Nathan Ake goal helps Man City edge Arsenal in cagey first bout of three

Nathan Ake goal helps Man City edge Arsenal in cup-tie dress rehearsal – live reaction - AFP/Oli Scarff
Nathan Ake goal helps Man City edge Arsenal in cup-tie dress rehearsal – live reaction - AFP/Oli Scarff

By Sam Wallace, Chief Football Writer at the Etihad

Since he left to become the manager of Arsenal, Mikel Arteta has lost seven of the eight games against his old mentor Pep Guardiola and he can only hope that this FA Cup tie might just shed a little more light on what he needs to do not to lose the ninth and the tenth.

The FA Cup is over for Arsenal this season – the Premier League awaits. An injury to Thomas Partey at half-time, a blow to the ribs that caused a “discomfort that was getting worse and worse”,  Arteta said, meant that this most influential of midfielders did not emerge for the second half. It was on 64 minutes that Nathan Ake stroked in the winner and in terms of the biggest prizes this season, Partey’s fitness is more important to Arsenal than the FA Cup.

The 2020 FA Cup semi-final was the one game in which Arteta triumphed over Guardiola, back in the empty stadiums Covid. Since then a further six defeats, and this one notable for the high-wire act of the Arsenal manager matching City man-to-man all over the pitch. It meant that there was no cover in the most dangerous areas and Arsenal’s centre backs were obliged to win their battles individually with Erling Haaland when the moment came.

They did so, and it was another quiet night for the country’s top goalscorer. Arteta substituted Rob Holding at half-time to protect a player on a booking picked up tracking Haaland. The Arsenal manager has suffered with red cards against City in the past. Both Gabriel Magalhaes and Holding’s replacement William Saliba did well – it was just that Arsenal let Jack Grealish slip away at the critical moment and he created the Ake goal that won the game.

Arteta changed five of the ten outfield players that had won against Manchester United, as well as the goalkeeper – Matt Turner had an excellent game. Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kieran Tierney, Fabio Vieira and Leandro Trossard came into the side and yet it was only when the big names came off the bench after the goal that City really felt under threat. The difference between the two clubs is the depth of the squad – an obvious point but one that felt acute here.

Guardiola said that he did not anticipate the man-to-man approach of his opposite number. The City manager was lost in his post-match stream of consciousness for the most part but he did say “now I know they can do it” as he contemplated the challenge that City face against Arsenal in the future.

He also observed that “Mikel does not rotate much in the league” and it will be a full-strength Arsenal side he faces when City visit the Emirates on Feb 15. They play again in east Manchester in late April. This was just Arteta’s side’s fourth defeat of the season, only one of them in the Premier League. Arsenal are out of both the domestic knockout competitions now, and even with a place in the last 16 of the Europa League there is no disguising where the focus lies.

When Arteta brought Gabriel Martinelli, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Odegaard on to chase the game as second half substitutes this was a different kind of Arsenal. Albert Lokonga had come on earlier for Partey, for whom the diagnosis is not yet clear. “He was [too] uncomfortable to continue,” Arteta said. “Tomorrow or the day after he will have an MRI scan and see what he has.”

For City, who started with a stronger XI and have a bench of great depth, there was also an injury. John Stones came off with a hamstring problem just before half-time to which Guardiola seemed oddly resigned. “Today he was not ready,” Guardiola said. “I could see it from the first minute.”

rling Haaland of Manchester City battles for possession with William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester City and Arsena - Getty Images/Alex Livesey
rling Haaland of Manchester City battles for possession with William Saliba and Takehiro Tomiyasu of Arsenal during the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round match between Manchester City and Arsena - Getty Images/Alex Livesey

A first half performance from City that was well-disrupted by Arteta’s players. It had been almost 13 months since the two clubs last faced one another. Last season there was a red card for Arsenal in both games: Gabriel Magalhaes in the home fixture and before that Granit Xhaka in August at the Etihad. Xhaka’s red card came in a 5-0 Arsenal defeat during their fevered August of 2021.

This time it was a much more composed Arsenal performance in the first half including two big shots for Trossard that Guardiola’s goalkeeper for the night, Stefan Ortega, did well to get a glove on. Guardiola had again left out Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo and instead opted for the teenager Rico Lewis although Walker would come on early in the second half with another substitute, Julian Alvarez.

