Three things we learned from Arsenal v. Man City

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LONDON — Arsenal and Manchester City played out an entertaining 2-2 draw at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday but a point helped neither team in their quest to seal a top four finish.

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Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero twice put City ahead in the first half after Theo Walcott equalized, while Shkodran Mustafi grabbed a point for the Gunners with a second half header.

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Both Arsene Wenger and Pep Guardiola went for it, as expected, but the talented attacking teams somewhat canceled each other out with City missing several glorious chances in the second half.

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Here’s what we learned from north London.


TOP FOUR HANGS IN BALANCE

Both teams knew they needed a win to boost their top four hopes but neither truly took the game by the scruff of the neck.

With defensive mistakes, plenty of giveaways in midfield and missed chances for both, Wenger and Guardiola would have been frustrated with the outcome.

This game perhaps personified why these two hugely talented teams are closer to fourth place than challenging for the title.

The point keeps Arsenal in sixth place on 51 points, while Man City move to 58 points and stay in fourth place. In that respect, City will be happier with the point but this performance, which included another shaky defensive display, proved how far away they are from Chelsea and Tottenham as things stand.

With City heading to Chelsea on Wednesday, Guardiola’s men can still create havoc in the title race if they beat the leaders. This draw all but end their own title aspirations, while they’re just five points ahead of neighbors Manchester United who have a game in hand. City just can’t solidify their spot in the top four and Guardiola will point towards a lack of clinical finishing once again for not getting the three points.

Arsenal’s top four hopes hang in the balance as they’re seven points behind City with a game in hand. With just one win in their last six games, Wenger’s men needed the win but had to settle for a fair point.


DEEP DE BRUYNE

Kevin De Bruyne has been deployed in a deeper midfield role by Pep Guardiola in recent weeks and it’s working rather well. Well, at least for the first 45 minutes it did.

On his recent trip to NBC Sports’ HQ in Stamford, City’s usual deep-lying playmaker Ilkay Gundogan (out for the season with a knee injury) explained that Guardiola likes De Bruyne to play deeper so City can control midfield.

KDB’s assist for Sane’s opening goal was sublime, a rasping 40-yard side-volley which scythed opened Arsenal’s defense in an instance. He also hit the post with a long-range effort and he continued to be a pest with his deep runs as he surged into the box twice just before Sergio Aguero put City back in front. His first charge resulted in an effort hitting the post and his second led to Aguero’s goal.

In the second half KDB was pushed back out wide with Raheem Sterling coming off and Yaya Toure coming on to try and regain some defensive solidity in central midfield.

Often known for his crossing ability, pace from out wide and ability to create and score in the final third, some would say De Bruyne is wasted in a deeper role further from the opponent’s goal. De Bruyne struggled when he shifted back out wide in the second half but more often than not he looks more comfortable in his usual role.

Yet, Guardiola has seen something different, as he often does, and he may transform De Bruyne into a two-way central midfielder.


SANCHEZ, OZIL INDIFFERENT

For the first time in six weeks Mesut Ozil started for Arsenal and the German playmaker was met with a mixed vibe from Gunners fans throughout.

Before kick off the Arsenal mascot for the day was asked by the stadium announcer who his favorite players to meet were: Ozil and Sanchez were the inevitable answers he gave.

How much longer both stay around for Arsenal’s fans to admire remains to be seen but there’s no denying the star quality they provide.

Ozil’s inviting corner was flicked home by Skhodran Mustafi to make it 2-2, while Sanchez danced in from the left flank to set up Walcott for a chance late in the first half and put in a typically committed display even though he couldn’t get the better of Jesus Navas who was surprisingly selected at right back.

The duo linked up well in the box in the first half with Ozil’s clever flick finding Sanchez but Fernandinho‘s perfectly-timed tackle denied the Chilean forward at the crucial moment. They’ll always create chances and look dangerous. Always.

Yet, they both made bad defensive mistakes when trying to overplay in he wrong areas. Ozil gave the ball away cheaply in the build up to Aguero’s goal, while Sanchez got away with playing a lapse flick in his own box which saw Navas cross for Aguero but his header was saved. Moments like that show that sometimes the duo can be too flamboyant and consequently Arsenal lack balance on the defensive side of the ball when they’re both on the pitch.

Whatever happens with the future of Ozil and Sanchez, Arsenal’s rebuild will be much easier with them on board. When Arsenal needed them most on Sunday, they didn’t quite deliver the goods.

Petr Cech earns win with 2 penalty saves in hockey debut

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Former Chelsea and Arsenal goalkeeper joined English fourth-division hockey team Guildford Phoenix four days ago and made his debut on Sunday.

He did not disappoint.

The 37-year-old saved two penalties in the shootout, earning Man of the Match honors.

Cech is reportedly a fan of the Guilford Flames, the first-division side who use the Phoenix as their developmental side. He was signed to be the team’s third-choice goalkeeper, just a chance for him to get in on the action before his body gives way for good, but he was given a chance to play right away. He wore number 39, a nod to famous Czech goaltender Dominik Hasek. His custom helmet was adorned with Arsenal and Chelsea colors. Regulation finished level at 2-2 before Cech’s shootout heroics.

“I wanted to win, that was the main thing, and I’m glad we did,” Cech said after the match. “I was surprised that I wasn’t more nervous. I didn’t know what to expect so it was nice how quickly my body switched into matchday mode.”

