April 2017 - Reports
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Middlesbrough 2 Manchester City 2    Jesus Saves
Sunday 30th April 2017 : John Reeves for GYKO at the Riverside

Manchester City lived dangerously before emerging with a point as Middlesbrough produced a performance that offers them real hope of escaping from the relegation zone in their final three games.

It could have been even worse for City, who were in danger of going down to a defeat when Guardiola would have been the only man to blame after choosing to leave Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sane on the bench.

They twice trailed to goals from Alvaro Negredo and Calum Chambers, but a controversial penalty by Sergio Aguero and a late header from Gabriel Jesus (pictured right) kept City ahead of rivals Manchester United in the race for a Champions League place.

If Guardiola wanted a pre-match boost for his players, Swansea provided it by taking a point at United since it meant a victory here would take City three points clear of their rivals in the tussle for the priceless final Champions League spot.

It is so tight that goal difference could be crucial and City went into this game with a two-goal advantage over United and a chance to extend that margin, a chance that they failed to take.

However, they were up against a Middlesbrough defence with 11 clean sheets to their credit this season - one more than Guardiola’s team.

Middlesbrough problems have been at the other end of the pitch. Even with the presence of former City favourite Negredo, Boro had managed just 24 goals going into this game - one them coming when they drew at the Etihad Stadium earlier in the season.

They also met at the Riverside in March when City eased to an FA Cup victory, an example of their excellent away form which has brought a club record of 11 victories in the league.

Sergio Aguero scored for City in both of those games and, while Middlesbrough did not need a reminder of his threat, they got it after a mere 45 seconds when he drilled a shot across the face of the goal.

But the first-half did not develop as many Middlesbrough fans must have feared after the opening minutes. Buoyed by their win of 2017 in midweek. Steve Agnew’s matched City’s possession for the opening 45 minutes even if they did not utilise it in the same accomplished style.

They still created an excellent opportunity in the 13th minute for Negredo, the Spanish striker who won the Premier League title with City in 2014. He dragged his shot across goal where Cristhian Stuani was inches away from taking advantage, perhaps prompting City fans to wonder whether - at 31 - Negredo still carries a goal threat. The answer came in the 38th minute at the end of a superb, sweeping move.

George Friend started it with an interception on the edge of his own and broke before finding Marten de Roon, whose early measured pass sent Stewart Downing galloping down the left. Friend, who simply kept running, got a touch on the cross, taking the pace off the ball and leaving Negredo with the chance for a shot on the turn that went inside Willy Caballero’s post.

Now the questions began about Guardiola’s decision to leave out Sterling and Sane and he as good as accepted he had made a mistake by sending the pair on after only five minutes of the second-half in place of Garcia and Gael Clichy.

Their impact was immediate as City raised the tempo and soon forced a save from Brad Guzan as he beat away a fierce effort from Kevin de Bruyne.

Middlesbrough, who started the half with an Adam Clayton effort that was comfortably dealt with by Caballero, were now finding it difficult to get out of their own half neat footwork by Sane created another chance for de Bruyne, who sliced it well wide.

The mounting pressure eventually brought its reward in the 69th minute from Aguero’s penalty, although Middlesbrough’s fans will never be convinced it was the correct decision by referee Friend as Sane went down under a challenge from Marten de Roon.

De Roon had to be held back as he tried to argue with the referee before Aguero converted the penalty and set a frantic final 20 minutes when Boro’s fans mercilessly jeered Sane whenever he touched the ball, which was often.

Middlesbrough went in front again in 78th minute and Caballero was a fault as he failed to hold Downing’s free-kick. City had chances to clear, but Negredo helped keep the ball inside the area and Chamber eventual poked it past the keeper from close-range.

But Jesus had the final word when he headed in after 85 minute and immediately raced to the touchline to shake the hand of Guardiola.