For the goal, the Argentine hit a low drive that came back off Turner’s post and was collected by Grealish. He turned back and forth a couple of times to shake off Tomiyasu and Bukayo Saka, and his ball cut back between the two defenders was nicely placed for Ake. On his less favoured right foot, Ake picked out the inside of the far post beyond the reach of Turner.

A Cup tie at last. Xhaka stroked a fine cross from the left which was just beyond Eddie Nketiah and he might have done better. Arteta sent on the big guns – Martinelli, Zinchenko and then later Odegaard – and they had a good period without ever looking like they might score, beyond that one Nketiah chance.

Arteta would not be drawn later on whether a £60 million bid for Brighton’s Moises Caicedo would be successful. “We have been pretty active in the market,” he said. “We have some necessities. If something else is available, the club is willing to try to do it when it is reasonable and hopefully he’s a player that can improve our squad.”

As for Guardiola his side have now eliminated Chelsea and Arsenal from two challenging rounds of the FA Cup. The winning run – after that two-defeat blip – stands at three. Would others try the same man-to-man approach? “They are more than welcome,” Guardiola said, “they can do whatever they want. We know we play many times in these seven years teams with man-to-man marking.” His team, he said, would be ready for anything.

Manchester City vs Arsenal: as it happened

10:18 PM

Mikel Arteta speaks - 'we can take a lot of positives'

On whether Man City deserved to win...

"I think we could have got more from the game. It was a competitive game, unfortunately we're out."

On Ake's winning goal...

"I think we could have defended it better."

On what baring this result has on the Premier League clash in two weeks...

"[We had chances in the first half] and even in the second half we had big situations. We can take a lot of positives from the way we approached game and competed."

On lessons to learn...

"In the big moments you have to make the have to show you can make the difference."

10:06 PM

Nathan Ake speaks - 'There's more to come'

On whether City deserved to win...

"Yes, I think so. [In the second half] we were better. It was tough, they pressed us high and it was tough to get out."

On his winner...

"It was a good pass from Jack [Grealish] and I think it's the first goal I've scored with my right, so I am  pleased with that."

On whether this win gives them the upper hand ahead of the pair's league clash...

"I think it's good...we take this against a tough will give us confidence for the next game and other games to come."

On City's form...

"More to come. today was more about resilience."

09:56 PM

I think this sums it up rather well

09:56 PM

FULL TIME: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

That's that. Ake's well-taken goal was the difference between the sides in a match that did little to entertain. There was more than the sense of both teams shadow boxing before the real must-win/must-not-lose clash in two weeks' time.

09:52 PM

92 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal cannot get the ball at the moment and I strongly fancy that the current scoreline will be the same upon the final whistle.

09:51 PM

90 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

There will be four minutes added time - can Arsenal force an equaliser?

09:50 PM

86 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Martinelli has made a difference since he's come on. His darting run off the left forces Ortega to come off his line and save well. Then a minute later the Brazilian again forces the stand-in City keeper to make another quick, off-his-line stop.

09:46 PM

84 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Corner for Arsenal. Can they make it count?

In short, no. BUT the ball, having been headed away comes to Martinelli who drives back into the box but cannot find a fellow Gunner to pass to. He wins another corner and this one, that goes short, results in even less of a threat than the first.

09:42 PM

81 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Alvarez has a go from way outside the box and it's easy for Turner to claim. This hasn't been a classic by any fact it's been pretty lacking in any prolonged excitement.

09:41 PM

79 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal are struggling to get out of their own half at the moment and it feels as though this match may well meander to the finish without another goal. When the Londoners do get into the City half the hosts simply squeeze the space.

Think you call this match a 'tactical battle'.

09:38 PM

77 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

This game has been slightly start-stop all evening and these late changes aren't helping. City look in control at the moment, famous last words...

09:37 PM

Here's the Ake goal in video form...

09:36 PM

71 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Saliba and Haaland get to know each other a bit better. Both, as with Holding and the City striker in the first half, grabbing each other as a long ball is played over the top.

More changes from both - Arsenal take off Saka (who's had a quiet night) for Odegaard. And City bring on Bernardo Silva for De Bruyne.

09:33 PM

Strikers take note

This was the measured finish by Ake to put City in front.

