Arsenal's improvement obvious despite four minutes of madness in devastating Man City defeat

Gabriel Arsenal Manchester City Premier League 2021-22Getty/GOAL

Arsenal 1-2 Manchester City

Spare a thought for Mikel Arteta’s neighbours. 

Arsenal’s manager admitted before Saturday’s game against Manchester City that he would not be able to sit down while having to watch from home due to a positive test for Covid-19.

And given how things turned out at the Emirates, you can only imagine what noises were coming from his front room as he watched events unfold during the second half in north London.

This was football at its dramatic, absorbing best.

For 57 minutes, Arsenal were electric.

Arteta’s side were all over the Premier League leaders and were thoroughly deserving of their 1-0 lead, given to them by Bukayo Saka’s superb first-half goal.

But then the game changed completely during four remarkable minutes around the hour mark. 

There was a Manchester City penalty after a foul by Granit Xhaka, a goal-line clearance from Nathan Ake, an open-goal miss by Gabriel Martinelli and a red card for Gabriel Magalhaes – the kind of incredible the drama that only the Premier League can produce – and it paved the way for a last-minute winner from Rodri that has likely secured the visitors a fourth title in five years.

Arsenal were furious, with the spot-kick converted by Riyad Mahrez only given by VAR after referee Stuart Attwall had initially ignored the visitors' appeals for a foul on Bernardo Silva.

A replay of the incident was shown on the big screen after the decision had been overturned, with Arsenal’s players clearly incensed, believing that the Portuguese was already on his way down when his shirt was slightly tugged by Xhaka.

Gabriel was booked for his protests and then, moments later, after Martinelli had fired wide with the goal at his mercy, the Brazilian centre-back crashed into Gabriel Jesus and was dismissed.

Bedlam ensued. A match that Arsenal were completely in charge of had been turned on its head.

Quite what was going on in Arteta’s front room at that point in time is anyone’s guess! But it was probably tame in comparison to his reaction to Rodri’s injury-time winner.

As defeats go, this was as cruel as they come for Arsenal.

But when they calm down and take stock over the next couple of days, they will be able to take an awful lot from this performance.

Time and time again we’ve seen the Gunners surrender meekly in the face of the likes of City. But this was a performance which showed just how far they’ve come in a short space of time since the dark days of the opening weeks of the season.

They were blown away at the Etihad in August, losing 5-0, but on Saturday they showed they couldn’t just compete with the champions – they could outplay them.

Only four of the team that began the defeat in Manchester started on Saturday, such as has been the level of change at Arsenal since August, and Arteta’s new-look side were rampant from the opening exchanges.

Arsenal had found themselves 1-0 down inside the first three minutes during their previous three meetings with City at the Emirates, so they knew they had to start well and they did exactly that.

The visitors didn’t even muster a shot on target during the opening 45 minutes as Arsenal tore into them, with Thomas Partey exceptional in midfield and Martinelli and Saka electric down the flanks.

The latter gave Arsenal a deserved lead just after the half-hour mark, finishing off a sweeping move with an expert finish into the corner.

It was no more than the hosts deserved and the only real negative of the opening 45 minutes was they didn’t add to their lead, with Martinelli twice going close to grabbing a second.

The start to the second half was no different, until those four minutes of madness just before the hour mark transformed a contest that had been going perfectly for Arsenal.

Replays showed Xhaka did grab hold of Silva as he went past, but the Portuguese midfielder certainly went down easily. 

The fact that the decision was eventually overturned by VAR – who chose not to get involved in the first half when Ederson appeared to trip Martin Odegaard in the box – only added to Arsenal’s sense of injustice.

But that should not excuse the way Gabriel lost his head and got himself sent off.

Gabriel Arsenal Manchester City 2021-22 GFX
Getty/GOAL

The defender got his first booking after charging up to Stuart Attwell to complain after the penalty incident had been shown on the big screens and then the second followed less than two minutes later when he collided with Jesus on the halfway line.

It was clear that he had let frustration get the better of him and it proved to be a costly mistake, with City going on to get the win in the final few seconds through Rodri.

Arsenal were crestfallen at the end and it’s impossible not to view this as a massive missed opportunity. 

Perhaps a more streetwise, experienced team would have got the job done, or at least got themselves over the line to claim what would have been a deserved draw.

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But ill-discipline saw them end up with nothing to show for their considerable efforts.

For now, they remain fourth, but with Tottenham and Manchester United both having games in hand, they have lost some ground in the race for the Champions League spots.

Sometimes, however, you have to look at the bigger picture and even though they ended this one empty-handed, they showed they can go toe to toe with the best in the business once again.