The Gunners displayed determination to claim a draw against Manchester City but they look likely to finish outside the Champions League places
Supporter unrest, managerial uncertainty and six defeats in nine games in all competitions made Arsenal’s clash with Manchester City even more difficult than it already looked on paper. However, the spirit and character shown to twice come back from a goal down gives the Gunners brief respite ahead of a jam-packed April schedule.
Mustafi earns under-fire Wenger precious point
Underfire manager Arsene Wenger was unsurprisingly proud of his much-maligned players and their perceived lack of bottle. “We started very nervously but we had a refusal to lose the game,” he enthused. “We were ready for a fight.”
Wenger, of course, has been under immense pressure of late following a run of horrendous results, which included a 10-2 aggregate defeat to Bayern Munich in the Champions League, and the protests continued in the form of branded ‘Wenger Out’ vans close to Emirates Stadium before kick-off.
There were similar scenes outside the stadium, where a small number of supporters vented their frustration towards the Frenchman with banners and chants such as ‘It’s never your fault’ and ‘No new contract’.
The game, meanwhile, told a familiar story of Arsenal’s defensive vulnerabilities, with Leroy Sane latching on to a wonderful through-ball from Kevin De Bruyne before holding off Hector Bellerin and rounding David Ospina to open the scoring after just five minutes of play.
A familiar feeling of apathy surrounded the Arsenal faithful as the goal went in and it was no surprise that Sane, a player who tormented the Gunners defence in the reverse fixture at the Etihad, completed four out of four take-ons in the second half – more than any other player on the pitch.
Theo Walcott’s excellent record against City was extended five minutes before the break as he scored his fifth goal against City in as many Premier League meetings. However, Sergio Aguero put Pep Guardiola’s side back in front just two minutes later with a goal that had an unmistakable air of inevitability about it. Wenger, holding his head with his hands, knew that big changes would be needed in the second half.
Back to full fitness and looking much sharper on the pitch, Mesut Ozil provided a pin-point corner for his German international team-mate Shkodran Mustafi to head his first goal for Arsenal. It was Ozil’s 50th assist in all competitions for Arsenal and it remains crucial that he maintains his fitness and form over a crucial April period.
Madrid off colour (and offside!)
A point from such an important game would usually be considered a good result but Arsenal’s Champions League hopes remain under serious threat, as Wenger admitted afterwards. “We are in a tough battle for the top four,” he conceded.
As it stands, Arsenal are seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester United with a game in hand but the Gunners still faces tough fixtures against the likes of Tottenham and United themselves before the season ends.
Until then, the pressure on the players and Wenger will continue despite this precious point. Protests appear to be gathering pace and an announcement regarding the Frenchman’s future isn’t far off.
Indeed, the Gunners boss stated afterwards: “I am professional and I have shown great loyalty in the past. I love this club, I don’t know how long I will be here but I am clear in my head and that’s the most important thing. The decision will be soon.”
However, whatever he decides, Arsenal look unlikely to be playing Champions League football next season — and that is unlikely to do anything to lift the supporters’ spirits any time soon.