Ake scores - Reuters
Ake scores - Reuters
Ake - Getty Images
Ake - Getty Images

09:29 PM

65 mins: Man City 1-0 Arsenal

Arsenal nearly respond straight away as Xhaka delivers a prefect low cross from the left - one that is in the corridor of uncertainty between goalkeeper and last defender - that Nketiak nearly gets on the end of.

Before that the visitors had made two changes - Zinchenko and Martinelli are on for Tierney and Trossard.

09:25 PM


Man City 1-0 Arsenal (Ake) 

Álvarez finds a pocket of space outside the box, the Argentine lets fly from 25 yards and hits the post. The ball comes out to Grealish on the left and he plays in Ake who passes the ball into the back of the net with a cute, precision finish. Was he a striker in a previous life?

09:24 PM

63 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Arsenal seeing more of the ball at the moment and are probing the final third, so far without luck.

09:23 PM

61 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Arsenal will be happy with how this game has gone so far. They've frustrated City, restricting them to half chances.

09:20 PM

59 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

There's a nit of a mix up in the City defence, the ball falls to Viera. But instead of taking a touch - he had the time and space - he volleys it first time, the ball ending up well wide. The less said about that attempt the better.

09:19 PM

57 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Changes for City: Mahrez is off for Alvarez and Lewis makes way for Walker.

09:18 PM

55 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Turner does indeed seem OK as he comes out and parries away a low De Bruyne cross from the right. Mahrez, for only the second time this match, finds space, cuts inside and playing in the Belgian on the overlap. Better from the hosts - they need to get that pair more into the match.

09:16 PM

54 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Problem for Matt Tuner in the Arsenal goal - he's down in the area and it looks as though he hurt a shoulder when punching away that De Bruyne cross. He eventually gets back up and Ramsdale, who was getting warmed up on the touchline, sits back down.

09:13 PM

51 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

De Bruyne finds space out on the left before delivering a curling cross (an away swinger) that Turner decisively comes out an punches away. Good goalkeeping.

09:10 PM

48 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

This half has started in the same vein as much of the first - no real chances with City dominating possession. None of the hosts' attacking threats have really got going so far tonight.

09:08 PM

46 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

So Saliba will have a 45-minute dress rehearsal against Haaland before the league fixture. Holding took the lead from his name as to how he dealt with the City striker, how will the Frenchman try to cope?

09:05 PM

45 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

They're back under way in Manchester.

There have been changes for Arsenal: - Holding (who remember was on a booking) is off for Saliba and Lokonga for Partey.

08:52 PM

HALF TIME: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

I imagine Arsenal will be the happier of the two sides after that fairly hum drum half. Arteta's side have enjoyed the better of the (half) chances and frustrated City who haven't really got going in attack. One ray of light for the hosts is that Holding is on a yellow card and Haaland might well relishing testing him some more in the second 45.

08:47 PM

45 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Stones is off and is to replaced by Laporte though the Spain international has been caught unawares, trying to get his shinpads on, doing his laces up in the manner of a middle-order batsman not padded up as wickets tumble out in the middle.

08:46 PM

43 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Trossard agains causes problems for City down the left - it's takes two to stop the Belgian from getting in a cross, Mahrez coming to help Stones. After that tackle Stones goes down and it looks as though he's possibly pulled a hamstring, that's not what Pep wants to see.

08:42 PM

40 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

It's taken 40 minutes but Holding has finally seen yellow for grabbing hold of Haaland once too often. That's dangerous for Arsenal - perhaps Arteta might bring him off sooner rather than later as the City striker has been causing him problems.

08:39 PM

37 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Gabriel is back peddalling with Haaland looming after a flick from Tierney puts his fellow defender under pressure. Gabriel ultimately does well, doing enough to put off the City striker enough so that his shot, over the on-rushing Turner, is wide.

08:35 PM

Both sides cancelling each other out

08:35 PM

33 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Good chance for the visitors and once again it's thanks to the livewire thinking and fleet of foot of Trossard. The Arsenal new man does well down the left before noticing Nketiah's run to the near post and crossing for the striker. His first-time attempt is just wide - the three best chances have fallen to Mikel Arteta's men.

08:32 PM

32 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Arsenal have done well - City have been limited to half chances and long shots, with their main men not really able to dictate affairs as they usually do.

