Arsenal 1 Manchester City 1: Mind the Gap

Last updated : 05 January 2005 By Brian Dawes

Henry rues another missed chance
Arsenal were rather low on numbers and despite a recent bout of form there were some big gaps to fill due to the injury list that now expanded to include Bergkamp, Campbell, Gilberto, Edu, Aldieire, Lauren, Reyes, Flamini and Cygan. Senderos was for in for his League debut, Hoyte stood in at fullback, Van Persie was up front and the overworked and overplayed 17-year-old wonder-kid remained in our midfield.

City attacked the North Bank and were the first to show when Fowler got ahead of Hoyte for a header on goal. Arsenal retaliated with a decent ball that was whipped through their box by Henry with Pires almost on the end of it. James made a decent save shortly after but those prats that some call late arrivals but whom I refer to as selfish gits prevented me from seeing who from.

We looked pretty smooth at this stage but City were a well organised outfit on this occasion. I don’t know who is responsible for City’s current defensive organisation but I’d hazardous a guess it isn’t Kevin Keegan. Everyone packs their midfield against Arsenal, all up their work rate, most seem to tackle that bit harder and most raise their game. City did all four. A decent charge through the middle by Hoyte ended with a shot, which unfortunately was hit straight at James. This was the highlight of Justin’s evening.

Freddie gave the ball away, which resulted in a weak shot from Fowler. Thierry found Robin whose control and turn were great but his shot lacked power and was easy for James. A great tackle by Vieira followed by a through ball, which almost gave Henry the killer pass. Pat made quite a few mistakes on the night despite some very positive moments. I felt at the time this was possibly because he was trying to do too much, which in turn may be because Cesc seems to be in dire need of a break.

Van Persie’s ability to turn on a sixpence is amazing considering he probably has no idea what a sixpence is or was. I like the way he battles, is confident, positive and quite happy to attempt impossible passes. Robin has much to learn but certainly shows all the potential. A very deep high cross from our right was met first time by a volley from Thierry, but his effort was wide. We seemed to be on top but then football is often an illusion.

Barton managed to nick the ball from Vieira and it fell to Wright-Phillips who scored a brilliant goal out of nowhere. It was a crisp dipping volley from range that flew into the top corner. 0-1 to City and although they’d never been out of things this was very much a fortuitous break against the run of play.

A long flowing move ended when Sibierski shoved Cesc in the back. Henry hit it quickly and James saved. Our view was that this was in a better position for Van Persie, but then how do you argue with the master?

A perfect tackle by Cesc illustrated Rob Styles erratic refereeing when he awarded City the free kick. A corner that shortly followed a free kick might have seen us take the lead when Vieira’s downward header went just the wrong side of the near post. Give it another three months and we may even be dangerous at corners. A great nutmeg by Freddie was met with a elbow in the head which must have been judged as an obstruction because a yellow card for Thatcher was the net outcome.

Henry going for glory again
Van Persie had a shot deflected for a goal kick that the Clock End were convinced was a corner. The half drew to a close as Styles got in the way of Pires and Henry combining for a set up that looked to be on for a shot. As usual Arsenal had been the more positive team and had played the better football, but we all know that alone often isn’t enough. Our first half had been a tad below par, hardly surprising when you consider the youthful nature of our defence. Senderos was settling into his role well, he looked confident and cool and reminded me somewhat of Terry Neil whose early games for Arsenal could be described exactly the same way.

Arsenal attacked towards the North Bank in the second half. We upped the tempo and our shot count for what could prove to be a crucial forty-five minutes football. Henry found Van Persie for a shot that was well saved but also judged offside. Vieira was battered by Macken and Henry also took a knock. Freddie carved his way through as Arsenal pressed. Fabregas tried a shot from range. Kolo then stormed forward and was booked for overstretching and not touching a player. Would anyone be left on the pitch if everyone was booked for not touching a player? Certainly if a card was given every time an Arsenal man was required to hurdle a kick most teams would be down to seven players before half time.

A poor scudded clearance by Almunia was his only real fault of the match, but might have proved costly. We were forcing the play but City’s covering forced a number of passes that couldn’t be threaded through the eye of a needle. Fabregas was booked for a stretched tackle too far on Barton. This was a mild foul but for what it’s worth I think studs in the back of the head are quite deserved by Barton. Fabregas, clearly very tired, was replaced by Pennant. When Barton took out Cole shortly after Styles the erratic man in black had to talked into the booking. Ashley limped off after a long period of treatment to return soon after.

A great dipping shot by Pires was typical of our luck as it failed to dip quickly enough and skimmed of the top of the net. We were battering City with a succession of attacks and corners that had them on the ropes at times. That said they always had Wright-Phillips as a serious threat for a number of breaks.

Arsenal were pressing for all they were worth, but City held firm until a great overhead kick by Henry to play a half-cleared ball back in caught their central defenders on the wrong foot. A sky blue shirt near the touchline played Freddie onside and his diving header to meet Henry’s kick was on target. An overdue goal and a well deserved one to make it 1-1. Our goal when it finally came did wonders for both the players and the crowd. Both raised their levels of commitment but neither were at their absolute best.

We had quarter of an hour to find the winner but although we huffed and puffed we never blew their house down. Pennant did well, as did Van Persie. Pennant was taken out a couple of times but it was from the free kick won by Henry against Distin that we came closest. Van Persie’s free kick cleared the wall and thudded against the junction of post and bar which rattled back too quickly for anyone to convert.

Senderos stopped a rare City counter but despite some brilliant flashes of play from Arsenal we couldn’t convert, as when a fine run from Pennant saw Van Persie hit one over - a fine effort but no cigar. Bosvelt was added to those already in the book when he flattened Freddie. Both Cole and Henry had headers that might have been, but time was running out as City hoofed away to anywhere. What looked to be a very obvious dive by Flood, on for Barton, saw Senderos get his first Premiership booking.

Freddie is brought down by Bosvelt
Three minutes added time seemed derisory considering the injuries and bookings but it was the sort of match where we might not have scored even if we’d played all night.

A home draw was a major disappointment, which in your average season wouldn’t matter overly much, but in a season when the top teams are all bagging points on a regular basis it was two points we couldn’t afford to drop. The points difference is all in the bank balances. Chelski have an international reserve side and all their poor purchases have been ditched, or as it’s technically known are out on loan. We do not have either luxury. We have the best team in the League but we are a couple of years away from having the best squad.

Hopefully our injury list will have been reduced by the time we play Bolton. Ten days without a League game will be a nice break for the lads, possibly a chance to recharge and get fit. Although Stoke, our next game, is a Cup match they all are these days.