City beat Arsenal, but miss the opportunity to gain a psychological edge over their title rivals

Jason Soutar
Man City manager Pep Guardiola hugs Mikel Arteta

Arsenal may have lost against Manchester City in the FA Cup fourth round, but the manner of defeat will not give their Premier League title rivals too much of a psychological boost.


The first thing that stood out to me, and surely everybody else, was that the best striker in the country, Erling Haaland, would be up against Rob Holding at the Etihad. This battle was the main talking point of the first half. Holding dealt with him very well for someone who has barely played any domestic football this season.

Haaland would get the battle he craved early on and his Manchester City teammates tried to find him playing off Holding as often as they possibly could. He didn’t get much success, surprisingly, with the Arsenal defender walking on thin ice with a few of his tugs, pulls and elbow smashes before the inevitable yellow card came. Holding’s booking resulted in him being substituted at half-time, which was the correct decision from Mikel Arteta. Every Arsenal fan could see a repeat of Tottenham away last May if the 27-year-old stayed on the pitch.

And just like that, Haaland had a whole different proposition in front of him in William Saliba. From erratic to elegant. Once again, the Nordic robot did not have much joy in what was a pretty cagey and tight affair.

Arsenal stuck to their game plan against the champions of England and Leandro Trossard looked very dangerous as he exposed Rico Lewis at every possible opportunity. The £21million January signing was the Gunners’ best player in what was an intriguing tactical battle.

You could tell that neither Arteta nor Pep Guardiola wanted to give anything away in what would be the first of three, possibly four, encounters between the two best clubs in the country. The hosts would dominate most of the ball, but did not look particularly dangerous with it, while Arsenal had a bit less of the ball but looked pretty dangerous nearly every time they got it.

Trossard was close to scoring but for a decent save from Stefan Ortega. Takehiro Tomiyasu had a half-chance well saved, and City’s best chance came through Kevin De Bruyne’s curling effort from outside the penalty box.

You got the feeling that Arsenal needed to score before the break with City far from their best. One misplaced pass would rile up Guardiola, but there were a lot more than just one. The Gunners did not want the Citizens to come out with the same fire in their belly as they did against their north London rivals earlier this month…

Thomas Partey, like Holding, was taken off at half-time. His absence was pretty notable right away as City dominated the game but looked a lot more dangerous, with a tad more conviction in their play. His replacement, Albert Sambi Lokonga, embarrassingly lost the ball one of the first times he got it. That is a player low on confidence in a team full of confident, in-form stars.

Arsenal couldn’t do much without their talisman in midfield and the introduction of Kyle Walker gave Trossard less license to attack. Arsenal had a good chance through Fabio Vieira, however, the Portuguese playmaker decided to try a tricky volley from outside the box, when he could have controlled it and created a chance for himself.

Not long after that, City were ahead. Nathan Ake passed the ball into the bottom corner after Jack Grealish set up him following a thunderous Julian Alvarez strike that rocketed off the post. Arsenal responded well, but the game quickly became quite passive, with neither team willing to throw a punch in case the other took advantage of the tiny bit of their body that was exposed.

It was a pretty rubbish game. Arsenal won’t mind too much though, and City won’t be overly delighted by their win against the Premier League leaders. When Arteta named Holding in his starting XI, he risked losing heavily and giving their title rivals a huge psychological edge in the race for that beautiful trophy.

Saliba and Gabriel got to test themselves against Haaland and will be very happy with how they coped. Arsenal went toe-to-toe with the champions with a weakened XI, and in their backyard. They also only have to concentrate on winning the league until the Europa League returns. On the other hand, they are out of the FA Cup, which would have been a great chance of winning a trophy.

City are into the fifth round of the competition and got one over on Arsenal, but they did not outclass them and make it look like they were the better team by a million miles. If they did that, this cup clash could have had a huge effect on the Premier League title race.

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