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Arsenal vs. Manchester City lived up to the billing we expected – two teams that play the same style of football, effectively canceling each other out in a game of chess, versus the blow-out festival of football the world was hoping for.

It’s quite odd to read so many people complaining about the way Arsenal approached the game at The Etihad – the same people laughing at us last season for blowing a gasket because we were too emotional are now falling over themselves to whine that we didn’t take it to them. Pundits that laughed at our naievite over the years now falling over themselves to pick holes in a cautious and professional approach.

Let me remind people:

City is the best team on the planet and they are the current treble winners.

Arsenal has the youngest squad in the race for the title; we blew it last year because we lacked maturity.

Away games in title-contending matches rarely throw up massive wins; they are usually draws.

Manchester City were extremely good.

Since when has containing the best team in the league to their first scoreless home game of the season been something to be sniffed at?

The truth here is a lot of people were banking on Arsenal coming unstuck. The prevailing view is that we weren’t going to have enough in a big away game because we haven’t won many big away games this season.

How wrong people were.

Arsenal played a tight and compact game and executed a plan to suffocate angles and block incoming danger. We followed Rodri and KDB around the pitch and prevented them from unlocking themselves and a very quiet Haaland.

The plan looked to be to catch them in transition, but beating the City press was really difficult on a day choked full of nerves.

The job to be done was to escape with a point or more so we could live to fight another day. We also needed a performance that spoke to the serious team we’ve become. City didn’t score, they didn’t register more than 1 xG, David Raya barely had to make a save all game.

Saliba and Gabriel bullied Haaland all game. He looked a shell of a man. That’s one of the most monstrous athletes in the world getting pocketed… again. I thought the Frenchman had quite a junior start to the game. He’s shown nerves on one or two big occasions this season, and he’s looked the lesser of the two centre-backs. He course corrected that hard in the second half with a masterclass for the ages. Hopefully that’ll give him the belief that he belongs at the very peak of world football, and that he should ignore Deschamps slander, always. I’m finding it really difficult not to believe that the better defender this season has been Gabriel who hasn’t put a foot wrong since he was benched for the opening three games of the season. He’s beaten the bozo out of his game, added more ambitious passing, and his leadership and fighting skills have gone through the roof. A man mountain of a player.

Odegaard and Delan Rice were full of energy, awareness, and urgency. Watching them patrol the midfield doing the ugly work players of their talent don’t normally have to engage in was a delight. There was no feeling these guys believed they were inferior. On another day, Odegaard is rewarded with the assist of some of his attacking through balls deserved.

There were beastly duels all over the pitch; we didn’t win them all, but that’s just how it goes. The most important piece of the day was everyone bringing maximum concentration to every phase of the game. It was such a well-coordinated team effort from all involved. The dumb of seasons past has been replaced with a cold professionalism that you could almost describe as boring.

I went hard at the selection of VAR and the ref before the game, but I retract those comments now. The Liverpool fan in VAR kept quiet for the game and the ref let the game be the star. Was it feisty? Yes. Could he have dished out 10 yellow cards? Yes. But he didn’t need to control the game. The tackles were tough but fair, and the lack of yellows kept the game spicy. I also thought the lack of intervention stopped players from rolling around like babies or diving for penalties.

Also, kudos to Arsenal for working on the rotational fouls… everything City threw at us, we threw right back at them.

That was an incredible point; no one expected it. Now we head into the final 9 games with the hardest away day complete.

So what did we learn?

One of the concluding points of last season was that we’d never see the promised land if we didn’t address our inability to beat the biggest teams in the country. Well, we’ve taken 4 points off Liverpool and Manchester City this season. That is astonishing progress in a season that saw big changes to our personnel, our fixture congestion, and our playing style. Arsenal can beat any team in the world now – and that means we can truly consider ourselves contenders for major honors.

We have the best attacking output this season and the best defense, and we’re not getting rolled by anyone. But we’re still third favorites for the title because we’ve not won a big trophy since 2004.

What more could you ask for at this stage of the season?

Arsenal is still in the learning process; every day is a school day. Whatever happened in that game yesterday was going to add to our Arsenal IP that’ll put us in pole position in the post-Klopp/Pep era. The draw was a major lesson. We don’t have to fight the way other teams expect us to fight. We can play a different style, do things that most people think don’t come naturally to us, and we can keep a title fight alive by being smart.

We have 9 games to go. The most important of those 9 could very well be the Luton game. Mikel Arteta is going to have to rotate if we want to survive the run-in in peak physical form. That means we’re going to see Thomas Partey, Tomi, Zinchenko, Jesus, and maybe Fabio Vieira called up to the first team. The question is, can they get results… or scarier, does Arteta have the nerve to change a formula that has been doing bits for him in 2024?

This is going to be an intriguing month. I’m going to be here with blogs and podcasts. So you best be with me every day to enjoy the ride. You read this blog because we always wanted to work out a way Arsenal could get back into the big time, be part of elite conversations, and be a club that boasts relevancy again. Well, after 17 years of writing this blog, I think we’re nearly there, people. Arsenal is a proper club, and we have a magnificent 5 years ahead of us.

Ok, get the latest podcast in your ears, and I’ll see you in the comments. x


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