Middlesbrough:  Guzan Gibson Chambers Friend da Silva Clayton Forshaw de Roon Downing Negredo Gested 82’ Stuani Traore 73’     Unused subs:  Bamford, Fischer, Konstantopoulos, Barragán, Espinosa Zúñiga

Manchester City:  Caballero Kolarov Otamendi Kompany A García Sterling 49’ Clichy Sane 49’ Navas Fernandinho Agüero (Nolito 90+2) De Bruyne de Jesus        Unused subs: Gunn, Sagna, Reges, Zabaleta

 Referee Kevin Friend         Attendance: 29,763

Manchester City 0 Manchester United 0   Drab Derby Draw
Thursday 28th April 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad

There was a time when a team of Pep Guardiola players would have unpicked a deadlock of this kind and when sitting deep in serried ranks against his players, as Manchester United did, risked serious embarrassment.

Not now. In a Manchester derby which reflected the distance between the old sparring partners and champion class, Manchester City ran into sand, straining every sinew to find a way through a wall of red, yet lacking the speed of thought and pass to do so. Their effort cannot be questioned, yet when it came to picking up the pace, they simply ran faster. Passing faster and smarter –altogether different qualities – were the real requirement.

The finishing of Guardiola’s side was poor, too, a Sergio Aguero strike against the base of the United post in the second half the closest they came to breaking the deadlock and the agony was compounded in the second minute of second half injury time when substitute Gabriel Jesus was fractionally offside as he found the net with a header from Aguero’s cross.

It was a measure of the game’s meagreness that the talking point was Marouane Fellaini’s craven stupidity – a clear head-butt on Aguero in the 84th minute and a straight red card for which he can have no complaint, despite the protestations which delayed his departure from the field. The Belgian had been booked for pushing the striker in the back in United’s late rear-guard action, seconds earlier. The sight of him, towering over an opponent, forehead to forehead, is a familiar one, contributing to why so many who follow United cannot accept him as one of their own.

One of the advertising hoardings, promoting an engine oil, described ‘150 years of innovation’ though the first half did not feature much clever propulsion. City were its better side, forcing David De Gea into saves twice in five minutes just beyond the half hour, but their struggle to make something of that superiority was the story of their season in microcosm.

They missed David Silva’s mercurial spirit, for sure. A pre-match big screen image to haunt Pep Guardiola listed the side’s best chance creators of this season: Silva topped that particular tree with 114 openings carved out. Without his presence to seize on the little pockets of space, Aguero dropped deeper to create an axis, though that left the side without anyone at the top when chances came.

Aguero was short of his best finishing, swivelling around in a weight shift which left Michael Carrick and Daley Blind off balance but then firing over. Raheem Sterling, restored to the side after four games on the bench, looked off it. A give-and-go with Aguero two minutes before the break sent him through for City’s outstanding chance of the first period but he, too, placed his shot over.

United were organised, it has to be said. Eric Bailey, starting his tenth successive game, did more to cement the reputation he has built these last eight months and made an impeccable 24th minute tackle when Leroy Sane burst into the left hand channel. Carrick was assured. The presence of Marouane Fellaini in central midfield reflected a United built to repel.

It was United who actually found the evening’s most exploitable opportunity by setting Marcus Rashford’s pace onto Aleksandar Kolarov and but they looked like a ghost of their former gladiatorial best and light years away from the last Manchester derby played on a Thursday, in which Andrei Kanchelskis’ 1994 hat-trick was the centrepiece of their 5-0 win.

There was also evidence of that profligacy which has been the story of their season, when Ander Herrera ran to meet a Henrikh Mkhitaryan free kick in the dying moments of the first half and put his back post header wide with the goal at his mercy.

Attacking became an alien concept to United when the game recommenced. Kevin de Bruyne took the ball beyond Herrera just beyond the hour and crashed the ball into the side netting. Aguero thrashed a shot over the bar when he took on a half clearance from Antonio Valencia, illustrating the pressure that United, with their serried defensive ranks, were creating as the deadlock went on. An Otamendi header was deflected over off Baily’s shoulder.

