Arsenal vs. Manchester City: 6 Things We Learned
Arsenal's season looks to be back on track, even if their Premier League title ambitions are over, after a rare Mathieu Flamini goal rescued a 1-1 draw against Manchester City at the Emirates Stadium.
In a one-sided first half, City dominated and deservedly took the lead when David Silva slammed home from close range. The visitors then went on to tactically bully the Gunners, who looked like the occasion was getting to them.
Somehow, Arsene Wenger's team managed to get to half-time without conceding another.
To their credit, Arsenal were the better side in the second period, as Santi Cazorla dictated the ebb and flow of the game.
Cazorla and Silva seemed to be embroiled in a creative battle to gain Vicente del Bosque's attention. With the World Cup in Brazil looming, it is easy to see why.
While Cazorla was obviously Arsenal's best player, arguably their most important player was Flamini. The Frenchman covered every inch of ground in the second half and ghosted into the box to score his first goal for Arsenal since 2008.
Here, Bleacher Report offers six things we learned from Arsenal vs. Manchester City.
Mathieu Flamini Stood Tall When It Counted and Backed Up His Own Words
In the buildup to the game, Mathieu Flamini, scorer of an unlucky own goal against Swansea, issued a rallying cry to his teammates to get their season back on track.
The Gunners suffered a heavy 6-3 defeat to Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium in December. They followed that up with a 5-1 loss to Liverpool at Anfield and, lest we forget, a 6-0 mauling to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge.
City destroyed Manchester United last weekend in a performance that was more than reminiscent of how the Pensioners disposed of Arsenal.
It is little wonder, therefore, that Flamini called upon his team to rise to the occasion, as reported by the Daily Mirror's John Cross:
When you play a big game, you cannot lose it in the first 10 or 15 minutes because it is not good afterwards for the rest of the game.
So we have to be focused, be ready for this kind of game because at the end of the day, these kind of games are battles.
You have to win the duels, win the fight and then play your football.
We have to be strong defensively first of all because that is very important when you play against a big team like that who are very offensive team. After, we have enough quality in this team to find a goal.
I feel like there are more leaders on the pitch, more personality, more character [this year].
That's very important because it was maybe missing a bit in the past couple of years, but I feel like this year we have more leaders, more characters and it is very important to keep going in this direction.
Manchester City were rampant in the first half and won all the duels and personal battles in every area of the pitch.
In the second period, every single Arsenal player started off in the same vein, except for one: Flamini.
Not known for his attacking prowess, he began to make runs from midfield that got in behind City's defense. He started asking questions of City and made the likes of Vincent Kompany play facing his own goal where he is less comfortable.
In short, he played in a manner that enabled his team to find a route back into a game when they should have been dead and buried.
Neither Side Has a Great Centre-Forward
There is little doubt that Manchester City miss Sergio Aguero; any side would.
For all of Edin Dzeko's qualities, he is not "Kun" Aguero.
Against Arsenal, the paceless Bosnian striker was an easy man to mark. Per Mertesacker and Thomas Vermaelen were comfortable all night.
His overall contribution of two shots, a pass accuracy of 74 percent and winning just 36 percent of his aerial battles show that he offered little.
At the other end of the pitch, things were not all that much better.
Arsenal are paying the price for not buying a striker in the January transfer window, and Olivier Giroud looks like a spent force. His statistical output was far better than his counterparts with three shots, a pass accuracy of 91 percent and winning 54 percent of his aerial battles.
His movement, however, was reminiscent of a Weeping Angel. He was static for the entire game and only seemed to move when no one was looking at him.
Both teams could benefit from a change in strikers. However, at this stage of the season, only City have viable options.
Arsenal's Lack of Penetration Played into City's Hand's Until Flamini Moved Up
One of the biggest misunderstandings in football analysis is the mixing up of pace and penetration.
Arsenal lack any kind of real pace across midfield and up front.
In the first half, Manchester City played a high defensive line and squeezed up on Arsenal's midfield. They then denied the Gunners midfield time and space. From there, City went on to dominate the one-sided first half.
Many analysts called for the introduction of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain or the move of Lukas Podolski into centre-forward to give Arsenal more pace up front. What they meant to say was that Arsenal needed more penetration up front.
Penetration occurs when the defensive line is broken by either a pass or a player running through. Essentially, it requires the defense to be turned and for the attacking team to get in behind the defense.
Arsenal came out in the second half with exactly the same team. However, the big difference came when Mathieu Flamini started breaking from midfield and getting in behind City's back four.
This allowed the Gunners' midfield to stretch City's midfield. They then got Santi Cazorla on the ball, and players on both flanks started moving past the Spaniard to give more penetrative options.
