Home of the champions. A ground that has not tasted defeat in the league since December 2010. Only 2 teams have managed to take home a point each out of the 31 games that Manchester City has played in their fortress that is Etihad Stadium. For us to be the 3rd team to finish the game level on scores with the home side is very encouraging. But it was more than that, we could have very well broken their home unbeaten run.
In a lot of ways, this match was reminiscent of that from last season. A game where we fought and never let the other team bully us. It was a match which we dominated in large parts and held strong when under pressure. Compared to last season, you could see that the players did not let their heads drop. There were no acts of frustration from the players as the minutes ticked on and we are still trailing the home side. That, was an admirable performance from us.
We went into this game without the service of captain, Thomas Vermaelen. Due to illness, the Belgian was denied the chance to travel. If it was up to him, a little flu won’t stop him from playing the game. But it was not a gamble which Arsene Wenger wanted to take. Not when we have able replacement on hand. In came Laurent Koscielny and what an impact he turned out to be. That wasn’t the only change though, there’s also another one further up front.
Aaron Ramsey came in on the right of the attacking trio in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain from the last Premier League match or in place of Olivier Giroud if you take the Champions League match at Montpellier into account. Perhaps the idea was to give us an extra man in midfield who will tuck in tight. That seemed to work as we managed to limit the output from the dangermen such as Yaya Toure and David Silva.
Or perhaps the idea is to have another player in the pocket of space between City’s midfield and their defence. That meant whenever Santi Cazorla went deeper to pick up the ball or get involve in our build up, City’s midfield marker would follow. In yesterday’s game, that was Javi Garcia. When that happens, Ramsey would pop up in the middle and receive the pass with no midfield markers and the space to drive at City’s defence.
We should have opened the floodgates when Ramsey in one such move, prodded the ball through for Gervinho. Only a poor first touch, stopped us from scoring. That started a match of misses for the Ivorian, a stark contrast to his form in the past few games. Even right at the death, Gervinho still had a chance to win the game for us but the composure was lacking with his finishing. He will have a lot to improve on that front but if there’s one positive from his performance, it was his movement. That he managed to get into numerous shooting positions shows how good his runs are.
Had Gervinho scored, we would have won the game at the death, only after we managed to equalised in the 82nd minute of the game. A game where we started on the front foot but conceded a very lame goal right before the end of the first half. Joleon Lescott scored from a corner kick in which Vito Mannone came to claim the cross but only punched at thin air. If a keeper comes for a cross like that, he has to claim it, no questions asked. Perhaps our positioning for the corner could have been better as Lescott was allowed a free header.
City went into the break with a major boost of the goal and the Gunners were a little deflated. That showed for the first 10 to 20 minutes of the second half. We were lethargic coming out into the second period and gave away some very easy balls. City sensed that we were a bit on the rocks since the goal and took advantage by gaining control of ball possession. There was some last ditch defending but our defence kept it tight. Luckily for us, Sergio Aguero was honest and decided to take the shot anyway when he could easily have gone down, after a clumsy Koscielny challenge.
Koscielny would then go on the other end and redeem himself. From our own corner kick, City’s scorer had a poor clearance that went straight to our centre back. He steadied himself and blast a shot to the top corner beyond the reach of Joe Hart. What ensued was a celebration that tested the hardness of Koscielny’s body as bodies after bodies piled up on him. No less than what we deserved and another rewarding one right in front of our away support which was again, tremendous.
However, while Koscielny was very good, he wasn’t the stand-out performer from our defence. That honour would have to be shared between Per Mertesacker and Carl Jenkinson. Honestly, at the start of the season, I would only put Mertesacker as the third best centre back at the club. He is a very good player but would fall behind compared to Vermaelen and Koscielny. An injury to Koscielny gave him the chance and the German took it with both hands. He was assured in his defending yesterday and won many interceptions. He has made it hard to be drop now but then again, all coaches want this type of problems.
As for Jenkinson, he put in a performance that belied his age and experience. Scott Sinclair is not the best of wingers but he was pacy. Jenkinson is no slouch himself but positioned himself very well to contain Sinclair. So much so that Sinclair never came out in the second half. David Silva was next to go to that side but he found little joy as well. The Gooner turned Gunner never shy away from any challenge and showed plenty of desire to get forward when others were feeling the effects of heavy legs.
A win would have been the best result but a draw at the side touted to be the favourites to win the title this season, is not the worst result. The draw means that we have yet to lose this season. That’s what the numbers showed. As for the performance, it does show that we have one foot in that room of contenders. We will know next week after the Chelsea game if we can have the other foot in that room.