Fellaini’s dismissal left Mourinho looking for any available defensive reinforcement. Rashford was at right back before making way for the more genuine defensive presence of Ashley Young. United left with top four hopes intact after achieving what they and their parked bus came for: anything but defeat.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Zabaleta, Kompany, Otamendi, Kolarov; Toure, Fernandinho; Sterling, De Bruyne, Sane; Aguero.      Substitutes: Caballero, Sagna, Fernando, Navas, Clichy, Jesus, Garcia

Manchester United (4-3-3): De Gea; Valencia, Bailly, Blind, Darmian; Herrera, Carrick, Fellaini; Rashford, Mkhitaryan, Martial.         Substitutes: Romero, Rooney, Lingard, Young, Shaw, Fosu-Mensah, Tuanzebe

Referee - Martin Atkinson.       Attendance: 54176.

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 1 (aet)   Ref Robs The Blues
Sunday 23rd April 2017 : GYKO at Wembley Stadium

Arsenal are in the FA Cup Final. Manchester City will rail against the injustice of it all and, in particular, a ‘goal’ by Sergio Aguero that was wrongly disallowed while they also struck the woodwork twice and missed a host of chances.

Arsenal dug deep – as so often they have failed to do – and showed immense spirit as they came from behind with goals by Nacho Monreal and, in extra-time, Alexis Sanchez.

They will meet Chelsea in the final with an unlikely chance of another trophy for Arsene Wenger in a season of such frustration and doubt. Maybe now that contract announcement will be made even if he will not qualify for the Champions League.

For Pep Guardiola a first campaign in which so much was expected will end with a fight to stay in the top four and nothing more. No trophy. Not this year. And that has to represent failure just as Wenger is not expected to qualify for the Champions League for the first time.

The last thing everyone expected was a game littered by fouls – some cynical – with chances at a premium. But that is what unfolded until the encounter opened up gloriously, chaotically and end-to-end in the second-half.

Before that it had been completely dominated by City. Both sides, nevertheless, had penalty claims. Both sides also had ‘goals’ disallowed – with the refusal of City’s strike the one that should have stood.

It came as assistant referee Steve Child deemed that Leroy Sane’s cross had gone out of play but the whole of the ball had not – how could he be sure? – before Aguero volleyed goalwards. Petr Cech beat it out and substitute Raheem Sterling turned in the rebound but it was chalked off. It should have been given. It should have been Aguero’s goal.

The striker also felt he should have had a penalty when the otherwise impressive Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tangled with him but that was less defined as Aguero also clipped his own heels and, maybe, the benefit of doubt should have gone to the Arsenal man as he was attempting to get out of the way and the level of contact was not clear.

But it added to City’s sense of frustration and injustice which had been fuelled when David Silva – who had been prominent – was forced off after a clumsy challenge by Gabriel which referee Craig Pawson did not deem worthy of a caution. Having not yellow-carded Gabriel, Pawson then made it difficult for himself as a number of other challenges went unpunished including one by Jesus Navas, attempting to stop Sanchez from reaching a free-kick which Arsenal claimed should have been a penalty and could also have been given.

The only one of the four major first-half incidents which was indisputable was that Koscielny was offside when he volleyed past Claudio Bravo in a rare foray forward by Arsenal who were almost overwhelmed by City. The possession ratio was 70:30 but it felt even more as Arsenal were forced deep and failed to get any kind of foot-hold.

They continued with the three at the back but it was effectively five with Oxlade-Chamberlain and Monreal forced ever deeper although, finally, into the second-half Arsenal began to provide a sustained threat of their own and Granit Xhaka was presented with an opportunity when a free-kick was squared to him, unmarked and with City defending deep, only to shoot weakly.

At the other end and Nicolas Otamendi had a free header from a corner, but planted it wastefully wide before he made a vital block City almost gifted Arsenal the lead as Fernandinho carelessly lost the ball inside his own area and it appeared Olivier Giroud would have the chance to shoot. Otamendi covered.

