Alexis Sanchez shackled on Arsenal left-hand side, lack of killer instinct costs Manchester City

Mark Critchley
The Independent
Alexis Sanchez carries the ball forward past Manchester City's midfield: Getty
Alexis Sanchez carries the ball forward past Manchester City's midfield: Getty

Arsenal proved their season still has signs of life after twice battling back to earn a 2-2 draw with their Premier League top-four rivals Manchester City.

Against a backdrop of uncertainty over the future of manager Arsene Wenger and the supporter protests aimed at ousting the Frenchman, the Gunners showed they can still cut it with the best in the division as they fought for a point.

Leroy Sane put the visitors ahead inside five minutes and Sergio Aguero restored the lead for Pep Guardiola's men just 131 seconds after Theo Walcott had levelled.

Shkodran Mustafi headed Arsenal back on terms once more with just his second goal for the Gunners, who remain sixth in the table as a result - seven points adrift of City in fourth.

Here's what we learned from the draw at the Emirates...

Sanchez is shackled out on the left

Alexis Sanchez did not start this game where he has proven most effective. He was out on the periphery, stuck on the left, with an out-of-sorts Danny Welbeck still trying to find form and full fitness preferred in a central role. It was almost as if Wenger was testing the Chilean’s discipline and, surprisingly, Sanchez more or less stayed there and dutifully did his job.

Time and again, he carried the ball, held it up, then slipped in Nacho Monreal. Then he carried the ball, held it up, and slipped in Monreal. By the third occasion, it was clear Sanchez was being shackled, and yet he allowed himself only the odd pot-shot at the goal to release some frustration. Is this really the best way to treat your best player?

City’s lack of killer instinct costs them

Manchester City will have felt they had this game won at half-time. After all, they had seen off Arsenal’s 40th minute equaliser by restoring their lead just 131 seconds later, and Sergio Aguero’s goal had felt as though it came at will, as if a sudden jolt was all Pep Guardiola’s players needed needed to reassert their dominance.

As they emerged after the interval, it felt as though City’s intention would be to push on and score early, especially given how close they came to letting the contest slip from their grasp. Instead, they were lax, the half-time introduction of the lackadaisical Yaya Toure doing nothing to help. Bereft of killer instinct, Arsenal took just eight minutes to find their second equaliser. It was in those eight minutes that this match was decided.

Xhaka and Coquelin struggle to compete

It is difficult to decide which of Wenger’s ‘Emirates era’ Arsenal midfield pairings will be remembered as the most feeble, but the tandem of Granit Xhaka and Francis Coquelin is likely to be among the contenders. For the first half-hour here in particular, the two of them were reticent to tackle, offering their visiting counterparts time and space to pass by them.

On the rare occasion either put a foot in, they had their names taken, Xhaka’s foul on Nicolas Otamendi being particularly silly. Coquelin’s all-round display, meanwhile, was a reminder of why he was considered little more than a ‘sticking plaster’ when he broke into Arsenal’s injury-ravaged midfield two years ago. Some supporters have apparently taken to calling the pair ‘Dumb and Dumber’, but their performances are no laughing matter.

Walcott shows spirit his team-mates too often lack

While Arsenal’s supposed ‘enforcers’ struggled to lay down the law, there was more fight to be found in Theo Walcott. The winger is often characterised as a meek figure, on account of of his softly-spoken manner, but he cares about this club and is capable of the same impassioned displays of frustration as Sanchez.

At one point during Arsenal’s tepid first half, when nobody in a red shirt seemed capable of making a tackle, he dug in on Sane, jostling and battling until the ball broke his way. A couple of minutes later, he robbed Fernandinho and though the challenge looked to be a little on the naughty side, it roused a home crowd in need of a major lift. They had found it in an unlikely source.

Neither team as talented as they are billed to be

At times, you had to remind yourself that these two sides are meant to be among the Premier League’s elite. So frantic were some passages of play, so disorganised was some of the defending, that it was easy to see why both are at risk of not mixing it with Europe’s elite next season, and why they were both dumped out of the Champions League at a relatively early stage this year.

City will probably have enough about them to make the top-four, but the project to transform this provincial, community club into a continental powerhouse will not be realised any time soon unless Guardiola’s methods start to stick. He, at least, has time and the supporters on his side. This type of chaotic, confused and ultimately sub-standard feels like Arsenal’s ‘new normal’.

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