EPL notes: Arsenal storms back twice to earn point against Manchester City
It was a game that Arsenal and Manchester City both needed to win and one that, in the end, both seemed content to draw.
The two played to a 2-2 draw at the Emirates on Sunday.
Arsenal ended its run of four straight losses.
“When you come out of a few disappointing results play a big game the first priority of course is not to lose,” Arsène Wenger told Sky Sports after the game.
City may console itself that it gained a point away to one of the Premier League’s traditional powerhouses.
“1-1 in a difficult stadium,” said Pep Guardiola, who’s repeated reference to the wrong score suggested he’d missed two goals.
Yet both are probably aware that whatever they might feel, others, especially elsewhere in London will have been happier.
Despite its loss on Saturday, Chelsea, the leader, is still 10 points ahead of City its most talented pursuer and will have seen plenty it can exploit when the two teams meet at Stamford Bridge. Tottenham, in second, now has a three-point edge on the next team, Liverpool, is four clear of City and, in the seemingly endless quest for a finish above its hated neighbor, 11 points ahead of Arsenal, which is battling to hold off Everton in sixth.
“You could say that mathematically it’s not good for them nor for us,” Wenger said.
The first half brought a predictable mixture of dizzying attack and dozy defending. City scored twice. Arsenal once.
“After the first goal in the first three minutes we forgot to play,” Guardiola said.
Both could have had more. Yet after Shkodran Mustafi scored Arsenal’s second equalizer in the 53rd minute, the match subsided into a bizarre demonstration of the suddenly fashionable walking football.
That sport, invented in England barely six years ago, is designed to allow the over-50s to play soccer without giving themselves a heart attack. Perhaps, on Sunday, the intention, from Arsenal at least, was to preserve the health of 67-year-old Wenger. The Arsenal manager, under pressure to quit from Arsenal fans who believe they are entitled to a title every year, this week said that “retirement equals death.” That is precisely what walking football was designed to prevent in people his age.
It’s unlikely that Sunday’s draw will convince any of his critics that he should stay, but it did demonstrate some of the holes in his team. Those holes gaped large as Leroy Sané and Sergio Agüero exploited generous areas of space to score City’s goals.
“It was a strange combination between playing with the nerves …and strong mental resources and refusal to lose the game,” Wenger said. “On the mental front, it was very strong. On the technical front, we can do better.”
While Wenger won’t say if he will be back next season, perhaps Pep Guardiola is already treating this campaign as preparation for next year. He had Jesús Navas, no one’s idea of a defender, playing at right back for much of the match.
“Second half was much better we were able to make four or five passes in a row,” Guardiola said. He said he yanked Raheem Sterling at half time because he wanted “more passes.” City did complete over 100 more passes in the second half, but almost all were safe, slow and harmless.
There might have been a tactical logic, but his tinkering may also have been a way of sending a message to his board and his director of football, Txiki Begiristain, that they really need to pour barrel loads of cash into buying him a new defense.
STUFF HAPPENS Sometimes a team plays well and loses. Sometimes you have three quarters of possession and manage 24 total shots with 11 of them on target as Chelsea did on Saturday, yet the opposition, with just three strikes on target, wins, 2-1, as Crystal Palace did.
Wilfried Zaha and Christian Benteke enjoyed a purple two minutes for Palace early in the first half. Before and after that, Chelsea battered Palace. Somehow Palace stole three points. It was going to happen to Chelsea at some point.
Chelsea had been remarkably adept at avoiding banana skins in the 22-match run that had taken it 10 points clear at the top of the Premier League at the start of the weekend. In that run, Chelsea lost only once, but in that match, at Tottenham, it was outplayed. The other 21 matches included seven one-goal victories and two draws. On Saturday, the ball finally bounced the other way.
The question now is how…