Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: two goals from corners
There was plenty of attacking talent on show, but centre-backs Joleon Lescott and Laurent Koscielny got the goals.
Roberto Mancini chose Scott Sinclair on the left in the absence of Samir Nasri, with Sergio Aguero returning upfront to partner Edin Dzeko.
Arsene Wenger was without Thomas Vermaelen so Laurent Koscielny came in at the back. Aaron Ramsey started on the right, with Gervinho as the primary forward.
Arsenal can be more pleased with their performance – they dominated possession and got into dangerous positions in the final third – but they trailed for 42 minutes, and had to scrap to win a point.
The game was much more open than is customary between these sides – Arsenal were more proactive than against Liverpool, when they defended as a tight unit and broke impressively, while City were content to play an open game, unconcerned with Arsenal’s ability to break into space.
The midfield zone was interesting, containing similar combinations of player – a deep-lying Spanish passer (Javi Garcia and Mikel Arteta) along with a powerful driving player (Yaya Toure and Abou Diaby). Arsenal’s midfield duo seemed to have swapped from previous matches, with Diaby playing to the right rather than the left – this meant the partnerships were well-matched on the pitch.
But beither Toure nor Diaby had a significant impact on the game, and Arteta was probably the pick of the midfielders – Garcia was constrained by having Santi Cazorla drifting around behind him, whereas Aguero’s high and left-sided positioning meant Arteta had fewer defensive responsibilities.
City lack invention
There were a few interesting battles – down City’s left, for example, Sinclair was selected to give City width and drive, but Carl Jenkinson got the better of him throughout the first half. On the other side, David Silva was relatively quiet, often coming inside into a packed midfield.
City struggled for creativity in open play – Mancini’s decision to play two forwards was positive, but they rarely collected the ball in dangerous positions. Aguero buzzed around to the left of the pitch, maybe thinking Jenkinson was Arsenal’s weak link, while Dzeko picked up longer passes to the right. City could have done with a proper link player in the first half.
Arsenal were at their best when breaking quickly into space. As against Southampton last weekend, they played without a true forward – Gervinho played right-of-centre and drifted into the space between Joleon Lescott and Gael Clichy, while Lukas Podolski moved inside from the left. Cazorla was the permanent central creative player City lacked, helping to confirm Arsenal’s midfield dominance and slide balls through the defence.
The role of Ramsey on the right was interesting – this was a more conservative option than the likes of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or Theo Walcott, and the Welshman often came narrow to provide a passing option, helping to keep Arsenal’s passing quick.
In fact, the best passage of football – the move that created the chance Gervinho wasted after 15 minutes – showed exactly how Arsenal were getting the better of City. First, Cazorla found himself in space between the lines to receive a simple yet purposeful pass. Then Ramsey stormed alongside him, unmarked, to take control of the move, and played a perfectly-weighted pass to Gervinho, who making a run from outside to in, confusing Clichy. The Ivorian’s first touch was dreadful and Joe Hart collected the ball easily – it won’t even be recorded as a shot. Yet those three things – (a) Cazorla’s positioning, (b) Ramsey’s narrowness and (c) Gervinho’s movement – were the three key areas in the first half.
At 1-0 up, Mancini made a defensive move, bringing on Jack Rodwell for Sinclair and moving Silva to the left. This meant Arsenal’s full-backs were less of an attacking threat – Rodwell did little on the ball but defended well against Kieran Gibbs, while Silva’s movement inside caused Jenkinson more problems than Sinclair’s direct dribbling. Carlos Tevez replaced Dzeko, which made City’s link-up play slightly better.
The second half continued in a similar pattern to the first, although there were more goalscoring opportunities. It was surprising that Wenger waited until 72 minutes to make his first changes, bringing on Walcott and Olivier Giroud for Diaby and Podolski. Walcott played on the right, Gervinho went left, Giroud was upfront and Ramsey shifted into the centre.
Arsenal v deep defence
But the significant change was City’s overall approach – they sat much deeper, the midfield gave the defence extra protection. And this gave Arsenal a different test – in the Premier League so far, they had only scored against sides who gave them space behind the defence (Liverpool and Southampton), failing to score against deep defence (Sunderland and Stoke). Giroud gave them more of a penalty box presence, although he’s not necessarily a player that thrives on crosses.
City broke well in the second half, with Toure and Silva much more of an influence, and Aguero lively after a quiet start to the game. However, they didn’t have cohesive combinations to create chances consistently, and Mancini is probably still searching for his best attacking partnership.
On the balance of play Arsenal merited their equaliser, but the source of the goal – a fine finish from a centre-back after a corner wasn’t cleared – hardly suggests they have a reliable plan to break down packed defences.
An open and entertaining game, but not a fascinating tactical battle.
Cazorla was not at his best, yet was still the game’s key player between the lines, providing that extra midfield passing option – although Ramsey’s position also contributed to the possession dominance.