead and allowing Hart to cut out the danger. Olivier Giroud may solve the problem when he finds some confidence but for now the Frenchman is only on the edge.
Mancini admitted that Arsenal had dominated in midfield during the first half, compelling him to take off Scott Sinclair and bring on another of his new players, Jack Rodwell. Sinclair, starting his first home match for City, had been poor and replacing him with a more central player did have an effect on the game early in the second half. City, nonetheless, lacked their usual drive, with Carlos Tevez not in the starting line-up and the fit-again Aguero trying to renew a partnership with Edin Dzeko that has never really existed, almost a year to the day since their last start together.
Aguero worked hard but looked rusty. The little incident at the end, when Mario Balotelli said something to Mancini and the manager pushed him down the tunnel, compounded a bad day for City and, though these are still early days, there is a feeling they have temporarily lost some of the impetus that took them to the title. Wenger said a draw was the least his team had deserved.
Arsenal had taken their time to get going in the second half but their goal came from a spell of mounting pressure. Hart had tipped Cazorla’s drive over the crossbar and when the Spaniard swung in the corner Lescott could not get enough leverage on his header. Koscielny’s first touch controlled the ball, the second was a shot that was still rising when it went into the top corner.
Koscielny was guilty, for Aguero’s chance, of giving the ball straight to his opponent inside the penalty area. The early-season improvement in Arsenal’s defending was not particularly obvious, too, for Lescott’s goal, originating from a Silva corner that the otherwise impressive Kieran Gibbs need not have conceded. It was a soft goal to concede but overall Arsenal restricted their opponents to few clear chances, despite Thomas Vermaelen’s illness forcing Wenger to change his back four for the first time this season.
Tevez and Balotelli could not bring a new spark to City’s attack when they came off the bench, while Silva struggled to find his touch and Sinclair remained quiet with his new club. At least he is getting a game: this was the third successive match James Milner, an England regular, has not even made the bench.
Theo Walcott will have his own frustrations after being omitted in favour of Ramsey. Arsenal’s system, however, was neat and effective. City, with 76 points out of a possible 78 in their home games before this fixture, have still not really got going.