Finally there was a breakthrough with Arsenal also needlessly losing the ball, on the edge of the City area, through Aaron Ramsey with Yaya Toure intercepting and lifting a pass forward for Aguero who was suddenly in a foot race with Monreal from inside his own half. There was only one winner in that contest although Aguero appeared to then push the ball too far ahead – only for Cech to hesitate and the striker to lift his shot past him for his 12th goal in 12 appearances.

It seemed that would be decisive but there was redemption for Monreal with another poor concession from Arsenal as Oxlade-Chamberlain’s superb deep cross allowed to run to the wing-back, who was not tracked, and he smartly volleyed the ball home from close-range at the far post. It was his first goal in two years.

City responded and it appeared Toure was set to restore their lead but, this time, there was redemption for Cech who tipped his bouncing volley, from outside the area, against the post. City struck the frame of the goal again – this time Fernandinho rising high to meet Kevin De Bruyne’s corner only for his header to cannon back off the cross-bar.

Arsenal then went close with substitute Danny Welbeck breaking clear of Otamendi only for his curling shot to flash narrowly past the far post – when maybe he should have squared it to Sanchez or crossed for Ramsey. They both were better options.

Arsenal also claimed the first opportunity of extra-rime with Rob Holding heading onto the roof of the net from a corner. And it was from another corner that they scored with Koscielny heading the ball back across goal, Welbeck taking a swipe at it before Sanchez pounced ahead of Gael Clichy to sweep his shot past Bravo. Welbeck could have settled it but headed wide.

It gave City a chance and they should have taken it when they broke three on two only for substitute Fabian Delph’s shot to be deflected into the side-netting. From the corner another replacement – City’s fourth, permitted in the later rounds of the FA Cup – headed wide when he again should have done better. But Arsenal held on and had their extraordinary win.

Arsenal: Cech Koscielny Holding de Abreu Monreal Ramsey Oxlade-Chamberlain Xhaka Özil Coquelin 118’ Giroud Welbeck 83’ Sánchez      Unused subs: Gibbs, Martinez, Iwobi, Walcott

Manchester City: Bravo Otamendi Clichy Kompany Navas De Bruyne Touré Sané Silva (Sterling 24 (Iheanacho 105)) Fernandinho Fernando 99’ Agüero Delph 99’      Unused subs:  Kolarov, Caballero, Zabaleta

Referee Craig Pawson        Attendance 85,725

Southampton 0 Manchester City 3   Kompany Fires Back
Saturday 15th April 2017 : Richard McCloud for GYKO at St Mary's Stadium

Manchester City have desperately missed Vincent Kompany this season, for his defending, his leadership and organisation. Here at St Mary’s they got all that from him and something more, as he scored the headed goal that turned a drab 0-0 draw into an emphatic 3-0 win.

This game was going nowhere until Kompany broke it open, his goal followed by others for Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero. The three points could prove crucial, moving City back above Liverpool into third place. The top two are racing away but City are still keeping ahead of Arsenal and Manchester United, their next two opponents, in the cup and the league, in what will be the biggest week of their season.

City had played out 55 insipid minutes when they finally took the lead. It started when Jesus Navas’s 30-yarder forced Fraser Forster to tip the ball over the crossbar. David Silva drifted in the corner kick from the left. Kompany clambered up above Maya Yoshida at the near post and darted his header down and into the far corner of the goal. Forster could not scramble across in time.

It was Kompany’s first goal since August 2015 and he celebrated with the wild glee of a man who had spent a long time wondering if he could ever get to do this again. It has been a nightmare season for Kompany, this was only his seven start in all competitions, and yet he now has the chance to make a difference to the crucial finale.

Once City were ahead they played with more freedom and more speed, although that does not say much. Kompany could have scored a second from a corner, Silva had a shot blocked and Aguero failed to race away from Jack Stephens despite getting in front of him.

