An article in The Telegraph this weekend pinpointed how Arsenal's vivacious performance at the Emirates might be the blueprint for beating this juggernaut Manchester City side.
Although Arsenal lost the match in question and other clairvoyants might have been thinking that Spurs or Palace or even West Ham, who have actually beaten City this season, might be better examples for the study, the writer - Sam Dean - could just have a point.
To a point.
Arsenal, as one fan put it proudly, "went toe to toe" with City and were not found wanting. This is true, of the first 56 minutes, at least. In an energetic and willing display of their new-found organisation under Mikel Arteta, the home side did indeed give City an uncomfortable introduction.
City were, however, struggling on a number of fronts. They had finished a tough game at Brentford on the Wednesday and were being asked to return to London for a Saturday lunchtime kick-off. Arsenal legs had been waiting for a week for proper exercise. Personnel issues added to problems at the back for the visitors.
Without a doubt, the first half was Arsenal's with a fluid attacking strategy flowing most successfully through Gabriel Martinelli on the left. Arteta has his players functioning in a much more cohesive unit and it was a brave -albeit obvious, in the circumstances (City's tiredness and rearranged defence)- strategy to go out and attack.
Yes, Arsenal lost on Saturday, but the way they rattled Man City in the first half are a blueprint for the rest of the Premier League.— Telegraph Football (@TeleFootball) January 2, 2022
What Arsenal hadn't fully planned for was being ahead and having to deal with the fight back after the break. City began to turn the screw, but it was still a decent fight until the penalty incident tipped their evidently fragile mental state over the edge.
Bernardo is built like a feather, which meant the shirt-pull that toppled him looked meagre but had effect on his forward movement. We were effectively mixing the stupidity of Granit Xhaka and the insubstantiality of Bernardo, binary ingredients of a detonation that was about to lift the roof off the place.
And so it proved. Within seconds the entire Arsenal team had combusted. Crowding the referee as one amorphous blob, they wailed their dissatisfaction. Aaron Ramsdale and then the hapless Gabriel Magalhaes took it in turns to peel away and scuff up the penalty spot. Anything went as the home side's composure went west too. Suddenly they were hiding nothing. It was like the Moulin Rouge when the girls bend over and show their knickers.
So fervently out of control had they become that there was only really one possible outcome once Mahrez had buried the kick from the reassembled penalty spot. Gabriel, reacting like a man who has just been force fed four pounds of raw chateaubriand down a cheap funnel, immediately contrived to misbehave again, smacking an arm across Jesus on City's next attack, and off he went chuntering and frothing. The men in red, having stuck to their manager's plan, had now rolled it up into a ball and fired it clean out of the stadium from one of their gleaming cannons and were contriving to do their own thing.
Freestyle Arsenal had noticeably less effect. They quickly became so embroiled in confronting their own metaphysical turmoil that they failed to notice City's growing presence in the contest. The athletic grace that they had displayed in the early part of the game had atrophied like the calves on an octogenarian stamp collector. Everything had turned to dust in their hands. Howling at the sky and tugging at referee Stuart Attwell's clothing were all they had left.
By the end, the stats informed us of City's increasing influence in the match, despite a horribly disjointed first half. More possession had been garnered, more shots, more successful passes and more, much much more composure had been maintained, in order to strike in the 93rd minute to seal an improbable victory and make it 11-in-a-row. Arsenal's fervour had landed them more yellow cards. It was the only category they ended up prevailing in.
Lessons were there for those who were looking in the right direction, however. Arsenal had taught us all a lesson or two about how to play City and also how not to play City.
Absolutely beautiful 🤩 pic.twitter.com/xoVXalSY7I
— ᑌᖇᑲᎯﬡ ⟆ᖰᎯ⊂∈ⲙᎯﬡ (@conal_fitz) January 1, 2022