Arsenal moved two points behind Premier League leaders Leicester with a well-deserved 2-1 victory over Manchester City at the Emirates. After an opening 35 minutes lacking in attacking intent, Arsenal sensationally took the lead when Theo Walcott curled magnificently past Joe Hart.
On the stroke of half-time, and with only their second shot of the game, the Gunners doubled their lead, when Mesut Ozil’s pass was drilled through the legs of Hart by French striker Olivier Giroud. City pushed on in the second half and a late strike from Yaya Toure got them back into the game, but Manuel Pellegrini’s men couldn’t claim an even later leveller.
Here’s five things we learned…
1. Walcott enjoying left side role
Theo Walcott’s goal, cutting in onto his right foot and bending sumptuously past Joe Hart, was magnificent. It’s the sort of thing the England forward can’t do when he plays from the opposite flank.
Often, the problem when he plays down the right, is that his style is too linear. Like an old computer console incapable of 3D graphics, he only seems capable of moving in a linear action. In turn, that can lead to frustration, with him being shown down blind alleys; his reliance on sheer speed, rather than a particular trick, means that when ushered down such channels, he lacks an element of surprise to get himself back on a track towards goal.
However, coming from the left, there is far more variation to his game. Here, he made runs on the outside of Bacary Sagna and dived inside to cut between full-back and centre-half onto passes from deep. He also held his position to receive the ball and cut inside onto his right foot, with overlaps from Nacho Monreal affording him extra space.
Certainly, he’s still learning how to play from the left and he can look uncomfortable when tracking back. But in Alexis’ absence, he’s proving more than handy in the role.
2. Giroud on form
Again, Olivier Giroud stepped up for the Gunners in a match of significance.
For so-long labelled as little more than a flat-track bully, while Wenger’s side have struggled with one thing and another around him (mainly injuries) in recent weeks and months, the French forward has hit strong.
Seemingly buoyed by the prospect of leading his country on home soil next summer, he bullied the rash pair of Mangala and Otamendi here, offering Arsenal an outlet and a platform to play off.
His goal, clinically drilled between Hart’s legs, was taken by a man with a confident air about him right now – no need to over-think it, just hit – and he’s now taking on increased responsibility, leading by example, not only with his actions, but also vocally. Fast becoming a big man for the big occasions.
3. Aguero’s back but City remain desperate for goals
Goals are something that Manchester City rarely lack, but away from home, the Blues have been starved this season. City had not scored a goal on their travels since their 4-1 hammering at Tottenham back in the middle of September.
And it was the inability to put the ball into the back of the net which cost City once again, as they failed to take advantage of early possession and chances at the Emirates.
Up until the 30-minute mark, City were enjoying the better of the possession and cleverly worked their way into promising positions – but never once properly challenged Petr Cech, with Kevin De Bruyne smashing City’s best chance wide of the mark.
Throughout their best periods however, the away side were too pedestrian to really unsettle the hosts; Per Mertesacker was never asked to maneuver out into a channel once, and had arguably the easiest night he’s ever had in an Arsenal shirt.
And, while Aguero is not firing on all cylinders – as he was not at Arsenal – City do not look like they have anyone to take responsibility in the final third. Quite simply, City are not clinical, nor quick enough, and at this rate it will cost them the Premier League; a magnificent late strike from Toure not withstanding.
4. City have too many liabilities
Week after week, the finger is being pointed at Manchester City’s defence as they continue to gift goals to their opponents. Tonight was no different, with Eliaquim Mangala putting himself in the firing line.
An overhit pass into midfield gifted Arsenal possession and left City exposed at the back – a trend becoming all to familiar for Pellegrini’s men. But while Mangala was to blame for that goal and Nicolas Otamendi continues to run wild, a host of City’s problems have come from the centre of midfield.
Yaya Toure has been a stalwart in the centre of City’s midfield for five years now, but while he can produce a moment of individual quality at any moment – witness his goal here – he is fast becoming one of City’s most culpable, as he jogs around the middle of the park.
Rarely does Toure get close to opponents and apply pressure, while those moments of brilliance are becoming more and more scarce. Ozil secured more assists and Toure never once looked to be close to him.
5. Assist king Ozil continues to weave his magic
Stats can tell you plenty about a player and right now, Mesut Ozil’s assists stats are showing a player on top form. He’s now got 15 in the Premier League this term and looks nailed on to break the all-time single season record.
However, they can also lie. Which is why detractors have long pointed to question marks over his overall input in matches, particularly when that final pass wasn’t there and the assist numbers weren’t being racked up.
Here, Ozil will claim a pair of assists, both made by his movement off the ball. A No.10 in everything other than the number on his shirt – all beguiling touches and perfectly-weighted passes – here he continually found space between the lines, notably by drifting in the space between Toure, Sagna and Otamendi.
From there he wreaked havoc. If Arsenal move forwards and take the Premier League title this term and he keeps on supplying the ammunition for his side’s gunslingers, it’s almost certain he’ll be PFA Player of the Year – although Messrs. Vardy and Mahrez may have something to say about that. One thing’s for certain however – No one is questioning his impact any more.