Manchester City vs. Arsenal: Giroud ends goal drought in 2-2 draw

Giroud scored and made an assist in the 2-2 draw with Manchester City on Sunday to prevent Spurs from securing second place in the Premier League. The Gunners can still finish second if they beat Aston Villa in the last game of the season next weekend and Spurs lose at Newcastle.

Manchester City vs. Arsenal

Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com

Wenger made two changes to the side that edged Norwich 1-0 the previous weekend by replacing the injured Mertesacker and Ozil with Paulista and Welbeck. Arsenal conceded the opening goal in the eighth minute, but Giroud leveled two minutes later with his first goal in the league since mid-January. Giroud lost Mangala to head in a corner after Clichy nearly scored an own goal by heading Giroud’s cross wide of the post. The Frenchman then held off Mangala to set up Sanchez for the equalizer in the 68th. Sanchez notched his 13th league goal this season by firing into the bottom corner.

Somehow, that equalizer reflects the Gunners’ offensive struggles. Sanchez and Giroud interacted for the first time this season to score a league goal. That’s a poor understanding for two players who are often in the final third. Sanchez has made 4 league assists this season, creating goals for Ozil, Campbell, Welbeck and Iwobi, while Giroud has raised his tally to 6 league assists after also helping Ozil, Koscielny, Walcott and Welbeck find the net. There’s no doubt that Arsenal would have scored more goals if the manager had improved the understanding between those two players.

Giroud and Sanchez have scored 13 league goals each. That’s not enough for a decent title bid. Even Ighalo and an aging Defoe have notched more league goals than Giroud or Sanchez. I thought Giroud was the best Gunner on Sunday. He led Arsenal with 2 key passes, which is a lot when Ozil is not around. Giroud fed Walcott in the 67th but the England international’s lob attempt sailed wide. Sanchez lived up to his reputation as a risk taker by making 5 successful dribbles out of 7 and by losing possession 3 times, the most for an Arsenal player. He also made 1 key pass and his only goal attempt gave the Gunners a point at the Etihad stadium.

Killing Ramsey’s qualities

The Citizens pressed high up the pitch to force turnovers and hit Arsenal on the fast break. That’s the way they’ve played in the Champions League this season to knock out Paris Saint-Germain and nearly match Real Madrid. The Gunners struggled to cope with Manchester City’s high intensity as the hosts enjoyed 57% of ball possession and mustered 14 shots compared to just 5 for Arsenal.

I felt our midfield was a bit too soft with Elneny, Ramsey and Iwobi. In the playmaking role, Iwobi had a poor game with 0 dribble, 0 tackle, 0 shot and 0 key pass. He was replaced by Walcott in the 59th. It’s the first time this season that the game has looked too fast for Iwobi. For a youngster, there’s no shame in not performing well against a top team. At 20, Iwobi still has a lot to learn. The manager might consider dropping him to the bench for the last game after a string of weak performances.

The Citizens outplayed Arsenal in midfield mostly because Wenger relied on Ramsey and Elneny to protect the back four. That duo can do a decent job against the weak and average sides, but it can’t contain the strong teams because neither Ramsey nor Elneny is a natural ballwinner. That partnership especially kills Ramsey’s qualities because he’s the one doing the dirty work while Elneny has more freedom to roam forward. That role distribution is just wrong.

Playing without a ballwinner

Ramsey led the team in passes and tackles (7 tackles according to whoscored.com and 12 tackles according to Squawka) and made 2 successful dribbles out of 3. But he made no key pass and his only goal attempt was off target. By contrast, Elneny lost all 4 tackles he made, according to Squawka, and had just 1 shot assist, the corner kick for Giroud’s goal. As you can see, Ramsey contributes a lot defensively but his offensive impact is annihilated while Elneny is inefficient in both categories.

Most of Manchester City’s chances came from the absence of a ballwinner in the Arsenal team. Navas made a cross in the eighth minute for Fernandinho, who knocked the ball down for Aguero and the Argentina striker fired a half-volley into the bottom corner for the opener. That goal showed the Gunners’ difficulties this season to deal with crosses and win second balls. Welbeck failed to stop Navas’ cross while Ramsey lost an aerial duel against Fernandinho and Elneny failed to win a 50-50 challenge against Aguero. If you replace Ramsey and Elneny with Vieira and Gilberto, you can bet the Citizens would have never scored on that play.

Fernando then beat Ramsey to the ball in the 16th to feed Aguero, whose effort was deflected out by Paulista. Arsenal midfielders were completely ridiculed in the 27th when Fernando won a tackle against Wilshere to initiate a counterattack. The Brazilian midfielder brushed off Ramsey and was able to slip the ball to Aguero because Elneny was out of position on the right wing. Although Koscielny was tightly marking Aguero, Cech charged outside the box to make an awkward clearance.

Cech’s issues at the near post

The Citizens took again advantage of our midfield woes in the second half. Iheanacho dropped back to pull Koscielny out of position in the 49th and Fernandinho ran into the big gap to collect a long ball from Navas and shoot wide from a tight angle. Elneny saw Fernandinho run in front of him and completely failed to read the play.

Two minutes later, De Bruyne benefited from a lucky bounce and cut inside Paulista to beat Cech at his near post with a low drive for a 2-1 lead. Bellerin lost his duel against De Bruyne on that play, while Elneny was too easily outpaced and Paulista failed to make the block. But the main culprit was Cech, who couldn’t stop a 24-yard effort. It was a goal similar to Crystal Palace’s equalizer by Bolasie last month. You would expect a very good goalkeeper like Cech to save those long-range strikes at the near post. Can Cech fix that problem or his legs are simply too old to go down quickly?

The turning point of the game occurred in the 54th. The Citizens capitalized on a Ramsey turnover to hit Arsenal on the fast break. Iheanacho bullied Monreal to create a 3 vs. 2 situation. The Manchester City striker had Aguero and Navas as passing options and both were not even marked by Koscielny and Paulista. A selfish Iheanacho wasted the chance by dragging his shot wide. Down 3-1, it would have been very hard for the Gunners to salvage a point. Again, fielding a ballwinner would have helped kill that kind of counterattack.

The impact of injuries for next season

De Bruyne gave Bellerin and Paulista a hard time. He scored a goal and led all players with 4 key passes. Paulista received a yellow card in the 71st for a clumsy challenge on De Bruyne. The Belgium international nearly scored from the subsequent free kick that Cech tipped over the bar.

The Arsenal back four did not get much protection from the midfielders, but I thought they made some really poor marking mistakes. Unmarked at the far post, Aguero met a corner in the 73rd to hit a volley wide. A minute later, Aguero played a one-two with De Bruyne only to miss the target with a diagonal shot. Several Gunners surrounded De Bruyne on that play but no one tracked Aguero. In the closing minutes, Paulista gave too much space to Bony, who connected with a cross from Sagna to unleash a volley that crashed against the bar.

The bad news from Sunday’s game was Welbeck’s knee injury. He was replaced in the 25th by Wilshere, who needed a bit of time to adjust to the pace of the game, much more intense than his brief cameo against Sunderland or the U21 games he has played to build his fitness. Welbeck’s injury means that we shouldn’t expect him to be available for more than 30 games next season. The same rationale should be considered for Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had a setback in his recovery from a knee injury. Hopefully, the manager will take those fitness issues into account during the summer transfer market, otherwise our bench could prove weak again next season.

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