Arsenal (1) 1 Manchester City (0) 2
Emirates Stadium, Drayton Park, London N5 1BU
Saturday, 1st January 2022. Kick-off time: 12.30pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale;Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Bukayo Saka, Martin Ødegaard, Gabriel Martinelli; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Bernd Leno, Emile Smith-Rowe, Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny.
Scorers: Bukayo Saka (31 mins)
Red Cards: Gabriel Magalhães
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka, Rob Holding
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 29%
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Assistant Referees: Constantine Hatzidakis, Simon Long
Fourth Official: Kevin Friend
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Jarred Gillet; AVAR Derek Eaton
Happy New Year! After the cancellation of the match against Wolverhampton Wanderers last Tuesday, we start January 2022 with a high pressure match against the Premiership leaders. Unfortunately, Mikel Arteta is isolating after testing positive for COVID-19 so his assistant Albert Stuivenberg will perform the managerial duties in his absence today. However, Ainsley Maitland-Niles is on the substitute’s bench this afternoon, but Calum Chambers remains unavailable.
The visitors kicked off the first match of 2022 at the Emirates in earnest, and the game started to move at a very good pace, with Manchester City having the first attempt on goal with a header from Gabriel Jesus that went a few feet wide of Aaron Ramsdale’s goal. In the early stages, both sides were poking and probing each other’s defences looking for chinks in everyone’s armour, with strong, precise tackling being the order of the day. Just after ten minutes, we had a penalty appeal denied by VAR when Martin Ødegaard was caught by City goalkeeper Ederson and he went to ground; it looked like a surefire penalty to everyone in the stadium except the VAR team at Stockley Park! The match pendulum swung backwards to our goal when a Ruben Dias header thankfully went inches wide of our post, but we broke out and applied pressure on the City goal when Gabriel Martinelli raced away down the left wing, cut into the box and forced an athletic save from Ederson at his near post. Real end-to-end football now, with both sides capitalising on mistakes and defensive errors. After all that, the match stopped after twenty-two minutes for one of the officials needing his microphone fitting properly again, and after that hiatus, we took the match to City and put them under extreme pressure, and but for cursed luck, both Alexandre Lacazette and Bukayo Saka should have got onto the score sheet with a couple of excellent chances that went wide of Ederson’s goal. Just after the half hour mark, we opened the scoring when Kieran Tierney slotted the ball into the City penalty area and Bukayo Saka merely swept it into the net to claim his sixth Premiership goal of the season. And well deserved too, as Arsenal are the better side out there at this point in time. After the restart, we came at them again, but Kieran Tierney’s excellent curling cross went into the arms of Ederson, and then Gabriel Martinelli cut in from the left after collecting the ball from Alexandre Lacazette, but his looping shot went just wide of the visitor’s goal. Three minutes before half-time, Gabriel Martinelli ran most of the length of the pitch, then jinked and twisted his way through the City’s defenders, but his shot went agonisingly wide of the post by just inches, and despite one or two half hearted efforts by the visitors, we went into the break with a well deserved lead.
Arsenal started the second half and within a few minutes, Gabriel Martinelli was brought down outside the box by Rodri and although we were awarded a corner, it looked a surefire free-kick to us by everyone in the stadium. Eleven minutes after the restart, Bernardo Silva tried to shuffle past Granit Xhaka in our penalty area and went down under contact. And yes, VAR was consulted, City got the penalty and Riyad Mahrez scored. And Granit Xhaka was booked for his trouble too. Shortly afterwards, a mistake at the back from Manchester City, and the ball was almost headed into an open net, but Nathan Ake cleared it off the line, Gabriel Martinelli followed through and walloped the ball off the top of the post from a few yards out with Ederson yards away from the goal, being a spectator in his own penalty area. How on earth did that not end up in the back of the net? Then, stupidly, Gabriel picked up a second yellow card for a foul in midfield and he was dismissed by referee Stuart Attwell. We were now down to ten men, and as such Martin Ødegaard made way for Rob Holding to try and reorganise the defence. The game started to descend into a bit of a free-for-all, with Alexandre Lacaette getting barged off the ball with some kind of chaos appearing to break out. Emile Smith-Rowe replaced Alexandre Lacazette with twenty minutes of the game remaining, and along with the advantage of the extra man on the pitch the visitors started to take advantage, but our defence held firm. But we still had our chances though, when Thomas Partey went on an excellent run down the left wing; Gabriel Martinelli sprinted hard to get into the City penalty area, but didn’t quite make connection before Ederson picked the ball up in his arms. With the referee rapidly losing control and little incidents appearing here and there on the pitch, Bukayo Saka was substituted for Mohamed Elneny with six minutes of the game remaining. Despite some sterling work at the back, in the third minute of injury time, Ben White won the initial header but it fell to Aymeric Laporte. His deflected shot went into the path of Rodri and he slotted the ball into the net from close range to give the visitors the win and the three points also.
Just how unlucky were we today? We played superbly well, particularly in the first half, showed unsurmountable spirit across the ninety minutes and but for the opinions of the VAR team, could have gone away with all three points today. Leaving the Gabriel sending off aside, the inconsistencies of the VAR team may well have cost us dear. How on earth did we not get a penalty when Martin Ødegaard was brought down in the penalty area early on in the first half? Disappointments aside, our players were superb; Thomas Partey, Bukayo Saka, Kieran Tierney, Takehiro Tomiyasu and Gabriel Martinelli were exceptional, and the way the players all played as a body of men today, we should not fear anyone. A heartbreaking result, but we will learn from this, and we will move onwards and upwards with the best young side in the country, and one of the best in Europe too.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Liverpool at the Emirates on Thursday, 6th January at 7.45pm (Carabao Cup). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.