Test one of three in the most challenging of weeks happily passed – just. A draw at Arsenal, a team undefeated at home in 19 games is no disaster.
My money-can’t-buy analysis of the game? What a bloody great match. Thoroughly entertaining and a draw probably the right result and Manchester City avoided the prospect of suffering successive league defeats for the first time in four years.
A very interesting team line-up though there had been plenty of rumours about it beforehand. Frank Lampard surprisingly made his debut and City not surprisingly went with one man up front. Yaya Toure was late back from international duty so was left out – with a slow start to the season it wasn’t the biggest blow but this was a game and a City formation where he could really have flourished. Pellegrini clearly had an eye on the week ahead. Other notable absences were of course enforced, which allowed Milner a rare start.
The game ebbed and flowed in the first half-hour. Arsenal shaded it, finding space in front of City’s defence and attacking with pace and flair as you’d expect. Apart from a misplaced pass from David Silva that should have set up Welbeck for the opener, there was little in it though, despite what the commentators tried to suggest. Meanwhile, Michael Owen called City United by accident and I can’t say I’m even slightly surprised at his ineptness any more.
With Navas in the team to try and exploit Monreal, and Arsenal’s policy of leaving their full-backs stranded up the pitch, the tactic bore fruit as the half-hour approached, a sprint down the right and the perfect (slightly deflected) pass finding Aguero to put City in the lead. After that, I felt City were the better team and Silva could and probably should have made it two.
So City went into the second half ahead and predictably Arsenal were quickly on the front foot searching for an equalizer. City defended admirably though, and were looking fairly compact, but the game turned on two fouls not given followed by two moments of great skill. Aguero was clearly fouled in the lead-up to the equalizer but City still had opportunities to clear, Clichy was turned too easily and for the second game in a row, Hart gambled and lost by expecting a shot to the far post, as Wilshere “did him” with his eyes.
And then the Sanchez goal. The referee and his assistants must have been the only people in the stadium not to see Kompany nudged by Welbeck as he headed a cross clear. A few seconds later, the ball was in the net. You win some, you lose some. Naturally, Arsene Wenger felt the referee went against his team – it was ever thus. Great finish though.
Credit to City though, who fought back well. The equalizer came from a sublime header from Demichelis and thereafter City dominated and could have had three goals. The woodwork was hit twice and Dzeko should have scored late on before an offside Nasri shot into the empty goal.
So what many considered a weakened team did well and Pellegrini got the formation spot on, if not all the personnel. Lampard was a gamble that didn’t really pay off as he did not have the legs to cope with such a big game due to age and having not played previously. Navas was great down the right, though you still wish he’d beat his man more, Fernandinho, who I have had concerns about recently grew nicely into the game and it was great to see him get some playing time to help get him back to his best and over his summer horrors. Kompany was immense, Silva a joy in this formation and Aguero class as expected. Apart from the equalizer, Clichy performed admirably. Nasri did a good defensive job second half and worked hard, his non-inclusion from the start understandable as he has not performed well against Arsenal since leaving there, the juvenile boos failing to fire him up. Milner was Milner, and did his job admirably. All in all it was a good team performance.
As for the referee – he was terrible. City should have had a penalty in the second half, both of Arsenal’s goals shouldn’t have stood and Wilshere shouldn’t have made it to half-time. Two of City’s bookings were ridiculous though he was lenient on others at times, Milner the obvious example. This was a classic home performance, though much of City’s fouls were correctly given – what annoyed more was how he felt the need to talk to City’s players yet didn’t feel the need to do the same to Arsenal players. He did get plenty right, but got plenty wrong too.
It’s rare that Pellegrini speaks out about anything, this only the second time he has had a go at the referee, after his Swedish outburst last season (followed by a sincere apology). It is clear he feels this was two points lost, not one gained.
And so on to Chelsea, who already have a five point lead over City. Needless to say, we cannot afford to lose this, though it is not a must-win game. City’s start to the season has been tough, which makes the defeat to Stoke all the more annoying as they lost at home to Leicester this weekend. There’s a long way to go and it is far too early to be drawing conclusions from the table, but I saw enough from the Arsenal game to know that City will compete for the title once more. Before that, the small matter of Bayern Munich away. One upfront again please Mr. Pellegrini.
Have a shave Lineker.