Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1 match report: Mathieu Flamini halts City’s title juggernaut
Frenchman rescues Arsenal as Pellegrini’s side fail to capitalise on Chelsea’s surprise defeat
Glenn Moore is Football Editor for The Independent and a Uefa B licence holder. Glenn has worked for the Independent newspapers since 1993, initially as cricket correspondent of the Independent on Sunday, subsequently as football correspondent of The Independent before becoming football editor in 2004.
Saturday 29 March 2014
Arsenal regained a modicum of pride by finally going head-to-head with a title contender and not being hammered, but two more dropped points means their Premier League title race is over and fourth place is by no means certain.
While their hosts pondered what might have been this season, City headed north unsure whether to feel jubilant or dissatisfied. Chelsea’s shock defeat at Selhurst Park meant City were top, with the title theirs to lose, when David Silva put them ahead after 18 minutes. Then Mathieu Flamini’s 53rd-minute equaliser dropped City down to third and opened the door for Liverpool, who host Tottenham on Sunday.
Now both City and Liverpool know if they win their remaining games they will be champions and they meet at Anfield in a fortnight. At first sight, that looks like the match which will settle the title but Manuel Pellegrini was probably correct when he said all the teams in contention would drop points before the season’s end, adding “our most important match is the next one, against Southampton”.
“It is a good week,” he said. “Four points from away games against Manchester United and Arsenal. Of course we could have won, we had a clear chance for 2-0, but it is a good week.”
For Arsène Wenger the week has been “a nightmare”. He was in a defensive mood, stressing his team’s achievements this season and praising his players for being “up for the fight”. He conceded, though, that the team are now looking downwards, at pursuers Everton and Tottenham, as much as upwards at the title race.
While City were unchanged from the XI that crushed their neighbours in Tuesday’s Mancunian derby, Arsenal recalled Lukas Podolski, whose support for his full-back tends not to extend much beyond watching and hoping.
City knew this and for the first 10 minutes Jesus Navas, Silva and Pablo Zabaleta launched waves of attacks down Arsenal’s left flank. It was only poor execution of the final ball that kept the home team on level terms.
Gradually Arsenal got a foothold in the game and, in the 12th minute, penetrated City’s defence deeply enough to claim for a penalty. Tomas Rosicky broke into the box and tumbled under Zabaleta’s challenge. Mike Dean correctly spotted Rosicky had dragged his foot into Zabaleta’s before falling.
Six minutes later the visitors were ahead. The goal came, like so many of those conceded against Liverpool and Chelsea recently, from being caught in possession. This time the culprit was Podolski, who was dozing when Flamini slipped him a short pass. Navas poked the ball away towards Yaya Touré, who immediately released Silva. The Spaniard sprinted forward 40 yards before sliding in Edin Dzeko. Wojciech Szczesny appeared to brilliantly tip the Bosnian’s shot ,against the post but it rebounded to Silva who adjusted his feet smartly to turn the ball in.
Given Arsenal’s fragile confidence the goal seemed to be a body blow but they summoned up reserves of spirit and attempted to take the game to City. Yet though Touré and Vincent Kompany were put under enough pressure to commit fouls serious enough to warrant a booking, Arsenal struggled to create chances.
Indeed it was City who came closest to scoring next when, in an incident remarkably similar to Flamini’s midweek own goal against Swansea, Szczesny pushed a cross onto the legs of Per Mertesacker only to see it rebound back just past his own post.
Reprieved, Arsenal struck. Moving the ball from right to left with swift passes, they worked space for Podolski to cross and Flamini, nipping in front of Martin Demichelis, volleyed in. It was the first goal City had conceded in six games.
The game opened up, although it was too much for Pellegrini, who brought on James Milner, then Javi Garcia. Olivier Giroud then headed Arsenal’s best chance wide. The striker looks drained and was replaced by the raw French forward Yaya Sanogo. At the same time City, too, brought on a striker: their seasoned £17 million Spanish international Alvaro Negredo. The contrasting resources revealed by those substitutions encapsulates why City are title favourites and Arsenal’s challenge has fizzled out.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Szczesny; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs; Flamini, Arteta; Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 79); Giroud (Sanogo, 85).
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Fernandinho, Toure; Navas (Milner, 64), Silva, Nasri (Garcia, 81); Dzeko (Negredo, 85).
Referee: Mike Dean.
Man of the match: Flamini (Arsenal)
Match rating: 7/10
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