Arsenal and Man City show just why they can't win the Premier League title
If anyone wanted evidence of why Arsenal and Manchester City are unlikely to win the title this year, there was plenty on display in an error-strewn 2-2 draw at the Emirates on Sunday.
Calamitous defending has undermined both sides this season. City scored from a goal kick and a Mesut Ozil pass, while Arsenal struck twice from corners.
For City, not even their passing met usual standards at first, and only the half-time introduction of Yaya Toure brought their rhythm back. Meanwhile, Arsenal attacked down the left near Alexis Sanchez, with most of the little they offered materialising down that side.
Sadly for City, their improvement yielded no return and Arsenal equalised despite creating nothing else of note after the break. That prompted Arsene Wenger to salute their mental strength, but what the Gunners showed will have reassured few about their chances of making the top four.
City punish defensive lapses
The debate before kick-off centred on Pep Guardiola's lineup, which included three wingers, one striker and two attacking playmakers. It seemed to suggest a risky back three system, but instead Jesus Navas played at right-back in a traditional 4-2-3-1.
This did not trigger the fluent passing Guardiola craves, but City threatened nonetheless. An early through-ball for Raheem Sterling nearly opened the scoring, before Shkodran Mustafi stepped out to clear a goal-kick, only for Kevin De Bruyne to direct a first-time pass behind him for Leroy Sane, who finished coolly. Wenger later said his players had been anxious at the start.
De Bruyne then struck the foot of the post after a slick move, but then City went flat. The trio of De Bruyne, Fernandinho and David Silva were diligently marked by Ozil, Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin, giving City few options when playing out from the back. "After the first goal, we forgot a little bit to play," Guardiola said.
Certainly, their possession average of 48 percent at half-time was unusually low. The same was true of their pass-completion average of 72.4 percent -- their usual average is 84.8 percent, the best in the league. De Bruyne had received just 12 passes.
Luckily for City, Arsenal were on hand to help. On 42 minutes, Ozil attempted a forward pass that Silva intercepted deep into Arsenal's half, and before long Laurent Koscielny had cut out De Bruyne's one-two attempt, the loose ball then enabled Silva to find Aguero who blasted in his 14th league goal of the season.
Arsenal attack down the left
Down the other end, Arsenal once more relied on Sanchez. The Chile international played on the left, Danny Welbeck starting up front and Theo Walcott on the right, and Wenger tried to maximise his star man's influence by attacking down that side. Nacho Monreal overlapped and Ozil drifted into the nearest channel.
That seemed ominous for Navas, who got booked on eight minutes for a challenge on Monreal. By that stage, Sanchez had already lofted a ball towards Welbeck, the striker then sliding into a tackle that cannoned the ball just wide of the post.
Then on 21 minutes, Sanchez, having just played two games for Chile in South America, popped up again to find Ozil, who turned and fired a weak shot at Willy Caballero. Soon after, a long pass to Welbeck culminated in Sanchez curling one just wide of the top corner.
Surprisingly, that was Sanchez's only attempt of the game, but he and Monreal did earn the two corners that led to the goals. The first, on 40 minutes, was headed back into the box for Walcott to prod home; the second, eight minutes after the interval, was steered in by Mustafi.
When Walcott came off on 68 minutes, he had received 14 passes all game, while Sanchez had received 42, highlighting how Arsenal depended on their left side.
Toure lifts City's passing
Guardiola brought on Toure for Sterling at half-time in a bid to boost City's passing game. The shape remained similar, but as Toure slotted in next to Fernandinho, De Bruyne took up a narrow right-wing role, leaving Navas to fly down the touchline on his own.
The switch improved City. They now had De Bruyne as a fourth central midfielder, and kept the ball better: by full-time their possession average had risen to 55.6 percent and their pass completion to 77.8 percent. "It was much better after Yaya Toure came on at half-time," Guardiola said. "We were then able to make three, four, five passes in a row... we wanted one more guy who touched the ball. I wanted more passes."
Yet the one producing the actual chances was Navas, who took up adventurous positions. On 52 minutes, he smashed in a cross that Aguero directed wide; a little later, a dreadful Sanchez backheel released him into the box, before Aguero steered his cross at David Ospina. One minute from time, Navas provided his third delivery for Aguero (see "pass combination" in the graphic), who was again denied. Had Navas converted his own left-footed effort a minute later, it would have crowned a lively display.
Wenger subs fire blanks
City were left to rue letting Arsenal off the hook. The hosts faded, mustering just two efforts in the second half in addition to their set-piece goal: a tame Gabriel header generously recorded as an attempt at goal, plus an Alex Iwobi drive far off target.
The substitutions didn't help. Wenger put on Olivier Giroud for Walcott, then Iwobi for Welbeck on 76 minutes, but the system stayed the same and Arsenal had no new tricks up their sleeve.
The closest they came to a winner was a horrendous Nicolas Otamendi backpass that Ozil nearly got to. If anything, Arsenal were relieved not to concede a late penalty for a Monreal handball, and while the draw halted their miserable run of four defeats in five league games, the performance itself left little cause for optimism.
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