08:31 PM

30 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Haaland comes off worst in a challenge with the ever watchful (and close) Holding. There's a bit of a break while the freak of a striker is checked. It looks as though he's being checked for concussion - after a while he strolls off the pitch before strolling back on.

08:29 PM

If you love football put your leg in the air...

Haaland and Partey make their feet go aerial in search of the ball.

Haaland and Partey - Reuters
Haaland and Partey - Reuters

08:27 PM

24 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

City finally get in behind the Arsenal backline as Rodri plays in Mahrez down the right. The Algerian maestro cuts in onto his left boot (when doesn't he?) and his shot is blocked well. But the danger is far from over as the ball ultimately falls at the feet of De Bruyne and he curls in a left-footed shot that looks as though it's flirting with the far corner of the net before just going wide. Better from the hosts who've looked a bit one-paced so far.

08:22 PM

21 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Trossard has been the one bright spark in attack for Arsenal and the Belgian finds himself in the City box, going on the outside of Lewis before unleashing a left-footed shot that Ortega parries well.

City have had more of the ball but the two best chances have fallen to the visitors.

08:21 PM

20 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

It's not been a classic so far. City are seeing far more of the ball but everything the past 10 minutes or so has been in front of Arsenal and the Londoners are finding defending easy, well as easy as it can be against a Pep side, at the moment.

As I type Gundogan tries to find Haaland and the ball runs into the grateful arms of Turner.

08:18 PM

18 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

The hosts are being very patient  - passing the ball around well, but, more often than not, sideways rather than forward. It's all a bit hum drum at the moment.

08:16 PM

15 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Saka yet to really get into the game - bar that chance for Tomiyasu it's been a bit of a sluggish start from the visitors, a side known for fast starts and half-time leads.

08:13 PM

13 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

City attack on the left but Grealish's floated cross is easy for Turner to come and claim. The second-choice Arsenal goalkeeper has started off confidently - just what he, and Arteta, would have hoped for.

08:12 PM

11 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

City are seeing most of the ball and looking for Haaland more often than not. Arsenal coping well so far.

08:11 PM

8 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Great goalkeeping from Turner as the Arsenal stopper rushes off his line to intercept a through ball meant for the advancing Haaland. He's outside of his box and needed to time that perfectly. The ball comes back to Haaland and an acrobatic attempt at goal doesn't bother the Arsenal backline too much.

08:09 PM

A tale of two holds

Holding makes himself known to Haaland's shirt...

Holding - Reuters
Holding - Reuters

Before Haaland wins the battle of the grabs...

Haaland - PA
Haaland - PA

08:06 PM

5 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

Trossard has made an early impression. Arsenal's new signing is at the heart of a move that ends up with Tomiyasu shooting from the edge of the box. Ortega makes a good save from the half-volleyed shot.

08:05 PM

4 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

First chance of the game falls to the hosts - City pass it around well before laying the ball back to Rodri outside the box. His  shot is well over the bar and the second-choice Arsenal goalkeeper Turner watches as it sails well high.

08:03 PM

2 mins: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

There's a bit of nominative determination as Holding does just that to Haaland, both go to ground and it's the Arsenal man who wins the free kick - the City striker ultimately dragging down Holding. Good sign for Haaland and City - the Arsenal defender looked less that comfortable there and the free kick could easily have gone the other way.

08:00 PM

1 min: Man City 0-0 Arsenal

They're under way at the Etihad. City are in their traditional light blue shirts and Arsenal are donning their famous red and white kit. No garish away kits on display - a rarity...

The two best teams in Britain are doing battle and it should make for compelling viewing.

07:56 PM

The teams are out on the pitch

And the match is about to get under way...

07:56 PM

Pep Guardiola speaks...

Think the word is laconic...there was a lot of shrugging shoulders and few words...

On Arsenal's starting XI...

"It's a strong team. To play Arsenal you have need big quality...what can I say, it's Arsenal and I take it seriously."

On Arteta and Arsenal...

"Good manager, they control all departments, impressive."

On what City need to do to win...

"We need to be ourselves."

07:50 PM

Mikel Arteta speaks...

On tonight's challenge...

"Big opportunity, it's always great to be in the cup and playing a top side and we have to prove we have the level [to beat them]."

On his team selection, making six changes...

