Arsenal and Manchester City, two of the Premier League’s top dogs, shared the spoils on Saturday in a 2-2 draw. It was a game full of ups-and-downs and countless swings of momentum.
To a certain degree of surprise, the Gunners absolutely stormed out of the gate like a bull chasing red. They put immediate pressure on the City defence with several shots from outside the box, and crafted their usual deadly give-and-goes that nearly resulted in a heroic Danny Welbeck goal, but he wasn’t able to convert.
He floated the ball beautifully over Joe Hart but it narrowly missed, ricocheting off the left post. City played the waiting game, allowing Arsenal to keep position in the hope that a mistake could lead to a quick counter-attack. And it sure did.
An immediate and effortless surge forward resulted in a Sergio Aguero tap-in down the other end. Arsenal would proceed to score two consecutive unanswered goals by Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez before Martin Demichelis made a crowd of over sixty-thousand fall to their knees with an unguarded header from a corner.
Observations, positives reflections, negative reflections, and all that jazz can be pulled from every game. But as this was the first truly tough test for Arsenal, there’s more of a purpose to dissect the action.
Several positive takeaways can be found, starting with the new kid on the block, Danny Welbeck. He spread the ball around, made smart runs, found the gaps, and out-muscled Vincent Kompany on a couple of 50-50 balls. Although his significance dropped in the later stages, he made enough noise early in the game to validate the investment the team made in him. Overall, an impressive debut.
Another positive was Jack Wilshere. What a powerhouse performance. He scored the Gunners’ first goal, but that was only a slice of his contribution. He ran with a high-powered motor through every section of the field and fought harder than anyone else on the field.
He didn’t give the ball away and was the puppeteer behind each offensive development. Wilshere knows this is a make-or-break year for him. It’s time for him to live up the hype. So far, so good. A terrific performance today should have Arsenal fans expecting even more.
The persistence of the attack was a definite highlight. Arsenal always utilise their oft-superior possession game, but as time goes on, their movement usually become stagnant and the ideas become stale. Not on Saturday. There were no dry patches, and though they were capable of putting in another goal or two, they were electrically charged throughout the contest.
Where Arsenal were not so impressive, however, was within defensive communications. It cost them on both goals. On the first, which came from a a counter-attack, Matthew Flamini failed to recognise Jesus Navas’ blazing speed which, quite literally, put the back four in an uncomfortable position.
Then, when Sergio Aguero came scorching in, he wasn’t marked properly due to a lack of communication and was left free. He took advantage of the gap in the middle and squeezed one in.
The second goal yielded even more concern when City’s centre back Demichelis nodded home via a wide open header. That was problem “A” of the sequence. Problem “B” occurred moments later, when Flamini, who was guarding the left post, bumped into a diving Szczesny on the goal line and alas, neither one was able to prevent the ball from going in.
Mesut Ozil continues to be an enigma. It's puzzling how he seems to have gotten progressively more ineffective with each passing month at Arsenal, dating back to last season.
He looks slow, uninterested, unmotivated, and suddenly forgot how to dribble with his right foot. He’s simply not helping the team in any single way when he's on the pitch. It's nearly the equivalent of playing with ten men. The talent is obviously there, but now he needs to have some confidence in it.
Maybe Arsene Wenger stole Ozil's confidence, because he refuses to substitute the midfielder at any point in the game. Even when it was clear that Ozil was out of gas and slowing down every attack that touched his feet, Wenger decided not to replace him with the quicker Santi Cazorla or the stronger Lukas Podolski, both of whom would have likely made late-game impacts and could have changed the pace in the dying minutes of the match.
Supposedly that’s not the way to go. Ozil must be some maestro of deception in the Arsenal camp.
Overall, Arsenal produced a respectable performance and looked more dangerous than City for the majority of the game. There are certainly things to work on, and some issues from last season still remain, but the Gunners look a more relenting side with improved depth and more discipline thus far.