Arsenal lose again despite battling performance against Manchester City
Odegaard disappoints with stumbling display
21 February, 2021 — By Tom Foot
FA Premier League
Manchester City 1 (Sterling 2)
IT is almost three years ago to the day that Manchester City came to the Emirates and inflicted a humiliating defeat on Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal.
Watching the side trudge in 3-0 down at half time was the moment many of the few remaining staunch Wenger loyalists finally accepted enough was enough.
He was gone a few weeks later.
Fast forward to February 2021, and Arsenal appear to have cemented themselves as a mid-table tough-to-beat side but with little hope for improvement.
City are the Premier League’s breath-taking ballers and Gunners fans are left celebrating practical performances, good chasing-down and tracking-back.
Mikel Arterta’s side is capable of stifling and shutting down quality sides and the match tonight was very similar to the battling 0-0 last month against then top of the table Manchester United.
But up front they are so limp, rarely looking like scoring and for long spells tonight even getting near the opposition goal.
Raheem Sterling scored on 2 mins after finding himself in acres of space between Pablo Mari and Rob Holding. He glanced a header past Bernd Leno.
Sterling should have made it 2-0 immediately after, but over-complicated things in the box when he attempted a twine instead of a shot.
Loanee Martin Odegaard, starting in the playmaker position behind Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang up front, looked disturbingly off the pace.
He doesn’t look like he wants the ball, often pointing to other players instead of demanding a pass from his teammates.
His control let him down several times, and there was nothing to hint that he might help Arsenal open up tight defences.
After the match, Guardiola said of the Odegaard: “He’s a big talent. He was a brilliant Real Madrid player and when you play for Real Madrid you’re always good.”
But the reality was that Emile Smith Rowe, who has been in such fine form, was sorely missed.
In the first half, Bukayo Saka sprayed a shot wide and Keiran Tierney saw a powerful strike fly straight at keeper Ederson. A Nicholas Pepe shot dribbled well wide, from a good position.
But despite a plucky performance that began around 30 and lasted until the 90 were up, the Gunners had no meaningful chances to speak of.
One positive is that Granit Xhaka is quietly growing in confidence and no longer makes rash challenges or passing mistakes.
Another is that the Saka shows no signs of flagging after his blistering start to the season. Along with Tierney, he is routinely Arsenal’s best player week to week.
Former City compadres Arteta and Guardiola spent the whole game doing their best to out shout each other from the sidelines.
Kevin De Bruyne had a cheeky chip sail wide while Joao Cancelo arched the best chance of the match just wide of the post.
Tierney and Mahrez had an interesting duel, but the game ebbed away with a lot of passing and fouls in midfield.
Arteta said: “Conceding early puts them where they want to be. After that we did really well and created some great opportunities. The final quality you need to score goals, we were missing today.
“They are a fantastic team. I think we did well, but for me that means nothing. We prepared to win and I’m disappointed not to take anything from the game.”
Arsenal are tenth, six points off the top six, and face Leicester away next week.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Holding (Luiz 82), Mari, Tierney, Elneny (Ceballos 86), Xhaka, Pepe, (Smith Rowe 73). Odegaard (Lacazette 73), Saka, Aubameyang.
Subs not used: Gabriel, Willian Soares, Ryan, Martinelli.
City: Ederson, Cancelo, Stones, Dias, Zinchenko, De Bruyne (Jesus), Fernandinho, Gundogan Mahrez, Bernardo, Sterling.
Subs not used: Walker, Aguero, Steffen, Laporte, Rodri, Torres, Mendy, Foden.