Sunday 22 April 2018

Gunners dig deep amid air of toxicity

Arsenal 2-2 Manchester City

Arsene Wenger feels the heat at the Emirates Stadium Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger feels the heat at the Emirates Stadium Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

Jason Burt

Such is the air of toxicity around Arsenal that it is uncertain how much a draw at home to Manchester City will draw the poison.

A defeat, though, which would have been a fifth in six Premier League matches and, with the club suffocating in protests, fights, incidents outside the ground, and this uncomfortable sense of drift, the fear and paralysis would have felt unbearable.

Arsene Wenger looks dejected during the match Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images
Arsene Wenger looks dejected during the match Photo: Clive Rose/Getty Images

At one point Arsène Wenger even appeared to be trying to control his breathing, puffing out his cheeks, as Mesut Özil lost the ball in the build-up to City's second goal.

And when Sergio Agüero's shot hit the net, Wenger slammed his water bottle down in despair. Anxiety is how Wenger himself put it and it all seems so desperately overwrought.

Arsenal just want the demons to go away and yet they are preyed upon by their own vulnerabilities and, well as they did to claw back Manchester City, twice, they are left with a sense that they did not do enough to take the points in what Wenger termed a "must-win" match.

City did not do enough, either, and will feel this was a missed chance for them also as they head to the leaders Chelsea for a midweek encounter. Maybe they could have been back in the title race.

Some Arsenal supporters make their feelings known outside the ground Photo: Reuters / John Sibley
Some Arsenal supporters make their feelings known outside the ground Photo: Reuters / John Sibley

The only glimmer of hope for Arsenal is that, for once, they did not fold when Laurent Koscielny went off - the sight of him succumbing to an Achilles injury and Gabriel coming on will have sent a shudder through their supporters given what happened against Bayern Munich - and they kept trying.

Their desire to play for Wenger had been questioned following the recent defeat by West Bromwich Albion, but there was no evidence of that here.

Horrible

However, Alexis Sánchez's body language is simply horrible. He could not make it clearer if he wore a sign saying: "This team is not good enough for me."

In reality, this was a 'must-not-lose' game rather than a 'must-win' game for Arsenal although the fact is that, after 28 league games, they have never been in such a poor position in all of Wenger's 21 seasons at the club.

They are in sixth, seven points off fourth-placed City - albeit with a game in hand.

The only comparable position was in 2013 when they were fifth, five points off fourth before clawing that back.

No one would bank on them doing that again and this season feels like saving face and getting the campaign over, maybe pinning hopes on winning the FA Cup final.

To reach that they will have to overcome City and it was telling that, afterwards, Guardiola was the far less satisfied manager.

"Wow," he said when asked his reaction to the penalty incident, and replays did appear to show that Monreal was fortunate when he pushed his arm out, with the ball brushing against it, as he tried to deal with Jesús Navas's cross.

Guardiola claimed that Monreal had told him that he had, indeed, handled ther ball.

Wenger? He said he did not see it. At least some things never change.

Wenger will have wished he never saw City's first goal. What a calamity.

It came as Shkodran Mustafi intercepted the ball but could only find Kevin De Bruyne, whose perceptive first-time pass took advantage of Héctor Bellerín's poor positioning as the full-back allowed Leroy Sané to cut inside.

Once clear Sané was never going to be caught and he rounded David Ospina to slide the ball home.

City were rampant and almost doubled their lead when De Bruyne's side-footed snap-shot from the area's edge beat Ospina but cannoned back off the post with the goalkeeper doing well to parry David Silva's follow-up.

Had City scored there then it could have been a humiliating result for Arsenal but, gradually, they worked their way back into it and were level when Nicolás Otamendi - who was poor - headed the ball weakly only for Mustafi to send it back.

Gaël Clichy was slow to react, playing Theo Walcott onside, and he was sharp enough to quickly steer the ball past Willy Caballero.

When City scored again - just 131 seconds later it - summed up Arsenal's woeful vulnerability as Özil lost the ball, made no effort to retrieve it and Koscielny was forced into a last-ditch tackle to deny De Bruyne.

The ball ran to Silva and he set up Agüero, who had cleverly pulled wide.

It seemed, again, that would be the story: Arsenal's vulnerability, their soft underbelly.

Instead it was City who suffered as they were undone from a corner.

It was zonal marking at its worst as they had plenty of defenders but not one tracked Mustafi, who had a run and leap and easily beat Otamendi to turn a header beyond Caballero's left-hand.

Chances, mainly half-chances, came and went, although Ospina did well to push out Fernandinho's half-volley, and it was City who proved the most threatening, especially in injury-time with their penalty claim.

It ended a draw, though, and there was that overwhelming sense of relief. And regret.

Telegraph.co.uk

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