The end result may not have done many favors for Arsenal as far as the title is concerned, but as far as momentum and the FA Cup are concerned, it has put them back on track.
Santi Cazorla Won't Get Past David Silva in the Premier League or the World Cup
Arsenal's Santi Cazorla and Manchester City's David Silva were easily the best players on show in the 1-1 draw.
Silva, like City, has grown into this season. The 28-year-old Spanish international pulled all the strings for the Citizens against Arsenal. He was the lynchpin upon which everything revolved at the Emirates Stadium and was the best player on show.
His clever movement had Mathieu Flamini and Mikel Arteta running around in circles as he drifted all over the final third. To show his involvement in the game, all one has to do is realize that by the 62nd minute he had already had 66 touches of the ball.
If Silva was the main man in the first period, then the second half belonged to Cazorla.
By the time the match ended, he had had 105 touches to Silva's 91. Passing-wise, the Arsenal man's accuracy came in at 79 percent, while Silva's was an impressive 86, per WhoScored.com.
When it comes to midfielders, Vicente del Bosque has, perhaps, the greatest choice of players in the world. He can call upon the likes of FC Barcelona's Andres Iniesta, Cesc Fabregas, Xavi Hernandez and Sergio Busquets. He also has FC Bayern Munich's Thiago Alcantara and Javi Martinez, Real Madrid's Xabi Alonso, City's Silva and Jesus Navas, and Arsenal's Cazorla.
Each and every one would walk into any international or domestic team.
When it comes to the World Cup in Brazil this summer, Silva's greater pace and versatility should see him edge past Cazorla.
Paul Scholes Is Right About Arsenal
Manchester United legend Paul Scholes savaged the Gunners following their inept display against Swansea City midweek.
The former midfielder offered his view of things in the Arsenal dressing room and on the pitch. Scholes, taking a leaf from Roy Keane's book of honest analysis, lambasted Arsenal when working as a pundit for Sky Sports:
They capitulated at Chelsea and it seems to be a similar theme when they play the top teams.
It happened in Liverpool and they conceded six against the City. For one reason or another, players just seem to go missing. The Artetas, Cazorlas, Rosickys, Ozils, it seems like they go on the pitch with no discipline.
They play a few nice little one-twos, a bit of tippy-tappy football and don't bother running back. There's no leader with them.
It's the Arsenal fans you feel sorry for, because they seem to get the same thing every year, maybe a little hint of the title for a few weeks and then go to Chelsea, City or Liverpool and do nothing.
It's hard to argue with the legend, given Arsenal's form over the last decade.
Arsene Wenger, however, refused to accept Scholes' analysis of his team. He offered a lackluster response when he said this to a Premier League press conference, per BBC:
People who have managed zero games have opinions. We have to accept that.
If six points is a 'million miles away', I don't know what the translation of a mile into a point is.
We have got to keep going, despite the last two negative results.
Champions keep going when everybody else would give up.
Given the manner of Arsenal's Jekyll and Hyde performance, it is hard to disagree with Scholes.
The Gunners were nervous and edgy in a first half that City dominated. Losing 1-0 and with their Premier League season all but over, they fought back and controlled large portions of the second half.
While Wenger and some Arsenal fans may point to how this shows character, it doesn't. In reality it shows how little real character and conviction the Gunners actually have.
When the pressure was on, they shirked their duty. When it was removed by City going ahead, they grew into the game.
This has been a problem with all of Wenger's teams over the last decade. They need to learn how to deal with expectation and pressure and embrace it.
If they can achieve this, they could win the league. Until then, they will always be regarded as outside contenders at best.
Arsenal Don't Win When Mike Dean Is Ref
Right from the very first moment of the game, when he had ordered Arsenal to retake the tip-off, it was obvious that this was going to be a tough game for Mike Dean.
His cause was not helped by Tomas Rosicky diving in an attempt to win a penalty in the opening minutes of the game.
It is no secret that Arsenal's fans do not like the Liverpool-born referee.
On December 23, 101 Great Goals published an article showing the Gunners' record with Dean since 2009. It does not make for pretty reading.
One day later, 101 Great Goals debunked the original article. This time, however, the website brought in Opta content director and Arsenal fan Orbinho to go through the statistical database to give a more accurate reading.
If anything, his investigation made for worse reading!
He proved that the Gunners had a better win rate than 7 percent with Dean as ref. Their actual win rate was 39 percent.
However, he also found that Arsenal had not won any of their last 11 games against Manchester City, Manchester United or Chelsea. Most Gooners will already know, but that record has since increased to 13 games without a win against this heavyweight trio.
Saturday's game offered further evidence that there is no conspiracy where Dean and Arsenal are concerned.
The only real conspiracy on show is how the Gunners are no longer a viable title threat to the likes of Man City or Chelsea.