Sunday, March 30, 2014

Another draw but Arsenal raise spirits

After Arsenal threw away two points against Swansea on Tuesday, the mood around the Emirates was very downbeat. Even though Arsenal only managed another draw on Saturday, the feeling was much most positive after coming back from 1-0 down to draw with Manchester City. A win would have been brilliant for Arsenal’s confidence after a harrowing week, but one point did prove a point that Arsenal can compete with the top teams.
Mathieu Flamini was the unfortunate scorer of the own goal that gifted Swansea a draw on Tuesday, however at the same end of the stadium, he made amends against Manchester City by being the unlikely goal scoring hero in the second half. There have been a lot of arguments made that Flamini should have started alongside Mikel Arteta more often in these bigger games to make Arsenal more solid defensively, but few could have predicted his inclusion bearing fruit in front of goal.
When Lukas Podolski received the ball in space on the left hand-side, there wasn’t anyone obvious to pick out with a cross. However, the German found Flamini to finish past Joe Hart with his left foot.
The goal was a reward for Arsenal’s good second half showing, especially considering how the team have folded when going behind in these bigger matches this season. At the end of Tuesday, Arsenal looked mentally and physically drained, so the way they summoned up strength to play like they did in the second half was impressive. Questions still need to be asked about how they lost so badly last weekend, but in the circumstances Arsenal found themselves in, their comeback against Manchester City deserves a lot of credit.
There was a good chance for Podolski to give Arsenal the lead in the second half, but it was difficult to complain about a draw against an excellent City side. Compared to previous Mancini-incarnations, it was noticeable how much more confident on the ball this City team are, and they undoubtedly they came to the Emirates to attack, rather than happily take the draw, as Mancini’s teams did. Manuel Pellegrini made some more conservative substitutions near the end of the match, but that was because of the improvement Arsenal made during the game.
The biggest regret Arsenal will have from the 1-1 draw will be the first half performance. It wasn’t a bad one, just didn’t match the higher intensity Arsenal brought in the second half. The fact they only registered one shot on goal in the first 45 minutes reflected that. It was also disappointing to concede a goal from giving away possession cheaply. The way Manchester City were then able to launch a counter attack was all too reminiscent of last weekend’s humiliation at Stamford Bridge.
Arsenal didn’t make the same mistake again though, with most City counter attacks not leading to too much. Bar one goal mouth scramble and Mertesacker almost deflecting the ball into his own net, the visitors were mostly reduced to long shots at goal.
It’d hard to know how much this match will boost Arsenal’s confidence, but it certainly wouldn’t harm it in the way the last week has done. After going a goal behind, the Arsenal heads could have dropped and the result could have been embarrassing, but the team did show some of Arsene Wenger’s much-heralded mental strength.
The second half does give Arsenal some momentum to build on for next week’s tough away trip to Everton, with the Toffees posing a potential threat to the Gunners’ top four place. A win in that game would silence some of those doubters, and get the team back to winning ways before the FA Cup semi-final.
It wasn’t the morale boosting win that we optimistically hoped for, but the Manchester City draw had more positives than negatives in it for Arsenal, plus the whole team actually showed some heart and commitment to the club. The title is virtually gone, but some more of that before the end of the season and Arsenal can still finish with good memories of 2013/2014.