Arsenal Fight Back for Draw at Man City, Make Claim in Premier League Title Race
For City it was two points dropped; for Arsenal, one gained. For City it was a header against the run of play; for Arsenal a leveler deserved, if late.
For City it was another sheet unclean; for Arsenal, the season's most important result to date. For City it was another question mark; for Arsenal, a statement made.
Manchester City and Arsenal drew 1-1 on Sunday at City's Etihad Stadium in a match that revealed quite a bit about both clubs, but one more than the other. For all the positives and negatives and slip-ups and boo-boos that both sides put on display, the biggest, most consequential, most relevant revelation rested with the red corner, where the visiting fans were going ape after their team's late equalizer.
Besides being a shot at showing up a club whose millions have helped plunder Arsenal's first-team squad over the years like Chunk in the Fratelli freezer, there was something bigger going on Sunday in Manchester's blue half, something we suspected before but hadn't allowed ourselves to say quite yet.
After Sunday's scratch-back at City, Arsenal—warts, bunions, Gervinho and all—are playing themselves into the title discussion. Really.
On a day that offered Gooners plenty of enjoyment—old favorite Samir Nasri sat out with a hamstring knock (via ESPN FC), which he strained, presumably, trying to cash his paycheck while flinging foul-mouthed insults at journalists—the greatest delight might have come from Laurent Koscielny's second-half equalizer.
The first half had played out with depressing familiarity, as Arsenal influenced possession, failed to score and saw City steal the lead following Vito Mannone's flip-and-flap in the face of goal. Having followed Liverpool's example in "doing an Arsenal," the Gunners tired in the second and seemed destined for what would have been a fourth loss in five visits to City.
Instead Kozza scored, Arsenal drew and suddenly Arsene Wenger's team had momentum heading into their next big test.
That comes with Chelsea's visit to the Emirates next weekend. If Sunday's match served as any guide, Arsenal have the ammunition needed for a top-of-the-table coup.
Santi Cazorla—perhaps the bargain buy of the summer—sizzled again, weaving his runs and threading his passes, stretching City and stitching together Arsenal's midfield to their attack.
Meanwhile Mikel Arteta, the overlooked and under-appreciated worker bee with the 94 percent pass-completion rate in the heart of Arsenal's Spanglish midsection, made hardly a misstep in navigating the brutal midfield battle with Yaya Toure.
The defense conceded for a second straight match, this time in frustratingly unnecessary fashion. But any apprehension over the Gunners' defensive lapses—another threatened to gift City a win after Koscielny's equalizer—should be lessened when captain and central defender Thomas Vermaelen returns next week after a bout with the flu.
It's not yet time to declare Arsenal a sure-fire contender for the title next May, but Sunday's fightback provided strong circumstantial evidence that some previously lacking ingredients have found their way into the mix.
Though Arsenal benefited from Robin van Persie's brilliance last season, the Gunners rarely showed the resolve needed to pull out a result after falling behind, especially under disappointing circumstances like Sunday's. That the Gunners equalized despite waning in influence in the second half only reinforces the point.
This season, with RvP's 30 league goals now at Manchester United, Arsenal continue to produce results without him. In his place are Cazorla's enthusiasm and brilliance, Arteta's steadiness, Lukas Podolski's undoubted talent, a newly stingy defense and, fine, Gervinho's head-scratching unpredictability.
"I am pleased because [a point] was the minimum we deserved today," Wenger said before turning on his patented managerial coyness. "…[O]verall I hope this will reinforce our belief and confidence and reassure us about our potential in this league."
Don't be fooled. This team believes. The way they dominated before City scored against the run of play left room for no other conclusion.
The point is, this is a fine team, and it's a likeable one at that. And they didn't need Van Persie's help to become only the third team in the last 31 matches to take a point from the Etihad.
And, yeah, this team is in the title discussion, even if it's just for another week.
But go ahead and doubt. They might just like it that way.
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