A game of massive proportions, massive impact, and massive influence in the title race. For the Arsenal, it was the biggest game on the fixture list. Win and you’re six points clear game in hand. Lose…well, that’s where we find the state of things after this one. Manchester City, the champions, back on top, back in the driver’s seat. The title race is on!!
This match was a true tale of two halves. A tale of ferocity, guile, and bravery. The Arsenal certainly gave it a go with verve and passion but learned that perfection is the standard to beat the champions, to be the champions!
Arsenal certainly had the better of it in the first half. The possession was strong, typical of the men in red this season. On a couple of occasions, Arsenal was able to play in between the lines and get some impetus going for goal. The build up play was adequate and Arsenal won many of the second balls but without a clinical edge in the final third. Missed chances will come back to haunt you against this ruthless City side. Kevin DeBruyne with ice in his veins shows Eddie Nketiah how it’s done. One chance, one touch, one shot…one goal! That’s all it takes.
Pep Guardiola was in full tinker mode to open this one. The philosophy was evident in the formation with Bernardo Silva playing the hybrid midfield/left back role. The emphasis on overloading the midfield was clear. Bukayo Saka had to evade the hatchet job from Silva who perhaps could’ve been sent off in the first. The shenanigans from the City players seemed a calculated tactic to get under the skin of this young Arsenal team and it appeared to work a peach. Frustration and nerves led to some woeful finishing that would ultimately cost them dearly. The biggest takeaway from this first half is this:
When you’re on top against City you have to put them away like a wounded animal. If you don’t, you WILL regret it.
The beginning of the second half saw City improve slightly until the 60th minute. The game was more even where they were winning a couple more second balls in the middle of the park. Akanji for Mahrez looked odd at first but it made sense when they reverted to their normal back 4. Silva was adequate trying to get sent off against Saka but was brilliant when restored to a more natural position. His influence was immense in this game not least of all for winning the ball back to begin the counter on the second goal.
Haaland had his way with Saliba and Gabriel like so many defenders before them. Flexing the muscles that only a Norse God can know, the Arsenal back line were near panic anytime the Norwegian giant came near. His goal shows his quality and his passion, while his assist on the second goal shows that he is working to be a part of the City machine. Many have purported that he brings the team down as a whole but it is clear that while they may be working to mold their tactics to his strengths, he is also learning, shaping and adjusting to the City way.
More mistakes in the midfield due to the strong press is where this game was won. The clinical way in which the one touch passing at ferocious pace after turning the ball over leads to Jack Grealish with the 4 The Badge celebration. This is a massive moment for him, I believe. A goal he needed at a time the team needed him justifies the loyalty Pep has shown. The biggest takeaway from the second half is this:
City are champions for a reason and it shows. Doesn’t matter how good their opponent is, they have what it takes, ice in the veins, 3 shots on goal, three goals, have some of that! Back to the top of the pile!
To win the title you have to be/do three things:
- Lethal in front of goal: advantage CITY.
- Press really well: The press was strong from both sides!
- Keep the ball: advantage ARSENAL.
Both teams had the chance to win this game and only one took it! Now the gunners have to look at being second for the first time in months. Gut wrenching and we have to be prefect for the rest of the season. Unattainable, realistically, but that’s the standard. That’s what it will take to be champions!