What could have been the start of something new turned into the same-old story: Manchester City beating Arsenal to fortify their title crusade. Rodri’s strike at the death saw to that, leaving the north Londoners crestfallen on the canvas come the final whistle.
Mikel Arteta, at home recovering from Covid while his assistant Albert Stuivenberg worked the touchline, will have needed a room with lots of space for pacing. He might have required a new house altogether in the six minutes leading into the hour mark, undoubtedly smashing up things as Arsenal set a fine opening 50 up in smoke. A match they could and should have won, was lost.
There may be harsh words for the officiating and VAR, but the home side cannot escape their own recklessness in ruining such a progressive showing. How do you explain complete dominance morphing into utter chaos in the few blinks of an eye? The old wisdom would suggest “Arsenal gonna Arsenal” just when it looked like a new year was introducing us to an improved Gunners.
While Arteta was concerned with his space, his players had no issue in the first half, majestically making the Emirates their playground. This Arsenal have never decorated a pitch with such surety, steel and aggression – against City no less – until they simply reverted to type.
It has been an age since we’ve witnessed Pep Guardiola’s machine malfunction: Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka shredding through them at will, with Thomas Partey, Ben White and Takehiro Tomiyasu excellent against the ball.
By the 20-minute mark, Martin Odegaard had a penalty shout against Ederson waved away, the goalkeeper denied Martinelli and the struggling Nathan Ake, stationed at right-back, headed behind Tomiyasu’s volleyed cross with Ruben Dias clearing the corner.
City were scrambling, and soon after Saka swept in a low, first-time finish to crown a well-crafted move from Arsenal.
Before the interval, Martinelli went just wide with two strong opportunities and the wonder was whether the hosts could continue their aggression, intensity, and discipline in the second half.
Arsenal were still bright and buzzing after the break, but Granit Xhaka’s dangling leg and shirt tug on Bernardo Silva sparked six minutes of madness.
Referee Stuart Atwell turned down the penalty appeal, but was advised to review the incident on the pitchside monitor and changed his mind.
Riyad Mahrez converted the subsequent spot-kick, before a coating of slapstick at the other end. Aymeric Laporte lobbed a header over the outrushing Ederson, which was heading for goal until Ake’s sliding clearance off the line.
The ball fell to Martinelli, who inexplicably missed the open posts from eight yards. Gabriel, who got a caution for scuffing up the penalty spot two minutes earlier, received a second yellow for blocking Jesus.
It had gone from commanding to “What The Actual Hell?” for Arsenal in record time. To their credit, the Gunners rallied and resisted full-on capitulation. They continued to nullify City until Rodri poked home on 93.
Arsenal’s losing run in the league to City ticked to 10 games – their longest-ever streak of defeats against an opponent.
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