Arsenal City

Manchester — Eighty-two minutes into the game, the Etihad Stadium roared with excitement. This was Erling Haaland’s moment when the ball was rolling in a challenge 10 or more yards from goal, the left channel of the penalty area was open to him. He drives it high into the top corner, fires past David Raya and into the bottom corner, and can even take it to the byline and cut it in if he wants to.

When it looked like the way was open, one of the wizards in red came out to inform Haaland that he would not be allowed in this afternoon. This was Jibril’s penalty area and he wouldn’t let anyone else in without a piece of power.

The game featured half a dozen players on both sides chasing a late ball and going head-to-head. It’s hardly a big announcement for the Premier League that Manchester City and Liverpool have been marked for meetings, but if it reduces their chances of success in the game and they can’t handle defeat, then it’s not mandatory for either side to go all out on the attack. In any case, at home and abroad, it was the defensive support that carried Arsenal to major silverware this season and in the future.

In 180 minutes of Premier League football this season, Arsenal have beaten the English and European champions without a goal. In that time, City have recorded 16 shots and 1.43 expected goals (xG), both numbers below their average per 90 minutes in the league campaign as a whole. Half of that xG fell to Nathan Ake, and Kevin De Bruyne’s corner straight at David Raya was the hosts’ best chance. Indeed, it was the only saving grace Raya made. Haaland misses a shot on target for the Gunners, another chance to break it when Josco Guardiola takes a corner towards him and can’t decide whether to shoot left or right.

Set pieces, shots from outside the box, Arsenal’s rare mistakes at the back: that led to City having 72.1 per cent of possession overall. Mikel Arteta would have liked a better match in October’s 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium. This was also tricky, but instead of each team wearing the other down, Arsenal were tempted to continue their structure in the champions’ repeated attempts.

No wonder the Arsenal manager enjoyed this “exciting” game more than the neutrals.

“We competed really well,” he said. “Defensively, we went and put pressure on them down the field. We were really good. It’s good that they can get in that low block. It’s hard to get out of it. We blocked the gaps well. That’s the problem.” is it.

It is the first time in three years that they have not scored at home. This is a fantastic team.

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This was the voltage face of the best defensive unit in Europe. They can contain their opponents with a few shots and xG pitches, but they usually do this as a dominant team who want possession and deny chances because they never give the ball away (and when they do, they gravitate towards a huge back line). On Sunday, they were forced into their shells even by a reduced Manchester City. They started the game thinking, perhaps expecting, that this would not happen. Declan Rice joined the press early on but was always a substitute in sky blue, usually Mateo Kovacic, who spent an hour sitting in an empty seat at the Etihad Stadium. The visitors were reluctantly let in on the low end but crucially they knew how to deal with that situation. Arteta gave them “clarity”.

Kovacic’s touches as Manchester City draw 0-0 with Arsenal.


“Are you ready to follow 30 passes? And after you get the ball back, lose it and follow another 30 passes? Yes? If so, then you’re ready to play Manchester City. That’s important. If you’re not ready to do it, then you can’t play them.

Arsenal were prepared, at least Haaland’s out-of-match charge at the back sparked them. Gabriel enjoyed the fight against Haaland, as Saliba grew in poise and power as the pace increased. Ben White is quickly building a case to be England’s right-back, and although he is a bit sluggish in midfield, Rice seems to understand when to step in. But it didn’t completely silence the Belgian to suppress much.

No-one could hope to do that, but Arsenal at least secured what Pep Guardiola called “almost moments” when De Bruyne turned and Jeremy Doku beat his man or Bernardo Silva’s cross hit the back post.

Those didn’t even come for Holland. There was nothing particularly poor about the Norwegian’s off-the-ball movement this afternoon, still finding those bursts around defenders or the ball that didn’t come through.

City have a hidden contract at number 9 as they often get the ball where he can score with buckets. It doesn’t matter that almost all of the opponents you face are someone’s light on construction. City have become a ruthlessly efficient machine in creating goalscoring opportunities for their ruthlessly effective striker (who averages more than 20% of shots when he starts). But you saw the small flaw in the plan when Saliba and Gabriel destroyed Haaland, those 30 passes looking for something different. Simple equation then managers deploy two of the best young centre-backs in the world to stop City in the coming weeks and they will be great.

In his post-match press conference, the City boss laid out more radical ideas for how his side have created shooting opportunities for Haaland and co. “Kill a man,” he joked.

One moment Guardiola is insisting his team remain Premier League title winners, the next claiming first-placed Liverpool and Arsenal ahead of him. That instead reflects a race that feels a certain way when it ends directly. City have had perhaps the easiest of games so far in the run-up, but they have not been able to completely control their destiny. The chasing pack should be flawless if Liverpool continue to treat every early hurdle as an invitation to rain down on the opposition.

As for Arsenal, taking four points away from the champions will burnish their form, but they may need six given the tricky nature of the road games ahead. But there is a great lost prize in the Emirates Stadium trophy cabinet to consider.

After all, a team that can get the best striker in the world to last more than 180 minutes can feel very confident about their chances in the Champions League.