"Everyone needs and deserves game time. We need everyone and have to give them minutes to they are in condition to compete....I still think we have a very competitive team."

On his Arsenal side facing Haaland for the first time...

"Obviously what he's producing is unheard of and unbelieveable, he's a threat for sure."

On what Arsenal need to do to win...

"We have to be at our best level to best them for sure."

07:38 PM

Arteta's insurance policy?

07:36 PM

The tache-less Roy Keane is scathing about Arteta's changes

The Manchester and Ireland legend is 'Keaning' on ITV and, as you'd expect, leaves no doubt as to what he thinks of the Arsenal line-up (the dictionary definition of 'to Keane'...)

"[It's a] huge gamble, to make so many changes at the back especially with the attacking players City have...there's talk about [Arteta] needing to see some players, if you don't know what they're capable of at this level now then you're in trouble."

07:23 PM

Both sides strong but not what you'd call their first-choice XIs

MAN CITY XI TO FACE ARSENAL: Ortega, Lewis, Akanji, Stones, Ake, Gundogan, Rodri, Mahrez, De Bruyne, Grealish, Haaland. Subs: Walker, Dias, Phillips, Joao Cancelo, Laporte, Alvarez, Bernardo Silva, Ederson, Palmer.

Pep Guardiola has made two changes from the team that brushed aside Wolves 3-0 in the Premier League last weekend. Stefan Ortega starts in goal, with Nathan Ake in for Aymeric Laporte. Joao Cancelo, Kyle Walker and Bernardo Silva are on the bench for a third game running while Phil Foden remains out through injury.

Erling Haaland - Getty Images/Tom Flathers
Erling Haaland - Getty Images/Tom Flathers

ARSENAL XI TO FACE MAN CITY: Turner, Tomiyasu, Holding, Gabriel, Tierney, Vieira, Partey, Xhaka, Saka, Nketiah, Trossard. Subs: Ramsdale, White, Odegaard, Martinelli, Saliba, Kiwior, Sambi Lokonga, Alencar, Zinchenko.

Mikel Arteta has made as many as six changes to the side that impressed so much in their 3-2 win over Manchester United on Sunday. Former City left-back Oleksandr Zinchenko has to make do with a place on the bench as Kieran Tierney comes into the defence. There's a first start for new signing Leandro Trossard, while Matt Turner, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Rob Holding, and Fabio Vieira replace Aaron Ramsdale, Ben White, William Saliba, Martin Odegaard and Gabriel Martinelli.

 Kieran Tierney - Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane
Kieran Tierney - Getty Images/Stuart MacFarlane

07:02 PM

Here be Arsenal

07:01 PM

Here's the Man City XI

06:56 PM

Arsenal are in the building

06:50 PM

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05:47 PM

FA Cup clash with more than a sprinkling of title-race intrigue

When is an FA Cup fourth round tie more than just an FA Cup fourth round tie? Not trying to be all Confucius and cryptic, rather I am alluding to the fact that there is more than a hint that today's Manchester City vs Arsenal match is as much about the pair's title tussle as it is about possible cup glory at Wembley come May.

The north Londoners lead City by five points at the top of the Premier League table with a game in hand. Tonight's match is a precursor to their league meeting at the Emirates Stadium next month - one which, for some, will go a huge way to deciding who will win the title. We await to see the sides Mikel Arteta and Pep Guardiola put out - it's hard to see a weak City XI (such is the strength of their squad) - but to what to extent will today's result affect the their battle for top-flight supremacy?

For the Arsenal manager the answer is 'not a lot'.

"I think they are going to be two very, very different games," Arteta said. "To put similarities to them, I think, is just very unreal maybe because of the players who will be on the pitch but as well because the context is extremely different.

"Let's see. It is important to play well and to win. That gives you more momentum and confidence, and prepares you better for the next match. That is our focus."

So far, so typical: 'concentrating on this game' 'we want to win every match we play' etc, etc, etc, yawn. But there is definitely a sense, and a wider understanding, that a comprehensive defeat for either side will be less than ideal barely two weeks out from the Premier League encounter. I suspect acceptance of that will affect the line-ups picked tonight by both Arteta and Guardiola.

Stay here to find out who will start tonight, for all the pre-match build-up and analysis, and, of course, the action.