But Saints were coming forward and eventually City found the space to score their second and kill the game. Silva played in De Bruyne, running in behind, with far more room than he could have expected. He waited until the perfect moment and squared to Leroy Sane, running alongside him, who finished into an empty net for his ninth goal of a brilliant season.

That was game over and with the pressure off City scored a clever third. Navas played the ball to De Bruyne at the byline, he pulled back a back and Aguero jumped at the far post to head it in. Aguero had not been at his best, but neither had City, and yet they still turned it round at the end. It was a dominant second half performance that felt very unlikely during a drab first half.

Manchester City did indeed start like a team whose priority was to preserve energy for next Sunday. They dominated possession, as they were always going to do, but there was very little drive or spark to go with it. With Raheem Sterling rested City struggled to beat opponents. Navas, again at right-back, found crossing positions often enough, but none of those crosses went anywere.

It took until the final minutes of the first half for City to look like scoring but even then they could not find the precision they needed. David Silva should have done better at the far post from Sergio Aguero’s deflected cross. Leroy Sane was brought down by Fraser Forster, who got just enough of the ball to concede a corner, rather than a penalty. It was poor stuff, and City needed to do far more after the break. Fortunately for Pep Guardiola, they did.

Southampton, in truth, struggled to make much of an impression on the game. Most of this match was attack versus defence but Saints never quite had the incision or speed to hurt City on the break. They had one good chance early in the first half, when Dusan Tadic shot over from Manolo Gabbiadini’s cross. It took until the 72nd minute for Saints to go close again, with Cedric Soares met Tadic’s cross, only for Claudio Bravo to match it with a rare save.

Southampton: Forster, Soares, Stephens, Toshida, Bertrand, David, Hojbjerg, Ward-Prowse (Long 60, Rodriguez 82), Tadic, Redmond, Gabbiadini (Boufal 60).    Subs not used: Hassen, Clasie, Caceres, Martina.

Manchester City: Bravo, Navas, Kompany, Otamendi, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, De Bruyne, Silva (Zabaleta 81), Sane (Sterling 86), Aguero (Iheanacho 89).    Subs not used: Caballero, Fernando, Kolarov, Garcia.

Referee: N Swarbrick          Attendance: 31,850

Manchester City 3 Hull City 1   Bravo Howler - Again!
Saturday 8th April 2017 : GYKO at the Etihad

It was almost the perfect afternoon for Pep Guardiola, until Claudio Bravo had yet another moment to forget.

The goalkeeper, recalled for his first Premier League appearance since January 21, allowed a late shot from Andrea Ranocchia to slip under his grasp, from what was Hull City’s only shot on target. It means that Bravo’s record of not having made a save in the league for more than three months stands. It was an uncomfortable moment in an otherwise comfortable home win.

For Manchester City’s manager, victory was a blessed relief to follow a turbulent few weeks. Elimination from the Champions League by Monaco at the last-16 stage was hard to stomach. A run of four league matches without a win had cast doubts over qualification for next season’s competition. Then came tales of stewards intervening to stop a row involving a member of Guardiola’s coaching team after Wednesday’s defeat at Chelsea.

Guardiola’s life in England to this point has been flecked with problems. He still faces the prospect of ending a campaign without a trophy for the first time in his managerial career. Hull City rarely looked like adding to his recent difficulties, though. Ahmed Elmohamady’s own goal gave the home side a half-time lead. Once Sergio Aguero had squeezed in a second, to put himself third outright on City’s all-time scoring list, the game was won. A rare goal on a rare start for Fabian Delph added the gloss. Bravo’s late error, however, removed a little of the sheen.

Until conceding what was only Hull’s eighth away league goal of the season, the goalkeeper had been untroubled, although City’s defence were not entirely comfortable in front of him.

Kamil Grosicki’s runs down the left gave unlikely right-back Jesus Navas a few nervous moments, and Oumar Niasse should certainly have converted the visitors’ best chance of the opening 45 minutes.

