Arsenal’s tedious display against Manchester City shows Mikel Arteta’s growing ambition

Arsenal could taste the tedium. On a weekend overflowing with goals, the worst game may be the most consequential. If Liverpool were the big winners of the day in one way, and Arsenal were dropped from the Premier League summit when their 100 per cent record ended in 2024, they showed their staying power.

Arsenal didn’t win their knitting war but at least they made sure they didn’t lose it. Last season’s title challenge suffered irreparable damage against Manchester City. This year’s tilt was not. Mikel Arteta has suffered from evictions at the Etihad in the past. As Arsenal collected their first point in Pep Guardiola’s reign, the champions were unable to overcome Arteta’s red wall.

The City manager educated him when he had his assistant, but George Graham owed more than Guardiola to this display. Arsenal was expertly drilled, showing organization and attention. If the deal ends up being the last league table success that could answer the question of whether they should be more daring in their pursuit of victory, they will finish the Premier League campaign without conceding to City.

Indeed, they have barely conceded a shot on target: just one at the Emirates Stadium in October, just one in the rematch. It was a personal victory for the great William Saliba, who Erling Haaland has headed twice this season; expect plenty of witticisms about the resident goalkeeping machine in the Frenchman’s pocket. However it was a victory for the collective. In a game of patience and City’s possession, Arsenal were dense in midfield. Kai Havertz acted as a very withdrawn delegate as, at times, 21 players converged on one third of the field, all but a lonely Stefan Ortega.

William Saliba kept Erling Haaland quiet as Arsenal thwarted the Premier League champions (AP)

William Saliba kept Erling Haaland quiet as Arsenal thwarted the Premier League champions (AP)

It became a footnote that Ederson was injured. City’s back-up had to keep out a goal from substitute Leandro Trossard but they could stand otherwise and watch little happen.

That’s how Arsenal liked him. Destroyed by Haaland and Kevin de Bruyne last season, they sought revenge by subduing them, by crowding them. And City lacked the spark, whether in terms of brute power, individual inspiration or clinically brilliant teamwork, to break Arsenal down. Arteta had four goals made up entirely of centre-backs, two defensive midfielders and a team intent on reliving some of the top-of-the-table clashes from the days of Jose Mourinho and Rafa Benitez, not the events that was full of activity. for a few years now.

David Raya’s lone save came after a quarter of an hour. De Bruyne’s corner was met by Nathan Ake but, from three yards, his effort could only be shouldered by the goalkeeper. Afterwards, Mateo Kovacic curled a shot just wide from the edge of the box. Haaland missed his kick after Josko Gvardiol flicked on a corner. And that was, in fact, the sum of City’s attacking efforts.

In order to end the deadlock, Guardiola sent on Jack Grealish and Jeremy Doku, with predicted player of the year Phil Foden sacrificed. Arteta countered by bringing in Thomas Partey and Takehiro Tomiyasu, they are not attacking substitutes. It showed the different attitudes, the older man searching for victory, the younger content with a drawn game and Arsenal flourishing in their frustrating game. Bernardo Silva was the busiest of Galway City’s forwards but even as they extended their unbeaten run to 23 games, Arsenal somehow lost them.

Gabriel Jesus created Arsenal's best chances but was asked to play a thankless role at the top of the pitch (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)Gabriel Jesus created Arsenal's best chances but was asked to play a thankless role at the top of the pitch (Martin Rickett/PA Wire)

Maybe they could actually be hit. City’s defensive problems increased: without Kyle Walker, and John Stones limited to a place on the bench, they saw Ake clear. He might have given Arsenal a chance but they didn’t show much interest in taking him.

Gabriel Jesus was the most impressive, if not particularly successful, of their attackers, operating on the left wing on his return to the Etihad Stadium. He put a shot into the side netting and dragged an effort from the edge of the box wide. Slipping to him, he was unable to apply the finishing touch to the quiet low center Bukayo Saka; this particular Jesus lost the cross at Easter. However, he does not have the blistering speed of Gabriel Martinelli and the absence of Walker meant that the faster Brazilian would be a trump card if Rico Lewis was allowed to run. Instead, the semi-fit Martinelli was limited to a late cameo; maybe the injuries canceled each other out.

City’s revamped defense kept a clean sheet. Arsenal’s questionable rear-guard could have a taste of their own. Last season, City tore Arsenal apart with an ease that was awesome or embarrassing, depending on interpretation. This time around, they were more street, more solid. It does not guarantee them glory. But at least this time they leave Manchester without giving City a psychological advantage. And, in a way, the victim showed Arteta’s ambition to replace his old club as champions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *