Arsenal showed signs of recovery from their recent dismal run of form as they twice fought back from behind to draw with Manchester City at Emirates Stadium. The Gunners had lost four out of their previous five Premier League games, and faced City against uncertainty surrounding manager Arsene Wenger’s future, with more protests staged before kick-off. Arsenal got off to the worst possible start when Leroy Sane put City ahead after only five minutes, running on to Kevin de Bruyne’s routine pass to round David Ospina and score. Theo Walcott capped a spell of Arsenal pressure to scramble home an equaliser five minutes before the break – but they were on terms for only two minutes before Sergio Aguero’s powerful finish put City back in front.
Arsenal lost Laurent Koscielny to injury at half-time and it was his central defensive partner Shkodran Mustafi who rose above City’s defence from a corner to restore parity after 53 minutes. Aguero missed two good chances for City and manager Pep Guardiola was furious that a late handball appeal against Nacho Monreal was ignored, leaving his side in fourth and Arsenal in sixth place in the table – seven points of the top-four pace. Two banners were held aloft at the final whistle – and both summed up the confusion currently surrounding Arsenal and manager Wenger. One read “Forever In Your Debt – One Arsene Wenger” and the other carried the slogan “All Good Things Must Come To An End.” There were renewed protests from a noisy, but relatively small, group of Arsenal fans before kick-off to illustrate the pressure on Arsenal’s manager but there were precious few signs of discontent inside the stadium.
The smart money remains on Wenger extending a stay as manager that stretches back to October 1996 – but this result and performance did little either way to clear the muddied waters around this part of north London. Wenger insists his decision is made while Arsenal’s board say the next move will be mutual – so a draw almost summed up what seems to be the current inertia among the decision-makers. If Arsenal had won, it would certainly have made any announcement more palatable, while a loss would have made it a harder sell. As it is, a draw means the uncertainty goes on. Arsenal needed to show signs of fight and resilience after a desperate sequence of four defeats in their previous five Premier League games – and they certainly showed that, if not huge quality. The Gunners twice fought back from behind in a performance that was centred on determination rather than the dazzling football of old, but Wenger can at least take some comfort from that small mercy.
Arsenal’s wafer-thin confidence was exposed by the manner in which they defended for both City goals, opened up too easily by De Bruyne’s routine pass for Sane’s opener and losing concentration and shape far too easily to concede a second to Aguero two minutes after Walcott’s equaliser. They still display very obvious defensive faults and the Achilles injury to Koscielny, the most reliable member of their rearguard, could prove to be a significant setback in the run-in. This is a frail Arsenal side, reduced in self-belief by that recent poor run, but avoiding defeat here may just build some momentum as they chase a place in the Premier League’s top four.