The scoreline may have ended the same, but what Arsenal produced against Manchester City yesterday evening was a marked improvement on the apathetically passive performance that left Gunners fans fuming after Sunday’s Carabao Cup final.
It probably didn’t feel that way as the combination of bitter winter weather and bitter feeling towards the club resulted in a noticeably sparse crowd at the Emirates Stadium, much of which dispersed before the end of the game and the rest of which stayed to jeer Arsene Wenger and his team upon the final whistle.
But compared to a cup final in which City didn’t have to hit anything close to top gear to seal a 3-0 win and Pep Guardiola’s first trophy in England, Arsenal at least put up something of a fight against the Premier League’s champions in waiting last night.
Indeed, Manchester City mustered up three world-class goals that any team in any moment would have struggled to stop to create the same lead as Sunday heading into half-time. But Arsenal kept going, managing to nullify City in the second half, and had a few chances of their own at the other end – not least including Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang’s missed penalty.
Perhaps if the Gunners were amid a crest of greater confidence, a few of those opportunities would have been converted to change the dynamics of the game.
And although he remains the ire of much of the Arsenal faithful, it was holding midfielder Granit Xhaka who epitomised that improved dedication in performance.
While the Swiss international still made mistakes in a role that clearly doesn’t suit his natural game, he at least attempted to make some kind of difference in the engine room, registering the most tackles of any player on the pitch. In fact, his six challenges were just four less than the entire Arsenal team produced on Sunday.
Likewise, Xhaka took the most efforts at goal, committed the second-most fouls, completed the most passes and had the most touches of the ball of any Arsenal player. No doubt, it was far from a stellar performance from a player who undertakes arguably the most important role in Arsenal’s starting XI for these kinds of games, but that epitomises where the club are at right now.
The good news, whether you like him or loathe him, is that Xhaka and many of his team-mates at least tried to make a difference during their second humbling encounter with City.
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