Arsenal Unable To Prosper As Sagna Loses It
Arsenal 0 – 0 Manchester City
It has been six months since the last goalless draw at The Emirates. The opponents on that late April afternoon were Manchester City. Arsenal must be wondering what they had to do to score last night, denied by the woodwork on several occasions and the hard work of Joe Hart, ensuring that his place as England’s goalkeeper is unlikely to be challenged.
Arsenal began the match at frenetic pace, their celeripedean attacks unsettling the visitors, forcing their opponents to cede possession carelessly. That the threatened early breakthrough never materialised will mystify Arsenal to the ends of time.
Nasri set the ball rolling initially. The Frenchman found Jack Wilshere in space in the box, the youngster’s cross narrowly beating the outstretched foot of Robin van Persie. Walcott showed good composure in retrieving the ball but Kolo Toure interceded. Should Wilshere have shot? With hindsight it is easy to say and there are no guarantees as to what the outcome would have been.
Wilshere and Nasri were pivotal in Arsenal’s early chances. Following a Milner counter, Wilshere tested Hart from distance before van Persie struck the foot of the post before ten minutes had passed. Nasri and Walcott created panic in the visitors defence shortly afterwards, Wilshere’s goalbound effort stopped on the line by Hart.
Arsenal’s dominance continued unabated. Walcott shot narrowly wide before Fabregas hammered the post once more, Hart completely beaten before Theo Walcott hit the opposite post from the rebound, this time the England international’s blushes were spared as the Assistant’s flag signalled he was offside.
Half time came with the scores still level. The tempo of the first half could not be maintained, the fixtures over Christmas and New Year inevitably causing tiredness to creep in.
Still Arsenal knocked on the City door. Whereas in the first half, the woodwork had been their saviour, Joe Hart would be the rock which rolled backwards in Arsenal’s Sisyphean endeavours.
Having shot into the sidenetting early in the half, van Persie struck once more from distance. Hart stretched to his right, turning the twenty five yard drive around the post. The Dutchman’s late freekick was blocked comfortably by Hart as time ran down.
It was the last real opportunity. Half chances came and went but City’s defensive style was too much to breach on this occasion. Arshavin and Bendtner were introduced to no avail but it was a night where the robotic nature of City’s play won through.
For that, City showed great professionalism. They rode their luck but each player knew what their role in the side was. They defended in numbers, not always convincingly, but once the first twenty minutes had passed, rarely were defenders exposed without any support from others.
Whilst it is not a style that Arsenal employs nor in the modern English game a style which will bring them titles, they are second and difficult to break down. The timewasting aspect, feigning serious injuries when none exists will catch up with them. Robert Pires found that decisions went against following a media campaign to label him a diver. In excess of five minutes injury time was played last night; when they go to Old Trafford, they can expect double that.
The final action of the game was an unsavoury incident. Quite what provoked the headbutting from the normally placid Bacary Sagna is unclear; the foul by Zabaleta would have been punished and an opportunity to create more pressure. Instead the Frenchman lost his cool and butted the City player twice. Was it a build-up from the weekend? Did Sagna believe he was being targetted. Whatever the case, the reaction was unacceptable for an Arsenal player.
Both were dismissed, Zabaleta presumably because he did not back down when the first butt went in, making it appear as though he was responding to the antagonism. It means that Sagna misses the next three games – two of which he probably would have anyway – with his suspension ending once the final whistle has been blown at Upton Park.
A disappointing result on the night but taking four points from the second placed team is a marked improvement on recent seasons. Whilst United have a little daylight for now, there is too much time left in this season for it to be definitive. If anyone believes otherwise, they simply have to look at Chelsea’s capitulation this season.