As it was, a Hull player did score the only goal of the half – but at the wrong end. Ahmed Elmohamady, attempting to put Navas’ cross on the run out for a corner as it cleared Sergio Agüero's head, instead turned it past his own goalkeeper.

That moment of misfortune undid all of Hull’s solid work of the opening half-an-hour, when they had largely restricted their opponents to long-range efforts.

Eldin Jakupovic had made a good early double save from David Silva and Leroy Sane, and also tipped over a free-kick from Yaya Toure free-kick, but was otherwise able to watch on as a series of hopeful shots whizzed by.

Having gone behind, Hull should have drawn level immediately, but Niasse appeared to have been fitted with a faulty compass, skewing a shot sideways from seven yards as Grosicki’s pull back was steered towards goal by Evandro.

But the home side did extend their lead three minutes after the interval, as Sterling darted down the right and cut across goal for Aguero to control and squeeze a shot past Jakupovic, Elmohamady and Michael Dawson as they tried to block. It was the Argentina international’s 118th goal for City, putting him third outright on the club’s all-time list of goalscorers.

Sane almost added a third instantly, but fired Sterling’s cross on the run straight at the goalkeeper.

That third goal arrived just beyond the hour mark, as Sterling raced on to Toure’s pass to lead another counter attack, and then rolled a pass left for Delph to thump in his first Premier League goal in more than a year.

That would have made it a perfect afternoon for Guardiola, but it was spoiled late on as Shaun Maloney cut the ball back for Ranocchia, on loan from Inter Milan, to steer Shaun Maloney’s cut-back under Bravo’s dive with the visitors’ only shot on target.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Bravo; Navas, Stones, Kolarov, Clichy; Toure (Fernando 74), Delph; Sterling, Silva (Iheahacho 72), Sane (Nolito 66); Aguero 7.   Substitutes: Caballero, Kompany, Zabaleta, De Bruyne.

Hull (4-1-4-1): Jakupovic; Elmohamady, Dawson , Ranocchia, Robertson; N’Diaye; Markovic, Evandro (Hernandez 58), Clucas (Henriksen 58), Grosicki; Niasse (Maloney 83).   Substitutes: Marshall, Davies, Meyler, Diomande.

Referee: Jonathan Moss (West Yorkshire)     Attendance: 54,393

Chelsea 2 Manchester City 1    City Go Down Fighting
Wednesday 5th April 2017 : Vince Taylor for GYKO at Stamford Bridge

It was Antonio Conte, as much as a nervous Chelsea support, who best betrayed the sense of anxiety which gripped here. The Italian spent most of the second half a frenzy of livid agitation on the edge of his technical area, frantically waving to his players and barking instructions or imploring the beleaguered fourth official, Bobby Madley, to offer plausible explanations for every tight decision. He is emotional at the best of times on the touchline, of course, but all his mannerisms were particularly exaggerated as time ebbed agonisingly from this contest.

He had stared in disbelief as John Stones went unnoticed just inside the six-yard box as Manchester City’s last corner of the contest veered into the penalty area, then puffed out his cheeks in relief as the centre-half’s awkward volley from in front of goal flew harmlessly over the bar. His own cheers were drowned amid the din at the final whistle seconds later. This victory squeezed the last breath of life from City’s vague challenge but, critically for Chelsea, also kept Tottenham Hotspur an arm’s length away. Spurs could mount their late rally in distant south Wales, but the seven-point lead is maintained. Everything about this win felt significant.

It was the kind that is secured by champions, not because the home side were at their scintillating best, despite Eden Hazard’s best efforts in establishing their lead before the interval. Rather, it was in the refusal to permit City an equaliser where Chelsea demonstrated their strength. This defence has been punctured too often of late, not least by lowly Crystal Palace at the weekend. Sergio Agüero’s equaliser here, converted into a gaping net after Thibaut Courtois had inexplicably cleared straight to David Silva, had ensured the leaders are still without a top-flight clean sheet since January. Yet they had still recovered their poise to edge back ahead, and then succeeded in containing the visitors’ late attempts to force parity.

