Rodri extends Manchester City's winning run as Arsenal self-destruct

Gunners produced arguably their best performance of the season but were undermined by temperamental failings and individual errors

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Just when it seemed as though a bright, young team were a newer and better Arsenal, they reverted to being the Gunners of old - the flawed side who could snatch defeat when a prestigious victory beckoned.

There was a particularly irritated television viewer. Confined at home by Covid, Mikel Arteta was “very frustrated” by the outcome, according to his assistant Albert Stuivenberg. No wonder.

For much of a remarkable match, his team produced arguably their best performance of the season as they executed his gameplan expertly. Yet instead of their finest win of the campaign, they got beaten. Rodri’s injury-time goal determined proceedings but six minutes of madness led to Arsenal’s undoing.

Perhaps it summed up Manchester City’s winning mentality that the decider came when as Kevin de Bruyne crossed, a centre-back - Aymeric Laporte - was in the box to shoot and a holding midfielder - Rodri - was on hand to prod in the goal. Yet the timing surprised their manager.

“We are not a team to score [winning] goals in extra time,” said Pep Guardiola. “I don’t remember the last time.”

Arsenal are entitled to think they deserved more for their efforts but, for the third time in a month, they lost after leading. “Arsenal were better,” conceded Guardiola. “We try to analyse many things and sometimes the coin falls down on one side and sometimes on the other.”

But Arsenal can be undermined by temperamental failings and a propensity to commit individual errors. There was a snapshot of their shortcomings as Granit Xhaka conceded a penalty, the otherwise outstanding Gabriel Martinelli missed an open goal and Gabriel Magalhaes got himself sent off for two needless bookings.

Apart from that, they justified Guardiola’s pre-match assessment that this is the finest Arsenal team of his time in England.

The champions finished 2021 with 110 points and 113 goals. They began 2022 in similar mode. “Eleven wins in a row in this period, that is so great,” said Guardiola. It took their lead in the title race to 11 points. Like Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool could curse Rodri’s late intervention.

They could enjoy the half-time scoreline. City had less time to prepare and Guardiola felt they lacked energy. Arsenal pressed high, pinned the league leaders back and flourished courtesy of the elusiveness of Saka and the dynamism of Martinelli. Even when Arteta has been away from the training ground, they looked a well-coached team.

They often concede early to City and had a couple of alarms when Gabriel Jesus headed wide and, with Aaron Ramsdale flapping at mid-air, Ruben Dias directed an effort past an empty net. Yet Arsenal subdued City and flourished going forward.

Martinelli could have had a first-half hat-trick, forcing Ederson to make a fine save, curling an effort just wide and then embarking on an inspired solo run that culminated in a shot that went agonisingly close. They merited the lead Saka gave them with his fourth goal in three games. He swept in a first-time finish from Kieran Tierney’s low pass.

So far, so good for Arsenal. Then their self-destructive tendencies surfaced. Riyad Mahrez converted the spot kick after Xhaka tugged Bernardo Silva’s shirt and, while referee Stuart Attwell initially ruled it wasn’t a penalty, he reversed his decision after reviewing it on a monitor. Arsenal may have been further aggrieved because Martin Odegaard had been denied a first-half spot kick when Ederson caught him. “A clear penalty,” added Stuivenberg. “Confusing is the right word.”

Then Laporte flirted with an embarrassing own goal, heading over Ederson. Nathan Ake spared him with a wonderful goal-line clearance, but the ball fell to Martinelli, and he could not find the empty net. Arsenal’s other Gabriel completed an unholy trinity. Booked a couple of minutes earlier for scuffing up the penalty spot, Magalhaes tugged back Jesus and got a second caution. It handed the initiative to City. Eventually, they made Arsenal pay.

Updated: January 01, 2022, 4:29 PM
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