Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny, Ramsey, Iwobi, Alexis, Welbeck, Giroud
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Coquelin, Wilshere, Cazorla, Campbell, Walcott
Alexis Sanchez secured a vital point for Arsenal as the Gunners twice came from behind to snatch a 2-2 draw against Manchester City at the Etihad.
A manic opening ten minutes saw Olivier Giroud’s header cancel out Sergio Aguero’s low drive. Six minutes after half time Kevin De Bruyne restored the home side’s lead before Sanchez, courtesy of a fine Giroud assist, fired home a deserved equaliser on 68 minutes.
The draw means the Gunners are two points behind Tottenham Hotspur before the last game of the season against Aston Villa.
A slight hip injury saw Mesut Ozil miss out on the trip to Manchester. In his place, Alex Iwobi was handed the central attacking midfield role with Alexis and Danny Welbeck providing pace on the flanks. Despite being horribly out of form recently, the boss stuck with Olivier Giroud. In the absence of Per Mertesacker, Gabriel partnered Laurent Koscielny. Returning Santi Cazorla and Jack Wilshere took places on the bench.
To say that Arsenal made a jittery start to the game would be an understatement. From the off, Arsene Wenger’s men did their best impression of a hungover pub team. Koscielny set the tone with a wild miskick as he attempted a first touch and his teammates followed suit, hacking the ball out for a series of throw-ins as the home side pressed.
After 8 minutes of relentless pressure, Aguero finally broke the deadlock. As the ball dropped to the Argentine in the box he controlled tidily before firing a low left-foot shot through Elneny’s legs that beat Cech at his near post.
Thankfully for the Gunners, Manuel Pellegrini’s City are more than capable of comedy defending of their own. Moments after the restart, Gael Clichy, under no pressure whatsoever, nearly headed a Giroud cross into his own net. The ball just clipped the outside of his post with Hart beaten. The England keeper chuckled about the incident, but the smile was wiped from his face immediately. From Elneny’s resulting corner, Giroud, left unmarked by Mangala, crashed home a header. His first goal since dinosaurs roamed the earth. (1-1)
After a manic first ten minutes, the game settled down, in part because the Gunners were forced into a change. Danny Welbeck appeared to tweak knee ligaments making a challenge on the touchline. He hit the turf with a look that suggested he knew it was serious and that his Euro 2016 hopes might be in danger. After a brief attempt to run, the attacker trudged down the tunnel to be replaced by Jack Wilshere.
There was a chance for Aguero who was denied a second by a brilliant Gabriel block Mangala headed a corner wide, but for the most part, both sides just ran around like headless chickens. Even Petr Cech got involved, going full Almunia, as he misguidedly tried to help Koscielny shackle Aguero.
It took City just six minutes to restore their lead after the break and again questions have to be asked about the Arsenal defence.
Kevin De Bruyne picked the ball up near the halfway line, shrugged off Bellerin and outpaced Elneny before cutting inside and firing a low shot from the edge of the area through Gabriel’s legs. As was the case with Aguero’s opener and Crystal Palace’s equaliser a couple of weeks ago, Cech was beaten at his near post. It was a decent solo effort by the Belgian, but it was almost like the Gunners were willing him on to have a shot.
Arsene Wenger responded by taking off the ineffective Alex Iwobi and giving Theo Walcott a chance. The winger’s presence certainly made a difference as he forced Ottamendi into a last ditch clearance with Giroud sure to score a tap in. Moments later Walcott then squandered a chance of his own as he bore down on Hart only to loft his finish high and wide.
The equaliser that Arsenal’s slick play deserved came on 68 minutes. Alexis ran at the City defence, fed Giroud whose delicious first time flicked pass slipped in the Chilean who fired past Hart. (2-2)
City, needing a win to keep Champions League qualification in their own hands, responded strongly. De Bruyne tested Cech with a free-kick and Aguero fired a volley just wide. Sensing a need to sure things up, Wenger sent Francis Coquelin on in place of Mohamed Elneny.
Pellegrini responded calling on Wilfried Bony and Yaya Toure as Fernando and Navas made way. It was Bony who came closest to sealing the points for City as he hit the bar on the volley with two minutes remaining. The Gunners though held on for a point that leaves them in pole position to secure at least third place next Sunday.