Manchester City allowed their frailties to come to the fore as they suffered a disappointing 2-2 draw with Arsenal on Sunday. The tie at The Emirates Stadium will be quickly forgotten, such was the nature of the game; two sides who should have desperately pushed for three points ended up settling for one each – neither manager should be satisfied.
City twice took the lead, first through Leroy Sané and then through Sergio Agüero, but squandered the advantage each time with poor defending at the heart of each Arsenal strike. It wasn’t a game without positives, but in the end it will be the negatives that will take centre-stage as, once again, the scale of the task at hand for manager Pep Guardiola became all-too apparent.
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It’s all well and good being rich and splurging your money on expensive players, but you have to retain balance and quality across the squad. City have simply not done that over the years. At this point in the campaign it’s already a laboured point, but City really have not done Guardiola any favours in their player recruitment during the time their courted him. It’s part of the reason why the much-maligned Jesús Navas started this crucial match at right-back. Despite the scapegoat status he carries every time he takes to the field in a City shirt, the Spaniard has some positive qualities. He’s tireless and dogged in his efforts and they are not attributes to be sniffed at when you’re pitted against a player as good as Alexis Sanchez. But effort and desire do not a full back make; Navas was out of his depth from minute one.
It is not City’s fault that Bacary Sagna was not fit enough to make the squad whilst Pablo Zabaleta was only in good enough condition to start on the bench. But one wonders whether that problem would exist if Txiki Begiristain and the previous occupant of the manager’s seat had focused more on resolving the problem of ageing full-backs, rather than waiting for Guardiola to come in and letting him struggle on for a season after inheriting the issue.
Vincent Kompany is another defender who highlights the issue. He has, according to the boss, been fit enough for selection for weeks, yet it was still a surprise to see the club captain actually named in the squad for this match. Despite clear defensive problems threatening to undo City’s chances of taking anything at all away from this game, Kompany was not trusted. The one real leader City have at the back had to watch the bench, presumably wondering how different everything could be if only his body served him better.
This might be the most disappointing element of the match, yet it’s also the one that should change organically. The defence is a disappointment, but it’s one we’ve known about for a long time and everybody seems perfectly aware that the only real way to correct it is with recruitment. But for the attackers, it’s a different story. The quality is there, they just fail to provide the killer touch too often.
For the likes of Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling, both very much in the early stages of their careers, experience will shape them. They will become better in their decision-making. The final pass and the shot in the box will become better. With it, even more goals will come for the likes of Sergio Agüero and Gabriel Jesus.
Today, though, when an opportunity to close the gap on leaders Chelsea had presented itself, before heading to Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, City lacked urgency. Maybe they were shaking off some rustiness following the international fixtures over the last fortnight, but the final 15 minutes did not possess the urgency you’d expect of a team looking to turn the business-end of the season into a title challenge. City were slow and ponderous; they were wasteful with the final ball.
The draw suits neither side. Arsenal remain in real danger of missing out Champions League football for the first time in an age, while City could neither revive their title hopes, nor solidify their position in the top four. Both the performance and the result will fade from the memory quickly, but a if City were to pull off a win at Chelsea in the midweek, the feeling of ‘What might have been’ might just linger for a while.