City fails to remove Chelsea from league summit with draw vs. Arsenal
LONDON — Arsenal and Manchester City were forced to settle for a 1-1 draw on Saturday to cap a wild Barlcays Premier League matchday that also saw Chelsea upset at Selhurst Park. The results opened the door for Liverpool to go clear at the top of the table with a win over Tottenham (live, Sunday, 11 a.m. ET), but all top four teams remain in a race that looks to go right down to the final day.
The game at the Emirates was a see-saw; not quite a case of a game of two halves, but rather a bout between two tired sides. City looked the better for large stretches of the match, and it wasn’t until Mathieu Flamini’s scuffed shot leveled things up for the Gunners that the home side looked like they had any chance in this match.
David Silva broke the deadlock in the 18th minutes when City pulled off one of their patented counter-attacks. Given acres of space as Pablo Zabaleta and Jesus Navas ran off the ball to pull Kieran Gibbs to the endline, Silva was able to square to Edin Dzeko, who cannoned his shot past Wojciech Szczesny but back out off the post. Silva was fortunate to see the ball ping to his feet, and he was able to squib the ball over the line.
It was no less than City deserved: time and time again, they made hay down that right flank, consistently crossing in dangerous balls and forcing the Gunners back to defend in numbers. Penned into their own area, Arsenal looked far too slow when they got possession, and Fernandinho and Yaya Toure’s presence in the heart of the field meant that they were largely reduced to drifting out wide, but without numbers to support any attacks. Most damagingly, Olivier Giroud looked noticeably fatigued on the day; the much-maligned Martin Demichelis, never a man that would be confused with a sprinter, was quicker and sharper than the forward all day long.
Arsenal would rebound slightly after going behind, but never seriously tested Joe Hart in the half. In fact, the best chance for the Gunners fell at the feet of Demichelis, who was a bit fortunate to see his interception of Lukas Podolskiâs cross go wide of the net. Flamini had the ball in the net for Arsenal around the half hour mark, but he was well off-side. And while Arsenal hoped for a penalty when Tomas Rosicky was clipped by Pablo Zabaleta, referee Mike Dean merely waved play on.
But after the break, Arsenal got lucky. Dzeko saw a ball drop kindly to him in front of the Arsenal net only to see his shot just trickle wide. Then, at the other end, Podolski crossed the ball in to find Flamini, who volleyed the ball into the turf — and past Hart in the net. Suddenly, the Emirates flared back to life and Arsenal started to look like they could sneak something out of this. Now it was City who looked a bit lazy and tired.
City certainly had been guilty of taking their feet off the pedal, and they found it difficult to get back in the match after being able to coast for so long. Still, they had their chances. Fernandinho saw his clipped shot just drift over the bar and a goal-mouth scramble almost saw Yaya Toure beat Szczesny to break the match open. Silva was at the center of almost everything positive that City did, but he slowly found himself edged out of the play as Tomas Rosicky and Mikel Arteta started to put the boot in.
When the whistle went, there was a feeling of relief around the Emirates — at least they had not lost another massive game. But there was also a sense again of a chance spurned. While this was a far better show than in recent weeks, Arsenal’s hustle exposed a number of City’s well-known flaws, specifically their laziness when it comes to killing off games.
For City, it is arguable that this was merely a blip. They have games in hand on all their challengers, and remain the favorites in this race. But this display will revive some nagging doubts over Manuel Pellegrini’s tactics and City’s mettle.
Also, in spite of losing on Saturday, Chelsea stay top of the table on the night — but City now lurk only two points back and with a game in hand. Arsenal remain a full five points off the pace, but did increase the gap on Everton, who are now seven points back with two games in hand as well. But Chelsea know they are in trouble. Even defender Gary Cahill admitted as much after their 1-0 loss to Crystal Palace, saying, "it felt like the end."
And while City will surely feel that this was a chance spurned, this now makes their upcoming match against Liverpool on April 13 the most vital game of the season.