Offshore drilling, England: at Manchester City 1, Arsenal 1

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Man of the Match: Joleon Lescott was left disappointed near the end of the match, his dive for an Arsenal shot unable to block the game-tying goal, but if it wasn’t for his great individual effort in the first half, City would have never had a lead to protect. Elevating over two defenders for a 40th minute corner, Lescott headed home an opening goal that nullified  a half’s worth of control by Arsenal, sending the defending champions into break up 1-0.

Packaged for takeaway:

  • What was Roberto Mancini thinking? Everybody knew Arsenal would start a three-man midfield of Abou Diaby, Mikel Arteta, and Santi Cazorla. How did the City manager respond? Not well. He deployed a 4-4-2 formation with Yaya Touré and Javi García in midfield. Not only was City outmanned, but Mancini had gone with García instead of the industry of somebody like Gareth Barry (on the bench).
  • The deployment ceded Arsenal control of the game while allowing them to pressure City’s defenders with four players: Gervinho, Lukas Podolski, Aaron Ramsey and Cazorla. While pressing, the Gunners were still able to match up two-on-two in the middle, but with Javi García a non-factor amid the crowd, Diaby was able to roam from his deep position with impunity.
  • No surprise, Arsenal dominated the ball in the first half. If it wasn’t for an incredibly poor touch from Gervinho on a 16th minute pass from Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners would have been ahead.
  • Instead, City was able to hold out until a string of Arsenal mistakes gifted them the lead:
    • In the 39th minute, Kieran Gibbs misjudged a cross floated from City’s left. The Arsenal left back jumped under the ball, leaving him little choice but to head the ball over the byline for a corner.
    • On David Silva’s corner, second choice goalkeeper Vito Mannone replicated Gibbs’ mistake, ran under the ball, leaving an abandoned goal as he flailed at the ball.
    • At the far post, Lescott was able to our-jump two defenders, redirect the ball into the empty net, giving City an unlikely lead.
  • At halftime, Mancini was able to atone for his original selection, brining on Jack Rodwell for Scott Sinclair. The change helped offset Arsenal’s advantage through the middle, though City were still essentially playing a 4-4-2. The big difference: Rodwell played very narrow, often drifting into a central position to help against Cazorla.
  • The change also took the steam out of what had been a vibrant first half. The midfield battle played out to a standstill (a dull 25 minutes in an otherwise compelling match). It was only when Arsenal started to adjust their tactics that the game opened up:
    • In the 80th minute, City nearly took advantage of Arsenal’s pursuit, with Yaya Touré leading what’s becoming a trademark counter attack. Mannone was able to push a Sergio Aguero shot wide of the right post.
    • In the 82nd minute, Santi Cazorla found space outside the box to unload on a shot Joe Hart could only push over for a corner.
    • On the ensuing restart, Laurent Koscielny intercepted a Joleon Lescott clearance. When Touré failed to close him down, Koscielny finished into the right of City’s net for the equalizer.
    • Moments later, Vincent Kompany almost put an overhead kick past Mannone, with Aguero pushing a second chance wide after Koscielny’s errant clearance went right to the otherwise offside attacker.
    • Late in the match, Gervinho had a chance to atone for his early mistake, given an open shot on goal from 20 yards out. The chance was skied into the crowd. If there’s one player that could have turned this match in Arsenal’s favor, it was Gervinho.
  • That was the last big chance of the match, Arsenal holding on to a point most onlookers will feel was earned. But given the advantages Mancini handed them from the get-go, Arsenal should have taken full points.
  • For City, the match is a disappointment in the big picture. When you’re the defending champions, you never expect to drop points at home. But the players responded well to the bad hand they were dealt, and although they should rue being so close to three and only coming away with one, it was a good point, all things considered.