Arsenal missed big opportunity to deal huge title race blow at Man City

  • Arsenal defended brilliantly for a point at Manchester City
  • Unbeaten against their title rivals this season
  • Victory would've dealt killer blow in title race

Mikel Arteta's Arsenal played for a point at the Etihad
Mikel Arteta's Arsenal played for a point at the Etihad / Robbie Jay Barratt - AMA/GettyImages
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Points at the Etihad are not to be scoffed at, especially for an Arsenal side that had lost on their previous seven visits to the sky blue side of Manchester in the Premier League.

A combination of tension and excitement prevailed heading into Sunday's title duel, and the subsequent stalemate only added greater mystique to this enthralling title race as opposed to providing any sort of clarity.

This was a good point for the Gunners, let me make that clear. Over the past two years, Mikel Arteta's side have overcome psychological after psychological hurdle; becoming the first team to enjoy an unbeaten season against Jurgen Klopp's Liverpool and Pep Guardiola's Manchester City.

This team is maturing and persistently evolving, although there was nothing revolutionary about Sunday's duel. Styles make fights, and the similar ideals of master and apprentice made for a risk-averse affair with far too many centre-backs involved. It was a contest right out of the Jose Mourinho/Rafa Benitez mid-2000s playbook. Very little happened.


Arsenal missed big opportunity to deal huge title race blow at Man City

Mikel Arteta, Josep Guardiola
Styles make fights and this duel rarely entertains / Visionhaus/GettyImages

It'd be harsh to criticise Arteta's approach on Sunday; one which emphasised upon discipline and caution. Arsenal often defended with a back six and aimed to clog the centre, with Declan Rice providing greater security in transition and the two centre-backs dominating in and around their box. The visitors' structure was rarely compromised, and they had some joy from the spurts of high pressing Arteta encouraged.

However, with Arsenal's wingers so deep, they often lacked the requisite thrust on the counter to hurt the hosts. In the absence of Gabriel Martinelli, the Gunners did not possess a devastating outlet in transition, and the front three combined for a mere four progressive carries.

A stellar defensive effort led by William Saliba and Gabriel ensured Arsenal departed the Etihad the happier of the two sides, but there should be a panging sense of what might've been...

Arteta's approach was rewarded with what Arsenal seemingly came for - a point - but perhaps more enterprise could've garnered a monumental victory. This was a City side without key recovery defender Kyle Walker, starting goalkeeper Ederson (Stefan Ortega was more than sound in his absence, by the way), one-v-one menace Nathan Ake, and the do-it-all John Stones. Guardiola's staggering desire for control means it's hard at the best of times to exploit any chinks in City's armour, and his absences meant the Spaniard took the requisite steps to ensure the control he craves was maintained on Sunday.

Thus, Pep should take credit for limiting Arsenal, too, but he didn't have to mitigate the most potent of Gunners attacks given just how deep Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Jesus were asked to track. A direct approach in possession, meanwhile, meant the situation they were able to cultivate towards the end of the game when Leandro Trossard broke in behind was the only one of its kind.

Matching City's performance in possession (at the Etihad) is the next step in Arsenal's evolution under Arteta.

In the end, we were a Trossard first-time pass away from lauding the ultimate masterclass, but also a Erling Haaland tap in at the back post away from decrying a tepid defeat on the big occasion. A result for either side would've served as a huge momentum shifter heading into the run-in, with neither manager having any interest in losing.

Both must be thrilled to have got Sunday's game out of the way, and Arsenal will move forward with confidence having recorded a deserved point. However, when you're chasing a first Premier League title in 20 years and are having to fight off two of the all-time great managers in order to win it, it feels like Arsenal had/have to do something quite special.

Victory at the Etihad may well have been the moment which propelled the club to glory. With nine games to go, they're the third favourites to go all the way with a hectic April inbound.


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