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Once City had scored to make it 1-0 so early, I'm going to level with you, I thought for sure that we were going to get massacred on the day. Given that, I think it'd be churlish to complain about a draw that was about right on the balance of play anyway. There are positives to take out of the game, I think, despite the continued presence of some of our recurring issues.
I think...I hope...the rot has stopped now. There's still points to be won, and I'm cautiously optimistic that this has given us a platform to do so.
1. While there are positives to be found, this was a winnable game in the right circumstances. First, I continue to not understand how we can be so jittery in the first few minutes of games like this. I harp a lot on the fact that these are all senior professionals who have won things with big teams - where is the disconnect between turning out, say, for Chile in a Copa America final as opposed to home to Manchester City in the Premier League? Arsenal were all over the shop in the opening exchanges, and few would be stunned that the Citizens opened the scoring as early as they did.
Even once we calmed down, you still can't ignore the fact that we conceded so soon after equalizing the first time. While the danger of the quick counter-strike exists in any case - these are humans after all - when it happens often it calls the mentality of the team into serious question.
Another bit of evidence on this point is the two corner kicks that City had in the closing stages of the second half. It's 2-2, losing is unthinkable, City is getting back into the game, and both times the visitors took quick short corners that put us on the back foot, scrambling to clear. Both times, our guys were just standing around. Neither ended up going in, but we can damn sure count our blessings on that front. How on earth does this sub-professional crap keep happening?
This team, man.
2. The issues between our players' ears was not the only factor at play against us. There were some ongoing tactical deficiencies that never did get addressed, and given the quality of their attackers we're fortunate that they only got two.
Early on, we were playing a preposterously high defensive line, which of course was duly picked apart by the excellent Kevin De Bruyne in the deep-lying playmaker role. Several warning shots were fired before the first goal - Sergio Aguero was fractionally offside after David Silva's through-ball, then Coquelin slipped to allow a chance that David Ospina did well to block with his body at the edge of the penalty area.
Ospina, however, was powerless to prevent the goal a minute later. Of course, it was a mirror image of the last two chances, this time De Bruyne playing in Leroy Sane. This time, Shkrodan Mustafi came haring out past the halfway line to win a header he didn't need to contest, leaving a massive gap in the middle. Hector Bellerin failed to cut inside to cover, Mane shrugged him off like a toddler anyway, and the German made no mistake with his low finish.
3. Mustafi's rambles are indicative of a larger point, one that was a killer in conjunction with that suicidally-high line (which we did back off of as time went on, at least). We have a serious issue with players not sticking to their positions. We've mentioned that Mustafi often mistimes his forward runs, but bloody hell, what on earth is Francis Coquelin doing?
There's nothing wrong with being a niche role-player - indeed, they're often needed in matches like this. But, someone will need to explain to me how our midfield destroyer was *twice* the man pressing Willy Caballero in the City goal on backpasses? You don't have to be a master tactician to understand the gap that it leaves in the middle. And, given that City were playing off the counter to begin with, it's not exactly a good risk/reward ratio.
It's hard enough to win in this league without hobbling your own efforts like this. I can't picture another club of our size where things like this would be allowed to happen this often.
4. Still, it was good to see Mesut Ozil back, though there was obvious ring rust that he'll need to quickly shake off. You could see flashes of the old wizardry with some of his passing, but he's not all the way there yet. One giveaway had awful consequences, as it led directly to the second goal. Ospina was also massively at fault there (more on that in a second), but that doesn't happen without giving the ball away in the area that Ozil did. Also, Nacho Monreal got caught too far centrally once again to allow the cross to come in, making that roughly the four billionth time a fullback has made that mistake for us in the last 7-8 years or so.
5. Ospina, of course, was deputizing for the injured Petr Cech and as mentioned, he should have done better on the second goal. Aguero was out wide and could only go for the far post shot (or a nutmeg, but it's a lower-percentage play). Ospina was much too close to his near post, giving the striker that little bit of daylight that he needed to put it in.