Giroud upset with reserve role at Chelsea

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Olivier Giroud does not look back on his transfer to Chelsea and wish he had done things differently, but that doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses for the 33-year-old.

Giroud, who moved to Chelsea from Arsenal in the winter of 2018 after six years with the Gunners, has played just 43 times in the Premier League, averaging just 35 minutes per appearance. That has him frustrated, hoping to prove his loyalty to the club and work harder than the other options up front.

“I had competitors in attack – [Alvaro] Morata, [Gonzalo] Higuain, who ended up leaving,” Giroud said. “I won at the end: I played the final of the FA Cup in 2018 and the [Europa League] final in 2019. Once again, I’m starting the year in a difficult situation. But as my brother says, I have always built myself in the face of adversity.”

Girou is trying to be smart about how he approaches the competition for time with the likes of Tammy Abraham and Michy Batshuayi, but he says it is emotionally taxing.

“You do not have to be fatalistic in certain situations,” Giroud says about keeping a level head. “I have always been respectful and humble. Even if I do not agree with the coach, I do not criticize him. But in myself, I cannot accept it because I know what I’m worth on a pitch.”

The French international has made just three league appearances this season, mostly thanks to Abraham’s scalding form. Abraham, still just 22 years old, has snatched his opportunity for first-team minutes with eight goals in eight games to start the campaign. That has left Giroud on the sidelines for each of the last five league games, missing out on a spot in the matchday squad altogether for the last three.

Despite his struggles at the club level, Giroud has maintained his place in the French national team, missing just five matches of France’s last 64 games, including 37 of the last 39.

James says he was not knocked unconscious in Wales draw

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Head injury awareness again rose to the forefront in the 1-1 draw between Wales and Croatia in Cardiff when Daniel James went down after colliding with a pair of opponents.

The Manchester United winger looked to almost sure have been knocked unconscious when Domagoj Vida’s knee appeared to tap the back of his head while challenging for a ball in the air. Vida went toppling over the back of teammate Borna Barisic who ducked out of the way, but it was James who many were concerned for as he lay motionless on his back with his eyes closed.

Yet James was allowed to come back onto the field and completed the full 90 minutes, sparking criticism from injury advocates and fans who were concerned for James’ safety on the field, at potential risk for even more serious consequences should he indeed have suffered a concussion.

After the game however, despite what fans saw as James lie on the turf, the 21-year-old insisted he was not knocked unconscious. “I’m fine,” James claimed after the match, speaking to Sky Sports. “I think he just caught me in the head but I didn’t get knocked out fortunately.”

Wales boss Ryan Giggs backed up the decision as well, calling James’ motionless display “a bit of acting.”

“The medical staff went over, he was compos mentis and we did all the checks at half-time and he was fine,” Giggs said, referring to the latin phrase for “of sound mind.”

If James was indeed faking unconsciousness, it’s natural to wonder if he should face a fine from UEFA for looking to con referees, and in the process possibly confusing the independent neurologists on site assigned to assess head injuries.

ESPN broadcaster Taylor Twellman, who has been outspoken over the past few years advocating for head injury awareness after his career was cut short by concussions, took to Twitter to criticize Wales for allowing James back into the game. Twellman, who was on the ESPN call of the broadcast with Ian Darke, said more needs to be done to prevent players from being able to force their way back onto the field, lest someone be killed by second impact syndrome.

Former Hull City player Ryan Mason, who was forced to retire after a serious skull fracture saw him fighting for his life, was also seriously concerned about the incident.

Interestingly enough, later in the match just seconds after the second half restart, young Wales midfielder Ethan Ampadu was whalloped from behind by Croatia’s Bruno Petkovic in a wild and reckless aerial challenge. Petkovic’s elbow went clattering into the back of Ampadu’s head, and the was left writhing on the ground holding his head. The Chelsea youngster was taken off the field and immediately replaced by Joe Morrell, while Petkovic was lucky to escape with just a yellow card.

Kane reflects on Tottenham, England struggles

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Harry Kane keeps finding the back of the net, but his teams keep losing.

The 26-year-old striker has bagged five Premier League goals in eight games for Spurs thus far, plus another seven goals for England in five Euro 2020 qualifiers this cycle. Yet Tottenham sits ninth in the table after three losses already this season, while England slumped to its first Euro defeat last time out, putting its seeding at the Euro finals next summer in jeopardy.

Kane is hoping to be a leader through the tough times for both club and country, wearing the armband for both as it currently stands.

“I think you need to lead by example,” Kane said ahead of England’s visit to Bulgaria on Monday. “Not getting too down when you lose a game, not getting too high when you win games. It is a long, old season for club and country ahead – a lot of games to be played so there are going to be tough periods.”

Kane has taken over the England captaincy on a permanent basis, and is filling in for the injured Hugo Lloris at Tottenham. “I am still the same person,” he said. “I still try and lead by example on and off the pitch and I will continue to do that. I have been in high pressure situations before in my career, whether that is going through goal droughts, playing in high-pressure games or not playing well as a team. It is something I will take in my stride and improve on.”

Leading by example includes finding the back of the net, while also supporting teammates both on and off the pitch. He knows even if he’s in good personal form on the stat sheet, there’s always ways to improve and help the squads through tough times.

“I am scoring goals but can I get more assists, create more chances? So yeah, I always look at little things I can get better at. Yes, the England form has been good but as ever, it can be better. We will see if I can continue scoring. It has been a good campaign but important I do not stop now.”