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Dublin: 14 °C Wednesday 14 November, 2018

3 talking points from Arsenal's win over Manchester City

The Gunner’s organisation and concentration was immense while Santi Cazorla was inspired.

Arsenal’s organisation

This was a statement from Arsenal for a number of reasons. After an initial nervy first few minutes, the visitors settled into a nice shape. They rarely bombarded forward and they relied on Aaron Ramsey and Francois Coquelin (who did well, as did Bellerin) to screen Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny and reduce the space around David Silva, safe in the knowledge that City would consistently try and find their playmaker.

You always waited for the concentration to drop, for a costly individual error to permeate. But for the entire first-half, Arsenal meticulously kept City right where they wanted them. The hosts had little in the way of a response. They hadn’t expected to work so hard to find a path to goal. And where Wenger’s selection policy was vindicated, Manuel Pellegrini’s decision to start both Vincent Kompany and Sergio Aguero proved costly.

The centre-back, so commanding so often, looked off the pace and it was no surprise that it was he who conceded the first-half penalty, tricked by Nacho Monreal’s one-two and left with little alternative but to bring down the full-back.

And Arsenal fully deserved their lead. They deserved a reward for sticking with the game-plan and not conforming to their own cliche – undoing some initial good work by falling back on those almost-inevitable mistakes.

The second half was different and Arsenal, for whatever reason, decided to go toe-to-toe with City’s frenetic attacking early in the period. They seemed confused by Silva’s re-positioning on the left and the subsequent way he ghosted into other positions around the pitch. Suddenly, there were pockets of space and City should’ve made their dominance count at a critical time in the game.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Arsenal - Etihad Stadium Source: Simon Cooper/PA Wire/Press Association Images

But, to Arsenal’s credit again, they dealt valiantly with the added pressure and despite Jovetic and Aguero and Silva and Navas all getting on the ball in dangerous areas, the defence stood firm, getting vital touches when required and not taking defensive risks in dangerous zones.

Added to this, given their well-documented struggles at set-pieces, Arsenal dealt with every single one of City’s 16 corners. That, along with everything else, is a big step in the right direction.

Santi Cazorla shines

The video of the diminutive Spaniard dancing to his heart’s content following Olivier Giroud’s second goal will probably do the rounds online for quite a few days and weeks.

But it’s another video that should receive the plaudits. Picking the ball up about 30 yards from his own goal, Cazorla just took off. He brushed off one tackle, slalomed past another before slipping the ball through the legs of Vincent Kompany. And still he kept going, pushing Arsenal higher up the pitch and ensuring the under-the-cosh defence could catch their breath for a few seconds. But it also rallied the players around him. It inspired them. With a decent chunk of the game still left, there was always that doubt, however small, that Arsenal could let it slip.

Yet, Cazorla gave them belief. ‘Give it to me’, it seemed he was saying,  ’and everything will be okay’. And it was. He confidently swept the first-half penalty past Joe Hart while it was his delicious delivery that teed up Giroud for his side’s second.

From his five league goals this season (all five have come in the last six weeks), three have come from the penalty spot. And that will lead to easy counter-arguments about his worth. But his role isn’t about finding the net. He’s never been a goalscorer. His game is based around intelligence and creativity and awareness and an ability to bring other players into the game. Despite costing over £40m, it’s difficult to remember Mesut Ozil offering up as electrifying a performance as Cazorla did today, especially against such a high-profile team.

In this form, Cazorla is Arsenal’s talisman and if he and Sanchez and Giroud can develop a neat understanding, it could go a long way to shaping the rest of the team’s season.

Will this be a defining moment in the title race?

Where does this result leave Manchester City? Well, the table doesn’t lie. Chelsea have won more and scored more. They’ve lost less, drawn less and conceded fewer goals. And the dip has been there for a few weeks, the cracks have simply been overshadowed by the players’ ability to grind out results in spite of poor performances.

There was the 2-2 draw with Burnley and then a 3-2 win over Sunderland when Frank Lampard came off the bench to score a 73rd-minute winner. The funk extended to the FA Cup, when an imposing-looking starting XI needed an injury-time winner from James Milner to beat Sheffield Wednesday in front of their own fans.  And then, last weekend, they were rightfully pegged back by Everton when Steven Naismith’s goal ensured a 1-1 draw at Goodison Park.

Soccer - Barclays Premier League - Manchester City v Arsenal - Etihad Stadium Source: Mike Egerton/EMPICS Sport

The most worrying aspect to today’s display was City’s inability to work through Arsenal’s tactics in the opening period. Silva was the go-to pass always and when he was tangled up, City appeared devoid of inspiration. With both Kompany and Aguero looking off the pace after long lay-offs, there were holes that Arsenal exploited brilliantly. Without Yaya Toure and new singing Wilfried Bony due to international commitments, City conjured little in the final third, ultimately. Even when pushing hard at the start of the second period, a testing drive from Aguero was the best they could offer.

Given that City travel to the league leaders at the end of the month, the timing of this defeat is tough on them. Confidence has been affected, players are off-form and their domestic rivals all seem to be gaining momentum.

The next few weeks are defining.  It’s where titles are won and lost.

Santi shines as Arsenal put a major dent in Manchester City’s title aspirations

Santi Cazorla REALLY enjoyed his assist for Arsenal’s second goal

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About the author:

Eoin O'Callaghan

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