However - and this is a big however - the Colombian was a net positive on the day. I mentioned the block at the edge of the penalty area before, but there were several other top-class saves that kept us in the game.
Two that I remember off-hand are when he got down low to claw out a Fernandinho rocket, and a fantastic catch off an Aguero header to bail out Alexis Sanchez's farcical back-heel at the edge of our own penalty area.
Sorry, folks, but goalkeeping is the very least of our problems. I write off as deeply unserious those that don't get this.
6. The very most, arguably, would be the state of our central midfield. I've already mentioned Coquelin's insistence on not staying in his lane, but he also probably should have been sent off in the dying stages of the match for a second yellow. It was a professional foul on De Bruyne for sure, but thankfully for us Andre Marriner wasn't interested.
The space, by the way, was created by Gabriel (on for the injured Koscielny) being up in the opposing penalty area for literally no reason. I know I'm latching onto this point for dear life, but this isn't rocket science. Our positional indiscipline is the root cause of many of our problems. The manager is supposed to stop this from happening.
As for Granit Xhaka...where does one begin? He took another stupid booking for a sliding challenge that was never going to win the ball, and in the second half was lucky that another wild lunge got the ball and/or wasn't seen by Marriner. Beyond that, he's at least supposed to be handy with a pass, but if you told me that he thought he was a Manchester City player victimized by a rogue kitman, I'd have believed it. There's a good player in there, but right now he's playing like the first few months of Patrick Vieira before Arsene got his bad habits out of him.
Remember when he used to do that?
7. To be fair to Marriner though, I thought he had a good game. He established early that he was going to let these guys play, and he did exactly that within reason. He stayed consistent on that front, and he got the two major penalty decisions completely spot-on. Fernandinho's brilliant tackle on Alexis in the first half got nothing but ball, and play rightly went on. Late in the second half, replays show that the ball didn't touch Monreal at all, let alone go off his hand...and in any event the way the play went it couldn't have been intentional anyway.
I savage referees when I think they do don't do well, and I've had my issues with Marriner in the past, but he was exceptional today.
8. One thing I did like was that we seemed to have an actual tactical plan heading into this one. There was an obvious instruction to press Caballero like mad every time the ball was sent back to him, and their keeper duly did kick one out into touch late in the game. Also, it looked to me like we prioritized sending Alexis and Ozil onto the left flank to test Jesus Navas, who was playing out of position at right back. The Spaniard did take an early card, and a lot of our best work ended up going down that side of the field. Navas did recover to play about as well as you could expect out of him, though.
It meant that by design, Theo Walcott and Danny Welbeck were not going to be as into the game as they might have done otherwise. Still, it was Walcott who got us level at 1-1, as he muscled our old boy Gael Clichy off the ball to finish low past Caballero. All told, Theo did OK given how little we attacked down that flank.
9. I've dogged on Mustafi a lot over the course of this report, and much of it is deserved. However, let's not forget that he scored the second with a gorgeous header from a corner, and it was his big looping header that caused the City defense the problems that lead to the first goal as well.
During the match, the commentators mentioned that we're joint-top of the Premier League in headed goals scored. One for the pub quizzes, that.
10. History is going to forget that even in the wake of us opening up our six-shooters directly into our own cleats, we were still one bad bounce away from winning this thing. Nicolas Otamendi made a horrible mistake in the 80th minute, gifting the ball to Ozil in his own penalty area. They are beyond lucky that it looked like our German was caught off guard by that, and second that the ball took a bit of a bobble and went far enough away from Ozil to allow Caballero to shepherd it out for a goal kick.
We may have been undisciplined, but we were also a shade unlucky as well.
Still, in the end this is a point that I think we can be satisfied with, as long as we get our collective finger out and start beating the teams that we should beat, at least. It also gives me hope that when we see these same opponents at Wembley for the FA Cup Semifinal, it's not a given that they're going to run us off the park. On the other hand, it also tells me that if we try that ridiculous high line again - especially in Wembley's wide-open spaces - we will be torn apart like a gazelle in a nature show.
Man of the Match: Kevin De Bruyne