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Arsenal 1 - Manchester City 3 match report: close but not close enough

Nuts and nerts. Nerts and nuts.

Arsenal FC v Manchester City - Premier League Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Arsenal fell 3-1 to Manchester City at the Emirates today. The loss sees the Gunners cede the top spot in the Premier League to City for the first time since the second weekend of the season. Even though Arsenal didn’t come out on top, it was an entertaining match. It had all the excitement you’d expect from a clash at the top of the table, even if the play was a bit sloppier and more physical than you’d like to see from the best two teams in the PL.

Arsenal were comfortably the better team in the first half but couldn’t make it count on the scoreboard. Manchester City were the better team in the second half. City got goals from two £100M transfers. Arsenal had Eddie Nketiah miss chances / not get on the end of balls and Granit Xhaka fail to get a shot away. Not to take anything away from Eddie and Granit, who’ve played better than you could ask this season and give their all for the club, but one is a backup and one is top of the “needs replacing in the summer” list. There were multiple attacking moves where if either had more quality, Arsenal get a chance and perhaps a goal.

The Gunners also gifted Manchester City two of their goals. Takehiro Tomiyasu, who hadn’t played meaningful minutes in ages, hit a terrible ball back for Aaron Ramsdale that Kevin de Bruyne easily intercepted and quite skillfully volleyed home. Later, Gabriel played a weak pass to nobody that started a break from just outside the Arsenal defensive third. A few passes later, it was in the back of the Arsenal net, helped by an unfortunate deflection off a sprawling Tomiyasu. Without the touch, I think Ramsdale saves it, and with more of a touch, maybe the shot doesn’t go on frame. As Mikel Arteta said after the match, the margin for error is almost non-existent against City, and his side made two gigantic errors.

The Manchester City third goal came moments after Arsenal weren’t given a penalty on one of those “you’ve seen them given” bits of contact on Leandro Trossard. Kyle Walker clumsily bumped into Trossard in much the same way that saw Ederson penalized in the first half, but Anthony Taylor, who was in good position to see it, decided there wasn’t enough. It’s a shame that little moments like that can have such a massive influence on a season. Kevin de Bruyne dangles a leg to draw faint contact against Fulham, gets the penalty, and City get the win. Arsenal don’t get a similarly borderline call for a penalty that would have tied the match, and it gets put out of reach moments later.

There isn’t much between these two teams. A healthy Arsenal team is every bit as good as this Manchester City squad. A few calls here or there, a bounce or two, and even today without Gabriel Jesus and Thomas Partey playing we’d be talking about an Arsenal win.

Arsenal had the opportunity to get those calls today, too. But, alas it wasn’t to be. At halftime, Tim Howard said he thought Bernardo Silva was lucky to still be on the pitch. The Manchester City “left back” committed four or five fouls against Bukayo Saka in the first 45 minutes but was only booked for one of them. The scissoring sliding tackle from behind was particularly nasty, and it’s a wonder he escaped a booking for it. Maybe he doesn’t commit the foul he was actually booked for if he’s on a yellow, but if he doesn’t commit it, Bukayo Saka is away and Arsenal have a chance. So it’s tough to play the what-if game.

Ederson was also fortunate to be on the pitch. I think if he hadn’t been booked for time-wasting, he would have seen a yellow card for his clumsy challenge on Eddie Nketiah to give away the penalty. It follows that he should have received a second yellow card because whether you’re on a card should not affect whether you get a second.

It’s a shame that Tomiyasu and Gabriel made such critical (and basic) errors because they both played quite well otherwise. William Saliba bounced back from getting outdone by Ivan Toney to, along with Gabriel, give Erling Haaland as good as they got. The Arsenal centerbacks were up for the physical battle. Haaland, by the way, gets away with a lot in the tussles with his man. Rarely does he ever come open without pulling, holding, or shoving his marker out of the way.

Jorginho was great in place of the late-scratched Thomas Partey. His performance today was exactly why Arsenal bought him on Deadline Day — to do most of the things that Partey does when he’s not available, as he has made a frustrating habit of doing. And that might be selling Jorginho short on the evening. He more than assuaged my concerns about his form after a less-than-stellar debut against Everton.

Not to go in too hard on Xhaka and Nketiah, but the left side of the Arsenal attack feels broken. Very little came down that wing against Manchester City today, and the Gunners have been struggling on that side, generally. The result is that Gabriel Martinelli has not been as effective and Alex Zinchenko not as influential. Some of that is down to their own play — they aren’t playing as well as they were earlier in the season. Martinelli in particular was anonymous on the evening.

But it’s not all Martinelli and Zinchenko’s fault. Xhaka’s passing was poor on the evening. He hit two or three balls, under minimal pressure, that I’m sure he’d like to have back. The bigger issue is that Eddie Nketiah doesn’t come wide and contribute to overloading the left in the same way that Gabriel Jesus did. Maybe it’s time for Leandro Trossard to get a start in place of either Xhaka or Martinelli. Something has to change on the left.

Even though it feels as if Arsenal’s chance at the title is over, it’s not. Arsenal are level with Manchester City on points, and the two clubs still have a game to play against each other. If the Gunners match their results from here on and get at least a point from their game in hand, they win the league. Arsenal can significantly help themselves by beating City at the Etihad, too. There’s a lot of football left to be played, folks.

It’s of small comfort for this season, but if you look at the last two Premier League matches between the teams, the Gunners are right there, while fielding the youngest roster in the Premier League. They’ve closed what was a massive gap in quality between the two clubs in a few years under Mikel Arteta and Edu’s rebuild. It’s an impressive testament to have far Arsenal have come in such a short period of time.