Arsenal came from behind to secure a deserved point at the home of the champions on Sunday evening, thanks to a fantastic finish from defender Laurent Koscielny.
It could have been three points were it not for Gervinho’s wayward finishing and a poor first touch, as we spurned early and late chances to grab a deserved, if not widely expected win.
A case of the flu saw captain Thomas Vermaelen sit out this match, meaning a first start of the season for Koscielny, thrown into the lion’s den alongside Per Mertesacker. Aaron Ramsey also made his first start, surprisingly picked on the right wing with Gervinho continuing down the middle.
Arsenal started the game with intent, zipping the ball around with command and bossing the game with possession play. Ramsey linked up with Arteta to provide a great through-ball for Gervinho on 15 minutes, but the Ivorian’s touch was awful as he ran towards the box, stumping the ball straight at keeper Joe Hart.
It was a tight affair and clear-cut chances were hard to come by. Just as we felt we at least had a moral victory in the first half, we conceded a totally needless corner before City hit the game’s opener. Joleon Lescott beat his man at the far post to nod in the first goal as keeper Vito Mannone flapped harmlessly at the ball. It was a bad mistake from the Italian, while both Koscielny and Lukas Podolski might have done better themselves.
But to hear the Sky Sports commentators then go on and on and on and on about zonal marking and the problems of the system, especially Arsenal (who have conceded the least goals in the league) and their implementation of it, was hilariously tiresome. It’s like no-one ever concedes when marking man-to-man.
Not a word was mentioned about City’s defence, neither. There’s has been comparatively shocking to Arsenal’s and – get this! – they also use a zonal system! Who’da thought? The only difference with their marking at corners (and it’s something I think we could adopt) is that they get Yaya Toure to sit between his bank of defenders and the onrushing attackers.
The golden moment came when Peter Drury quipped that ‘statistically speaking’, zonal-marking teams concede less than man-to-man teams. But ignoring that piece of soft evidence, the verdict was man-to-man was still the better system because hey, we’re all about blaming individuals.
Anyways, sod them. It was a mistake, and Arsenal went into the break trailing despite having the better half. The second half didn’t get much better as City had the running of the show for about 20 minutes.
Yet in this period, it was Mertesacker’s time to really shine. Written off by pundits and a few Arsenal fans alike, the BFG showed off that famous positional play we’ve heard so much about. Using his telescopic legs to cut out passes and his brain to anticipate nearly everything, Mertesacker led the defence with an absolutely clinical display.
Arsene Wenger made some substitutions, bringing on Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud for Podolski and Abou Diaby. With Giroud scrapping for every high ball and winning his aerial duels, suddenly Arsenal found all sorts of space for Gibbs, Cazorla and Gervinho to run into.
The game changed on 80 minutes when, frustrated by the lack of chances, little Santi Cazorla let fly from 25 yards to sting the hands of Hart, whose save was only just good enough to palm the ball wide.
Cue delirium from the resulting corner. Cazorla put in the corner which Javi Garcia (what is the point of Javi Garcia?) could only flick on in the direction of Koscielny, who expertly tucked the ball away.
The goal showed off a lovely bit of technique as Koscielny fell backwards while making the shot, but in it went, and what looked like the entire team ran to the away section to pile on top of the Frenchman.
City still had two chances up their sleeve as they broke down the right flank before Sergio Aguero had a pop from a sharp angle, only to be stopped by a well-placed Mannone. The keeper was called into action again when Vincent Kompany put in an audacious overhead kick that was well saved. But it was heart-in-mouth stuff as Kosicelny messed up his clearance, giving it straight to Aguero who should have won the game right there in front of goal, only to somehow put the ball wide.
Arsenal smelled blood and almost stole the game back right at the end. Gibbs ran down the flank before feeding Gervinho, who did well to create space for himself while surrounded by three defenders, only to scoop his shot high and wide into the top tier.
A little more composure and a well placed shot could have seen Arsenal emerge 2-1 winners. As it was, we take a credible point from a ground we haven’t had the best record on in recent years.
Mannone – 7: Should have done much better with the corner from which we conceded. But came up big with a sharp save against Aguero late on, before a crucial stop off of Kompany’s bicycle kick.
Jenkinson – 8: Solid as a rock. His stamina is a amazing and he has become such a dependable defender for us. Brilliant moment in the first half where he outsprinted Lescott despite a head start to set up Podolski. While he’ll still find himself behind Sagna when the Frenchman returns from injury, he can be considered yet another defensive gem discovered by Wenger.
Mertesacker – 8.5: A beast at the back. Positionally he could not be faulted and anticipated nearly everything Man City threw at him. A performance to put the doubters of his value in their place.
Koscielny – 7: A solid shift, given he was thrown in to start in such a big fixture. Crucial goal from a great finish, but guilty of a very, very slack clearance at the back which almost saw Aguero score. Neat footwork late on to dribble out of trouble in defence.
Gibbs – 7.5: Is pretty much a different player compared to the previous two seasons. Looks fit as a fiddle and very capable in defence.
Arteta – 7.5: Captain for the day and another test of his defensive know-how. Surpassed most challenges and battled gamely with Yaya Toure. Contributed to an exceptional midfield unit in attack as well.
Diaby – 7: A more steady showing compared to Montpellier. Got out of tight spaces and helped keep possession expertly.
Cazorla – 7.5: When Arsenal needed someone to show initiative, Santi stepped up with a fizzing shot from distance that nearly crept in from a late Hart save. Arsenal then scored from the resulting corner. Pacy and quick thinking as ever in midfield and not shy of a tackle neither.
Podolski – 6.5: Sloppy miss in the first half when given a chance and a quiet day on the attacking side of things. But did put in a defensive shift to help out Gibbs.
Ramsey – 7: Surprisingly picked to start his first game of the season on the right wing and did very well in the first half. Through-ball to Gervinho should have given Arsenal the lead on 15 minutes. A good showing, though was quiet during the home side’s dominant patch.
Gervinho- 7: Won’t win popularity contests with his poor finishing which probably should have won the match for us. But he gets into great positions and is adapting to the central role at an encouraging rate. Not his best performance by any means but provided good movement for the side.
SUBS: Giroud – 6.5: Came on for Podolski and had one difficult volley as his only chance of the game. But did spend as much time as he could winning balls and playing team-mates into space.
Walcott – 6: On for Diaby, allowing Ramsey to drop back into central midfield. Never got much of a chance to run at defenders.
Coquelin – 6: Came on in injury time. Ran around a bit. Whistle blew. Walked off with team-mates.
Hype meter time and the gauge keeps climbing and climbing. I predicted our first loss would come at City, and the build-up to the game plus the excellent performance on the pitch proved me wrong. We’re almost at parity with the predicted points, and a win at Chelsea next week will see us climb well above that.
After the match, Wenger was elated with his team’s performances, and says there is still more to come from the side.
I am pleased because [a point] was the minimum we deserved today. I am pleased also with the quality of our performance and our spirit. Also a bit frustrated because I feel there was room to do more.
We had early chances and very late chances, especially Gervinho at the edge of the box where he missed the target. But overall I hope this will reinforce our belief and confidence and reassure us about our potential in this league.
The buzz about this team continues to grow. Sure, we’re not topping the table just yet (another challenge awaits us against Chelsea in that regard), but we’re keeping proper pace with both Manchester sides and, in many aspects, are playing better too.
That’s not to say we are better (yet), but take a look at how we played Man City on their own patch, and tell me we aren’t making some kind of statement, dampened only by the pundits’ hesitance to compliment this side.
May the good vibes continue.