Welcome back. Arsenal twice came back from a goal down to draw 2-2 at Manchester City this afternoon and ensure that just a single point against Aston Villa in our final league game of the season will be enough to guarantee a top-three finish.*
As for our hosts, they now face the prospect of welcoming new manager Pep Guardiola to England without Champions League football, with bitter rivals Manchester United just two points behind them but with a game in hand.
Yet City began today’s match like I feared they would – on the front foot and seemingly determined to wave off their departing manager Manuel Pellegrini with a convincing win in what was his last home game in charge of the club.
After dominating possession in the opening exchanges, City’s pressure eventually told when Sergio Aguero gave them the lead on eight minutes. With Arsenal forced to defend deep and appearing unable to get out of their own half, Aguero quite brilliantly fired home a half volley past Petr Cech at the near post.
The fact the ball was slightly behind Aguero as he struck it, and he was using his unfavoured left foot, made it the kind of conversion that demonstrates how valuable it is to have a truly top-draw striker leading your line. Not many other strikers in the world, let alone the Premier League, would have taken that opportunity in my opinion.
Given the spankings we’ve suffered after conceding early in big games in recent years, a lot of fans would have been fearing the worst but remarkably, we were level just two minutes later thanks to the interventions of Gallic Gunners past and present. (Okay, so Nicklas Bendtner would have done, in his sleep, but apart from that ..)
First, Olivier Giroud controlled the ball brilliantly on the left of the box and clipped a hopeful ball in the general direction of Alexis Sanchez at the far post. Former Arsenal left-back Gael Clichy tried to head it back safely to his ‘keeper Joe Hart but misdirected and saw the ball bounce dangerously across his own goal-line, clip the far post, and go out for a corner. Mohamed Elneny took it and Giroud easily escaped the attentions of his marker to head home his first goal in approximately four-and-a-half years.
It was pretty poor game overall in truth, albeit one punctuated by very good goals and the next one arrived after the interval, by which point Danny Welbeck had long left the action after injuring his knee and being replaced by a far-from-match-fit-looking Jack Wilshere.
Kevin de Bruyne was the man to get it, picking the ball up midway inside his own half, running at the retreating Arsenal defence and firing low into Cech’s near post from about 25 yards. Yes we could and should have defended it better but it was a great goal by a quality player to be fair.
Arsene Wenger responded by introducing Theo Walcott in place of Alex Iwobi and the former should have equalized after making a brilliant out-to-in run from the right to leave himself one-on-one with Hart, but miscued his finish. Yet we did get our second moments later. Sanchez picked up the ball from Nacho Monreal, played it forward to Giroud and continued his run.
The Frenchman, despite being very tightly marked, managed to somehow produce the most perfect first-time layoff back into Sanchez’s path. With the City defence parting like someone in their vicinity had let off a particularly rotten one, the Chilean whipped the ball past Hart and into the bottom corner first-time.
With over 20 minutes still remaining, I expected much more of a City onslaught given how important it was they won the game for their top four hopes, but it never really materialized and aside from a Wilfried Bony volley that rattled our cross-bar, the hosts never looked close to forcing a winner.
With Tottenham losing at home to Southampton earlier in the day, second spot remains in sight but we need Newcastle to beat our neighbours on the final day and for us to be beat Aston Villa. Given the Magpies could well be fighting for their Premier League lives, it’s not out of the question then, but either way, today’s draw means a win over Villa will guarantee us third spot and negate the need for an annoying Champions League play-off. It could be worse.
See you next week.
*our goal difference is 12 better than Manchester United.