Alexis Sánchez rocks Man City’s Champions League hopes

Arsenal draw in Manuel Pellegrini’s final home games hands Man United advantage

Alexis Sánchez wheels away after scoring Arsenal’s equaliser against Manchester City. Photograph: Reuters

Alexis Sánchez wheels away after scoring Arsenal’s equaliser against Manchester City. Photograph: Reuters

 

Manchester City 2 Arsenal 2

This riveting draw takes Manchester City’s bid to qualify for the Champions League out of their hands and gives that advantage to Manchester United.

In Manuel Pellegrini’s final home match as manager, City knew beating Arsenal would pile maximum pressure on Louis van Gaal’s side, who would have to win at West Ham United on Tuesday or see their own top-four challenge ended.

Instead, a breathless end-to-end affair closed with City on 65 points and Arsenal 68 with next Sunday’s final games to go. United have a game in hand and if West Ham are beaten, United will lift themselves to 66 points and become favourites to edge out their crosstown rivals for fourth place.

Towards the end the usually lethal Sergio Agüero steered a left-foot volley wide and later Pellegrini threw on Yaya Touré and Wilfried Bony – who hit the bar three minutes from the close – but it was to no avail.

City had required only eight minutes to take the lead and two to let it slip. They began by pressing the visitors back as Kevin De Bruyne took an opening corner from the left, then the first free-kick from the same channel.

Each of these yielded nothing but when play switched to the right this changed. Jesus Navas was one of four players in City’s XI who had survived from Pellegrini’s opening home game – a 4-0 defeat of Newcastle United – along with Joe Hart, Fernandinho and Agüero. The Spaniard is maligned for lacking devilry but the way he scooped the ball into Fernandinho to turn Arsenal’s defence belied this.

From here the Brazilian headed down and back towards Agüero. The Argentinian made a mug of Mohamed Elneny with a touch that created a chance and his left foot did the rest, beating Petr Cech for his 24th Premier League strike this season.

It was precisely the start City wanted. Yet within a minute or so they had ceded the advantage and could only blame themselves. The corner from which Olivier Giroud would beat Hart was a gift, as Clichy decided to head a cross back to the goalkeeper only to wrong-foot him and come close to registering an own goal, the ball going wide of the right post.

From the ensuing kick City compounded this sloppiness by failing to pick up Giroud. The Frenchman’s header past Hart was convincing but the nearest man to him, Fernando, only reacted afterwards: in anger, perhaps at himself.

Before the game there was a suggestion that Vincent Kompany’s thigh problem would keep him out for four months, so City’s captain would miss the start of the Pep Guardiola era.

Twenty-one minutes in and Danny Welbeck suffered his own injury and was forced off. The striker went down after trying to tackle Bacary Sagna, and the hope will be this does not affect availability for England’s Euro 2016 campaign. What the No23 left behind was an entertaining if uneven match as each side would lose possession and so fail to establish any rhythm.

An illustration of the helter-skelter fare came when Fernando claimed the ball near the centre spot, sent it skimming across the turf towards Agüero, and he burned off Laurent Koscielny. Cech came hurtling out but his challenge left him on the floor and Agüero still in possession and Arsenal were fortunate the score remained even.

The second half began as a listless affair until De Bruyne took charge. Hector Bellerín will not wish to see video analysis of the way he allowed the Belgian to outmuscle him near halfway. From here De Bruyne still had a lot to do, and he did it, leaving Bellerín trailing as he drove at a back-pedalling Arsenal, cut inside and banged a right-foot finish past Cech, just inside the right post.

This had Pellegrini and the Sky Blue faithful roaring. It stunned the visitors and wrested the initiative City’s way. As had been the story so far, though, Arsenal came back to enjoy a period of dominance. This had them camped in and around the home area and they came close to equalising via Theo Walcott.

A 59th-minute replacement for Alex Iwobi, the England man got in behind but a clumsy touch meant the ball ran away from him. Then, Arsenal did score. Nacho Monreal was involved along the left before Alexis Sánchez took over. He fashioned a slick one-two with Giroud and let fly a shot that beat Hart for his 13th league goal this season.

Beforehand Pellegrini was given a thank you from the owner, Sheikh Mansour. Khaldoon al-Mubarak, the chairman, said: “Manuel has [WON]two domestic trophies, a memorable Premier League title, and our best finish to date in Europe’s premier competition. Significantly, he has ensured these achievements have been reached by attacking, entertaining football. Our club will always be grateful.”

The emotion may dampen if City finish only in fifth. The smattering of boos that greeted the final whistle hinted at this.

(Guardian service)

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