Will Arsenal regret not winning the game that wasn’t really a game?

<a rang=Erling Haaland rues a lost chance.Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian” src=”https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/WH1NsBTvQe0soEE9POMirQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/d4e3e1dffd0a532647de1696c80359db” data-src= “https://s.yimg.com/ny/api/res/1.2/WH1NsBTvQe0soEE9POMirQ–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU3Ng–/https://media.zenfs.com/en/theguardian_763/d4e3e1dffd0a532647de1696c80359db”/>
Erling Haaland has missed a chance.Photo: Tom Jenkins/The Guardian

Perhaps in years to come those present at the Etihad Stadium for this extended progress, football reimagined as a complex and long-winded breed on Sunday, will say I was there when Manchester City failed to score in first home game in 58 games. .

What about a game that wasn’t really a game, a decision that made very little of the decision, other than keeping the Premier League title race open and still unstoppable? What happened here anyway?

The first half of this 0-0 draw was like watching someone take an advanced engineering exam. Complicated, incomprehensible things seemed to be happening. There is no doubt that there is a deep analysis of data to be done on those 45 minutes of mind and self, the ghosts of Bernardo Silva, the almost complete lack of participation of Erling Haaland, which went to the edges of the evening like a nephew was forced to walk around a gallery art.

Related: Arsenal hold off Manchester City to leave Liverpool with a title advantage

A few things happened. Perhaps most impressive were the recurring displays of Nicolas Jover, Arsenal’s league coach, jumping up every time his team won or conceded a corner, strolling into Mikel Arteta’s place in the managerial crow’s nest, pointing and whistling, crying like another. a deep delivery was sent into the arms of Stefan Ortega. This kind of makes sense, logically. But it really has to stop.

There was a brief flicker of freedom. With 76 minutes gone Kevin De Bruyne went down the left wing, bouncing Thomas Partey out, trying to complete the ball. His cross found Jérémy Doku, who stopped, jinked, then walled the ball high and wide, like a man pounding an empty tin can with a square boot.

Meanwhile it was refreshing and even very comforting to see a football game so contentless. City had 75% possession in the first half, total territorial dominance, but only one shot on target. 56 tackles were attempted in this game. There were 28 clearances.

In the end Arsenal will probably be happy with both teams, if not as happy with Liverpool, who won earlier in the day. Arsenal wanted at least 0-0. And they got one, grueling, 0-0 draw that felt all the same as a small missed opportunity. Have Arsenal missed a trick here?

Arteta insisted afterwards that this was “an exciting game, and a good result”. Seriously? The first of these may be true in some hyper-pure tactical sense. The latter is arguable. The final verdict on a low block fifty point, no frills at the Etihad Stadium as ever will be based on results, determined by what happens elsewhere, another evening.

But Arsenal probably won’t have much better chances to win at City. And here they played a different game from the one that had won all the victories since the winter solstice. Arsenal’s main thing is intensity, which L’Equipe called “controlled Euphoria”. This meant starting fast, hitting opponents with that straight up red blitz, and leading the press in a Martin Ødegaard type of mania. Would they have the nerve to do it here?

That would be his no. A city lined with a muscular blue wall of six primarily defensive players. From the earliest moment they drove Arsenal in, killing the midfield, taking all the air out of those spaces. There were collisions and stretched veins, chewing movements 27 passes. He was completely suffocated, a pillow over the football face. City were in control, but not much else. This was not a one to one matter. It was final stuff.

With an hour gone, Pep Guardiola at least tried to change that pattern, sending on Doku and Jack Grealish. There was some crazy leg-whirling stuff from Doku. De Bruyne charged a little harder.

In the middle of this story Haaland didn’t so much have a terrible game as a pointless one, as he has a few times against better teams. Very soon he got deeper, into those gallop spaces where he is irresistible as soon as the ball is sucked in.

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He then stopped doing that, because his evening was one of those games where, apart from, say, the best footballer in the world, he hardly looks like a footballer at all. Cristiano Ronaldo at Juventus was said to have solved the problems he had created. Haaland didn’t do that here. On days like this it’s a bit like playing with a self-imposed handicap.

Declan Rice had a solid game for Arsenal. Ødegaard was probably the star turn. He is a strange player, a combination of fierce, relentless urgency and beautifully refined possession skills, like a hyper-technical James Milner. He tackled and pushed and dirty a lot, showing a performance in order.

City were in control but the incision was not to count. Arsenal killed the game just enough to give it a chance to win. Will they regret not going full Arsenal here, not attacking more, not showing their recent fire? Arteta hopes not, and that this and other flanks will be turned upside down. One thing seems certain. This one will now run to the end.

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