Pep Guardiola’s side raced into an early lead through Leroy Sane in just the fifth minute, before Theo Walcott beat the offside trap to level things up. Sergio Aguero restored City’s lead just two minutes later with a ferocious drive from a tight-angle, but Arsenal’s German centre-half rose highest to surely prevent another barrage of abuse aimed at Arsene Wenger.
Here are five things we learned:
Bellerin’s deficiencies as defender exposed again
As we highlighted earlier this week, Hector Bellerin continues to allow errors to creep into his game, and Sunday was no different. The Spaniard switched off to allow Leroy Sane to get goal-side of him and the German speedster left the full-back in his wake for the opening goal.
Bellerin, considered one of the brightest prospects when he emerged two seasons ago, has let his performances drop. Some suspect that his head has been turned by persistent speculation linking him with a move to Barcelona and Manchester City, but he won’t secure such a lucrative move should he continue in the same vein. His shortcomings as a defender were exposed by Monaco over two legs and such a tortured experience in trying to stop Benjamin Mendy appears to have knocked his confidence.
Bellerin would do well to take heed of Thierry Henry’s words of wisdom from his perch in the Sky Sports studio. “You have to be faster with your brain than with your legs. You cannot allow the winger inside like that,” the Arsenal legend said at half-time whilst analysing the opening goal.
The right-back has averaged a career low in tackles won (0.9), interceptions (1.5), clearances (1.7), successful dribbles (1.7) and accurate crosses (0.5) per 90 minutes this season, illustrating his slight dip in recent times.
The 22-year-old still has plenty of time to learn, but he needs to show signs of improvement soon or will face a strange period of uncertainty in his career. Bellerin credited Steve Bould in the past for helping him understand the art of defending after he joined Arsenal – perhaps he needs a few more one-on-one sessions with the coach.
Jesus Navas was a surprise inclusion in the starting line-up from Pep Guardiola. What was even more surprising was that the Spaniard was chosen to play at right-back, up against Alexis Sanchez.
This selection curved ball from the unpredictable Catalan tactician showed us two things: City desperately need full-back upgrades in the summer, and Guardiola clearly doesn’t think much of Pablo Zabaleta., who has this week been linked with a surprise move to West Ham.
Apart from an awful challenge early on that rightly saw him booked and one moment when Sanchez left him in an unsightly shape, Navas actually had a decent game, making four interceptions and winning six tackles.
While that may prove that Navas could indeed be used as a makeshift right-back, such an experiment is likely to have repercussions somewhere down the line for a player who has been trained from a young age to attack. The need for full-backs is pressing at City, but Guardiola may not have been all that impressed with Bellerin’s audition.
Sane continues to blossom into Guardiola’s vision
Leroy Sané's vs Arsenal:
Aerial duels won: 100%
Take ons completed: 4
Goal: 1 pic.twitter.com/dcETJ5BScv
— City Chief (@City_Chief) April 2, 2017
Slowly but surely, Sane is blossoming into one of the Premier League’s most exciting and effective attacking players. The baby-faced speed merchant took time to acclimatise to the Premier League following his arrival from Schalke in the summer but, under the focused tutelage of Guardiola, he continues to come on in leaps and bounds.
Sane was a constant menace against Arsenal, constantly showing a willingness to drive forward and cause problems for the home side’s back-four. He embarrassed Bellerin for the opener but remained heavily involved throughout the game.
With four take-ons completed, two interceptions and a goal during the Arsenal game, Sane illustrated his burgeoning confidence and continues to act as a pivotal part of City’s attack, which was needed against the Gunners with Raheem Sterling out-of-sorts.
Sane has scored eight goals in just 13 shots in all competitions for City, which is highly impressive but not all that surprising when seeing how he brushed off Bellerin before rounding David Ospina and slotting the ball home for the opening goal, showing a potent combination of close control, balance and cutting edge.
The German international has credited Guardiola for improving him in all areas and, if he continues to listen, he will unquestionably become one of the finest players in the league.
Ozil’s return fails to reinstate attacking spark
— Match of the Day (@BBCMOTD) April 2, 2017
Mesut Ozil has been missing recently and Arsenal fans missed him, or so they thought. The exceptionally gifted German playmaker returned to the starting line-up, instantly giving supporters a sense of excitement pre-game.
However, the contract rebel flattered to deceive. Yes, Ozil notched his 50th assist for Arsenal in all competitions when his corner found Mustafi to make it 2-2, but he was poor and on the periphery apart from that.
Ozil’s afternoon was summed up in two incidents either side of half-time. Firstly, he conceded possession that allowed City to build and score their second with Aguero. Not only did Ozil lose the ball, his reaction afterwards would have alarmed fans. He lacked a sense of panic and urgency from a player who has just given the other team the ball 10 yards from his own penalty area.
He had a shot at redemption in the second-half, too, but failed to capitalise. When Nicolas Otamendi’s miscued clearance bounced into his path, he looked odds-on to beat Willy Caballero to the ball and either win a penalty or round the keeper and score an easy winner. Instead, Ozil pulled out of the challenge, causing thousands of supporters to voice their disappointment.
We’re certainly not accusing Ozil of deliberately performing poorly, but those telling contributions to the game did much to illustrate his current mentality. It may not be the worst thing in the world if Arsenal sell him in the summer – fans are beginning to realise that.
Strange atmosphere speaks volumes of Arsenal mood
There was a peculiar atmosphere inside the Emirates leading up to the game, and indeed during most of it. It was the first game in front of their home supporters in the league since February 11th – which is fairly remarkable if you think about it – and the prevailing mood reflected events and speculation that have dangled ominously over Arsene Wenger’s head in recent weeks.
Indeed, Wenger admitted that his players started nervously and affected poorly to the pressure of the occasion. Although they fought back, all is clearly not well in the camp. It’s clear to see a lack of harmony and communication between the players.
For instance, when Walcott equalised, it was met with a strangely muted response from his teammates. Walcott then didn’t do himself any favours by sulking his way off the pitch when he was replaced by Olivier Giroud.
And while Mustafi’s goal lifted the odd ambience, the supporters soon retreated back into relative silence as Arsenal failed to push forward and look for a third – and the win. Instead, they seemed inhibited, gripped by a fear of losing which prevented them from taking a risk in search of three points.
In fact, it was Alexis Sanchez – whose attitude has regularly been questioned this season – and a fleeting cameo from substitute Alex Iwobi that tried to inject a sense of urgency into Arsenal’s game, but to no avail.
Morale is certainly low amongst the players, but the fans are also at fault for failing to realise that a ‘No New Contract’ certainly doesn’t help the pre-match preparation and barely lends itself to the term ‘supporter.’