City, as Pep Guardiola was keen to point out post-match, had enjoyed a fine 10-minute spell early on and had been by far the more authoritative of the two teams after the interval. The first six minutes of the second period had seen Fernandinho, on the turn, skying a volley over the bar and Vincent Kompany, on his first league start since November, looping a header on to the woodwork. Suddenly Leroy Sané and Agüero were menacing, Kevin De Bruyne more adventurous with his passes, and Silva threatening to orchestrate a revival as if these pedigree players had been reminded of their lofty reputations.

Yet the visitors’ increased threat actually coaxed the best from the home side. David Luiz roused himself, conjuring arguably his best performance of a fine campaign, while Gary Cahill and César Azpilicueta blocked, tackled and forced away everything flung at them. That familiar trio had actually been disrupted from the start, the Spaniard thrust into a role at right wing-back in Victor Moses’ absence, but Kurt Zouma’s toils against Sané had been relieved by his withdrawal at the break. This team sought safety in familiarity thereafter. “We had a better balance and defended very well,” said Conte through a whisper, his throat raw from the evening’s instruction and exhaustion setting in.

It was the kind of defiant scrap the Italian would have relished in his playing days, his current charges heaving themselves to stifle City’s revival. Hazard, a match-winner with his two goals, conceded it was not always “beautiful” to behold but having experienced such a rare and untimely loss on Saturday, this was solely about recovery. His first-half rewards, the opener benefiting from a flick off Kompany’s head and Willy Caballero’s weak attempt to block with his right hand, would claim the points.

Chelsea’s second, plucked 10 minutes from the interval, stemmed from a penalty awarded for Fernandinho’s trip on Pedro, with Cesc Fàbregas’ slide-rule pass in the build-up a thing of beauty. Caballero had at least redeemed himself to a certain extent by blocking Hazard’s penalty, but the Belgian slid in the rebound while the goalkeeper was still prone on the turf. No one can match the 10 goals the winger has scored in this arena this term. “It was a big win,” he added. “We can do better than the way we played but after a defeat, it’s good to come back. Our target is clear.”

So is that of City. For all the exquisite nature of so much of their attacking play, and the periods of dominance they have enjoyed in both fixtures against the champions elect, Guardiola’s team lost both and are 14 points adrift, with qualification for the top four now their priority. The manager, while satisfied his team had performed “1,000 miles better” than in their draw with Arsenal on Sunday, put their failures in the head-to-head down to Chelsea being “better than us in the boxes”. He will address those issues in the summer and City will come back stronger. Just as Chelsea did here after their weekend blip. The title is edging ever closer.

Chelsea:  Courtois Zouma Matic 45’ Cahill Luiz Moreira Marinho Azpilicueta Alonso Kanté Fàbregas Borges Da Silva 81’ Hazard Loftus-Cheek 90’ Rodríguez Ledesma Da Silva Costa
Unused subs: Batshuayi, Terry, Aké, Begovic

Manchester City: Caballero Stones Clichy Kompany Navas De Bruyne Sterling 79’ Sané Agudo Durán 85’ Silva Luiz Rosa Delph Agüero    Unused subs: Touré, Zabaleta, Bravo, Kolarov, Reges

 Referee: M. Dean; • Attendance: 41528

Arsenal 2 Manchester City 2       City Stumble at the Double
Sunday 2nd April 2017 : Peter Pollitt for GYKO at the Emirates Stadium

Arsenal end a miserable run by finally showing some character, but this odd 2-2 draw at the Emirates still mostly showed why both these teams and managers have underachieved this season. Just look at the runs of forms this result tops off.

