In a season filled with surprises and upsets, Arsenal’s 1-0 victory over reigning champions Manchester City stands out as one of the most significant and tactically astute performances.
This closely contested battle at the Emirates Stadium was marked by moments of resilience, controversy, and a game-changing substitution that ultimately tilted the scales in Arsenal’s favor. The victory also came in the absence of the influential Bukayo Saka, a testament to Mikel Arteta’s tactical acumen and his squad’s depth.
Here are six talking points from the game:
1. Saka’s injury woes:
When it was announced that Bukayo Saka wouldn’t be available for the game at the Emirates Stadium due to fitness issues, concerns loomed large among Arsenal fans. Saka had been grappling with a series of injury concerns in recent weeks, dating back to his early exit in the North London Derby against Tottenham Hotspur. The young winger seemed to have picked up yet another problem in the Champions League loss to RC Lens.
Mikel Arteta remained tight-lipped about Saka’s chances of featuring against City in his pre-match press conference on Friday. However, the Gunners were left with no choice but to face the reigning Premier League champions without their star player.
Saka’s absence was particularly significant, as it marked the end of an impressive run of 87 consecutive Premier League games in which Arteta had relied on the 22-year-old winger. His contribution to the team’s attack and overall play had been undeniable.
2. Gabriel Jesus steps in:
In the absence of Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Jesus stepped up to the plate. While not as effective as Saka, Jesus made his presence felt and provided a handful for Manchester City’s defense. The Brazilian’s performance showcased the depth of Arsenal’s squad and their ability to adapt to challenging circumstances.
It’s worth noting that while Jesus filled in admirably, no player in world football currently in that position can quite replicate the unique qualities and impact that the Englishman brings to the team. His versatility, dribbling ability, and creativity have made him a linchpin in Arsenal’s attack.
Gabriel Jesus proved against the best team in the world that he can be a suitable back-up option for Bukayo Saka when he is unavailable.
3. Early defensive resilience:
From the opening whistle, it was evident that Manchester City, under the guidance of Pep Guardiola, aimed to assert their dominance in the Premier League once again. However, Arsenal’s defense showed remarkable resilience in the face of relentless pressure. The first key moment of the match occurred when Josko Gvardiol’s header seemed destined for the back of the net. Still, a well-positioned Declan Rice cleared the danger off the line. This early scare tested the mettle of Arsenal’s backline, and they held firm.
It is also worthy to note that Man City striker Erling Haaland, who has proven to be problematic for most defenses in the Premier League including Arsenal last season, was reduced to a spectator in the field with William Saliba making sure the Norwegian had no sniff of David Raya’s goal.
4. Kovacic’s controversial actions:
The match also saw its share of controversy, primarily surrounding Mateo Kovacic’s conduct on the pitch. His late and reckless tackles, notably the one on Martin Odegaard, should have warranted a red card. However, the VAR review resulted in a yellow card, sparing Kovacic from an early exit. This decision irked Arsenal fans and added fuel to an already fiery encounter. Kovacic’s continued aggression, culminating in another questionable challenge on Declan Rice without receiving his second yellow of the game which would have resulted in a send off.
5. Martinelli’s impact:
Arguably the most pivotal moment of the match came when Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta decided to introduce Gabriel Martinelli in the second half. The Brazilian had been sidelined due to injury, but his return sparked a new lease of life into Arsenal’s attack. Martinelli’s first shot on target, though from a challenging angle, showed his intent to make a difference.
However, it was a deflected strike off Nathan Ake’s face that provided the game’s decisive moment. Martinelli’s goal not only secured the much-needed victory but also ended a staggering 12-game losing streak against Manchester City. The intricately worked combination play involving Kai Havertz, Takehiro Tomiyasu, and Thomas Partey leading to the goal underlined the significance of tactical substitutions and teamwork in achieving success against formidable opponents.
6. Arteta’s tactical masterclass:
Mikel Arteta deserves credit for this tactical triumph. His decision to introduce Martinelli and reshape the attack breathed new life into the team. Additionally, his ability to maintain defensive composure in the face of early scares from Manchester City demonstrated his tactical acumen.
Arteta’s Arsenal showcased a disciplined defensive setup, limiting Manchester City’s chances and frustrating their opponents throughout the match. The midfield battles were hard-fought, with players like Declan Rice and Thomas Partey providing the necessary stability and control in the center of the park.
The match was like a game of chess, illustrated by the substitution of Takehiro Tomiyasu in the second-half. Mikel Arteta said in his post-match press conference that he brought the Japanese international on to counter Pep’s sub of Jeremy Doku.
However when Pep Guardiola moved Doku to the left-wing, Arteta moved Tomiyasu further forward. Tomiyasu then went on to win the knock down to Kai Havertz before the winning goal. Mikel Arteta finally got the better of his master in the Premier League and it was largely down to himself and his tactical brilliance.
The win against Manchester City exemplifies Arsenal’s progress under Arteta’s guidance. The team displayed a perfect blend of defensive solidity, tactical discipline, and the ability to seize crucial moments. This victory not only ends a long-standing losing streak but also sends a message to the rest of the Premier League that Arsenal is a force to be reckoned with.