Sky blue shroud over Arsenal’s title hopes | football news
Arsenal’s clash with Manchester City on Wednesday is billed as a Premier League title decider. After all, City, in second place, are just five points behind the Gunners, with the rest a long way behind.
The onus was on Arsenal to ensure that their trip to the Etihad was not in vain. City’s uncanny efficiency in the home leg of the title race needs no introduction, having won the league four times in the last five seasons. The defending champions were unbeaten in their last 12 matches last season, which included nine wins.
With two games in hand, City were effectively one point ahead of Arsenal. A win for Pep Guardiola’s side would give them a huge cushion with not too many games left, while Arsenal had the opportunity to pull off an improbable win to stay slightly ahead in the race.
Heading into the all-important match, Mikel Arteta had said something that should have given Arsenal supporters hope. Acknowledging the magnitude of the occasion, he said: “We really want it and we are going to deliver it again. You have to perform right, at the right time and it has to be perfection because that is the ultimate level of demand.” Absolute perfection in every single ball.”
However, in what turned out to be a rude awakening for Arsenal, it was an irresistible Manchester City team that delivered an almost perfect performance.
Kevin De Bruyne scored two goals and provided an assist, with John Stones and Erling Haaland also finding the back of the net as City won 4–1 to take another step towards a seventh Premier League title.
The gap between player-by-player class was unmistakable. De Bruyne, Haaland, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Jack Grealish ripped apart their opponents.
But it probably won’t frustrate Arsenal fans the most. There will be a lack of intention. For a club that won its last Premier League title 19 seasons ago, it was a massive occasion, to put it mildly. But their key players such as Bukayo Saka, Martin Odegaard, Gabriel Jesus and Gabriel Martinelli did not turn up.
City sealed Arsenal’s fate, as Arteta would later admit, in the first 30 minutes. De Bruyne gave the hosts the lead with superb control from Haaland and a precise strike after a through pass. Thanks to Ben White and goalkeeper Aaron Ramsdale, Arsenal somehow managed to avoid conceding more goals.
What made it most obvious that City were hungrier than Arsenal was the way they pressed on. Guardiola’s teams, since his Barcelona days, have always been known for applying relentless pressure to win back the ball. However, Arsenal hardly showed any rush to bring their opponents to a place.
And it kept getting worse. Once City had trebled their lead nine minutes into the second half, it seemed they took their foot off the pedal a bit, perhaps in keeping with their busy treble-seeking schedule. But even then Arsenal didn’t increase their intensity. City decided to play it slow and the visitors allowed the game to go on.
In many ways, Arsenal’s performance against Manchester City summed up why they found themselves in this desperate situation in the first place. Defeat was always on the cards at the Etihad, but it was the six points they scored heading into this match that could actually cost them the title. Arsenal played with a similar lack of intent and intensity in their draws with Liverpool, West Ham and Southampton and now they find themselves in a deep hole.
“The analysis is clear: the better team wins the game,” Arteta said. “They were probably at their best, especially in the first half, and we were nowhere near our level. When that happens, the gap becomes huge and in the first 30 minutes we didn’t do all the basic things you need to do.” Against an exceptional team, in terms of competing, winning doubles and understanding the game’s requirements, we were punished and we could have been punished even more.
There is no denying that this has been a season to remember for Arsenal. They have led the table for the most part and even after the latest defeat they still find themselves on top which is a testimony to the good work they have done over the many months.
Arsenal have five games remaining, with crucial clashes against Chelsea and Newcastle before that, and it all depends on how they respond. Will they keep on believing?