Arsenal still haven’t won in the league since early February, Manchester City since early March. That Arsene Wenger has endured a much more trying time probably means he will be the much happier manager and, far from this becoming the season-defining Arsenal defeat that many had anticipated, it instead pretty much defined City’s campaign: an impressively fast start, an odd and almost incomprehensible drop-off, an inability to take chances and then just an odd underwhelming sense of dissatisfaction with it; as if they should have done much more.

They certainly squandered the chance to beat an Arsenal that had been on the ropes and prime for a beating, and it is poor that City twice had the lead against such a struggling side but still couldn’t win.

Wenger and his players perhaps at last deserve the credit for that in what has been an awful two months, and similar situations over that time had seen them embarrassingly collapse. That did not happen here.

It was all the more surprising because City started the game looking like they could destroy Arsenal, and looking like they knew exactly how to do it. It was conspicuous from the off that Guardiola’s midfielders kept trying to play quick passes through the middle to exploit the remarkable amount of space beyond the Arsenal midfield.

It was no coincidence that was where the opening goal came from after just four minutes. If the way Kevin De Bruyne’s long ball got through was embarrassingly easy, though, there was still a degree of difficulty to Sane’s finish. The winger showed supreme composure to go around David Ospina and slide it in.

The oddity from that point, though, was that City looked like they could be comfortably better than Arsenal… but were never actually that comfortable. They were slack and never really had control of the game, even if Arsenal couldn’t quite take command. The game went into an odd low-quality slump, characterised by the next goal, albeit one the home side probably deserved.

With Gael Clichy playing two Arsenal attackers onside, the rest of the City defence seemed to fall asleep, allowing Theo Walcott to prod home in the manner of someone who couldn’t believe the opposition had actually allowed this to happen.

It was typical of everything going wrong at Arsenal right now, though, that even scoring a goal was a negative. It only succeeded in waking a slumbering City up.

Guardiola’s side were suddenly much more alert, much more aggressive, and much more switched on, as indicated by the fact it to a mere two minutes for Aguero to make it 2-1. It came from what was possibly the best move of the game, but also showed the worst of Arsenal as the Argentine was given an amazing amount of time and space in the box to beautifully pick his spot. Aguero elegantly swept the ball past David Ospina at an angle, as Wenger threw a water bottle on the ground in angry frustration.

It looked like Arsenal were about to go down a maelstrom again, especially when Laurent Koscielny went off with an achilles injury at half-time, but they directed that anger in the right way. They did not collapse. They rallied, as Shkodran Mustafi rose above the City defence on 53 minutes to head home a corner.

Having been very slow to respond as the ball bounced past Willy Caballero, Guardiola’s defenders were quick to look around for someone else to blame. The reality was that they were just generally slack, and had lost all verve from that opening 10 minutes.

An opportunity had been squandered by City, but not just in this match as a whole. There was also the chance that Aguero had just before Mustafi’s equaliser, as he headed wide from a hard Jesus Navas cross that he didn’t quite seem to expect.

Few perhaps expected Navas to perform so well in the right-back role, even he was one of a few players in this match fortunate to benefit from lenient refereeing when it came to rash challenges, and Aguero was much readier for a similar Navas ball minutes later. Just as he seemed to catch it excellently to catch out Ospina, though, the goalkeeper plucked it out of the air.

City had complaints when another Arsenal player appeared to handle in the area late on, as the ball grazed Nacho Monreal’s arm. Wenger was maybe fortunate at that point that Andre Marriner waved away complaints, but could argue he deserves a bit of luck.

Arsenal probably deserved the point, but both teams deserve to be exactly where they are in the table. This odd game showed why.

Arsenal: Ospina, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck.
Subs: Gibbs, Gabriel, Giroud, Iwobi, Martinez, Elneny, Maitland-Niles.

Manchester City: Caballero, Jesus Navas, Stones, Otamendi, Clichy, De Bruyne, Fernandinho, Silva, Sane, Aguero, Sterling.        Subs: Bravo, Kompany, Zabaleta, Nolito, Kolarov, Delph, Toure.

Referee: Andre Marriner (West Midlands)


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