It really stinks when your side are the better team on the day and don’t get a result. It’s even worse when it feels like the points were taken from you by dodgy officiating. And yet here we are. Arsenal were better than Manchester City today. And they have no points to show for it. Football is cruel.
Arsenal played great, Thomas Partey especially. He controlled the center of the pitch, recovered the ball at almost every turn, and dictated the pace with his passing. It’s a shame for the Gunners that he’s off to AFCON because today’s performance was the type we all thought we’d be getting on a regular basis from the midfielder. Hopefully he picks up where he has left off when he gets back from national team duty.
Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, and Gabriel Martinelli were all fantastic on the day as well. Arsenal have found something with that attacking trio. Bukayo Saka’s goal to open the scoring was a thing of beauty. Ben White made a great read to dispossess Kevin De Bruyne. He found Ødegaard, who picked out Kieran Tierney with a crossfield ball. Tierney cut it back to Saka at the top of the box, who put it into the bottom corner, first-touch. It was a great finish to a spectacular move — from the ball going over to Arsenal, up 2/3rds of the pitch, to the back of the net in about 15 seconds.
Martinelli came close twice in the first half and hit the post in the second on an open goal. It was one of those “should have scored” ones, and Martinelli might have had a better shot to put it away if he didn’t need to adjust his course getting to the ball to run around the referee Stuart Attwell, who had charged into the box to get a better view of the play. Unfortunately, his sprint put him directly between Gabriel Martinelli and the ball. Just a bit of bad luck and poor positioning.
On the ensuing goal kick, it all went wrong for Arsenal. Gabriel Magalhaes clumsily clattered into Gabriel Jesus and picked up his second yellow of the match. He had gotten his first just a few minutes earlier, foolishly, for dissent after the penalty was awarded, as confirmed by Albert Stuivenberg after the match. Stuivenberg said it was a “normal comment” that earned the yellow. Taken together, the two yellows were pretty soft, but Gabriel has to be smarter. He’s got to be more under control (at the halfway line, no less!) carrying a yellow card.
The Manchester City penalty was a soft one. Bernardo Silva and Granit Xhaka came together in the box, with a slight bit of contact from Xhaka on Silva’s leg. Silva (pretty clearly to my eye) took advantage of that and threw himself over. As he was going over, already in the process of falling, Xhaka grabbed a piece of his shirt. The referee did not see the shirt tug and did not award the penalty on live action. The VAR had him go look at the monitor, presumably because he didn’t see the shirt tug initially, and awarded the penalty. At least that’s how I saw it and think it played out. You can see why it was given. It was clumsy defending from Xhaka and the optics of the leg left out and shirt tug weren’t great, but the consensus, even among non-Arsenal supporting folk online, was more that Silva conned the ref to earn the penalty rather than Xhaka giving one away.
What puzzles me is why the referee didn’t go over to the monitor in the first half, when Martin Ødegaard was clearly fouled by Ederson in the box. According to the commentary, the VAR had a look at the incident and decided there wasn’t anything in it. But there was. It was a clear foul.
That clip confirms what I saw (check the TSF Twitter feed for the receipts) — that Ederson got Ødegaard’s foot first and actually did not get the ball at all. I’ve also got to wonder how a bloke filming his television with his iPhone can get such a clear view of the foul yet VAR can’t seem to spot it. That seems like something that probably shouldn’t be happening or possible, right?
Foot not ball? Pen? Clear and obvious? I don’t know anymore… pic.twitter.com/o4pYTxA1Y4— Jake Humphrey (@mrjakehumphrey) January 1, 2022
And of course, because it had to be, the winning goal in added time was scored by Rodri, who had played quite the physical match and easily could have been cautioned multiple times on another day. Most notably, he clattered Gabriel Martinelli without being carded in much the same way that Gabriel Magalhaes caught Gabriel Jesus to earn his second booking. It also took two or three fortunate ping-pong bounces of the ball for it to fall so nicely for him to put home. Oh well.
But look at it another way. Arsenal were better than Manchester City today. 10-man Arsenal held Manchester City to hardly any chances. They needed a lucky goal to steal the points. That’s a darn good performance even if the Gunners don’t have any points to show for it.
Sometimes you don’t get the bounces or the close calls. They could have gone either way, and Arsenal came out on the short end each time. That’s the way it goes. It would be nice if some of those started going Arsenal’s way, but all they can control is their own play. The Gunners played really, really well. If they play like that every match (or something close to it), a fourth place finish is absolutely within reach.