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German Engineering: Sané and De Bruyne combine in comeback victory as Arsenal falter
It is in games like these where Arsenal’s ever-present frustrations appear to be less systematic than mental. Even at their stylish best— indeed, especially at the peak of their powers —a single turn of luck has the potential to send the Londoners spiraling into chaos, the swagger sucked out of their game and replaced by a paralyzing apprehension. Although Theo Walcott exemplified their title-winning capacity with a gorgeous go-ahead goal in a raucous occasion at Manchester City, the Gunners were unable to consolidate their strength and fell prey to the comeback defeats that seem to blight their title charge every winter. Arsenal were so vulnerable to the pressure of holding the lead that the act of scoring such an early goal was perhaps, counterintuitively, detrimental to their cause.
Their hosts, in turn, possessed the ruthlessness to take advantage of Arsenal’s plight as Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling gunned down the visitors to inflict Arsenal’s first back-to-back league defeats in nearly a year. Having lost to Everton earlier in the week, the worry is that Arsene Wenger’s men will be so caught up in avoiding their woes of years past in these tough winter months that they inadvertently slip into the same self-destructive pattern and make theirs a self-fulfilling prophecy. This defeat, Gunners fans must fear, only feeds into the vicious feedback cycle.
Arsenal’s opener came from a delightfully effective counter-attack, with Alexis Sanchez cutting in from the wing and drawing out City’s center-backs, leaving room for Theo Walcott to break in through the center on the overlap. Sanchez slid a gorgeous pass right into Walcott’s feet and a quick finish from the English winger put the finishing touches on a lovely move.
Ironically, it was in the few moments after their early opener that Arsenal ceded control of the play to City, condemning Wenger’s men to their eventual demise. The Gunners folded into an overly defensive setup that left them chasing City’s shadows for the remaining eighty-five minutes as Kevin de Bruyne and David Silva carved up the middle. This fluency in the middle of the park opened up space for goal-scorers Leroy Sané and Raheem Sterling to break in behind Arsenal’s lines and although Pep Guardiola’s men have been unusually blunt as of late, this evening they had ample time to inflict the sort of devastating damage that suggests their is life yet in their title chase.
“I felt we were in control and it didn’t look like we could lose the game,” said Arsene Wenger, per Arsenal’s official website. “[In the first half] we stopped them from creating chances, they looked a little bit short of ideas to create chances, but they caught us cold in the second half. We dropped physically in the second half and when we won the ball we didn’t come out as clean as in the first half.”
Arsenal had not a single shot on target for the remainder of the evening as City pushed forward, and City nearly found an equalizer in the fifth minute as Kevin de Bruyne crossed in for Raheem Sterling, who came inches away with a spectacular diving header at the far post. The Sky Blues’ equalizer finally came in the forty-sixth minute. Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel were caught ball watching as the ball bobbled loose in the middle, and City were a step ahead as David Silva lifted an ingenious ball over the top to Leroy Sané, who collected the ball on the turn and coolly buried his first Premier League goal since joining City over the summer.
The German forward nearly found a second from De Bruyne’s neat through ball, only for Petr Cech to make a vital stop at the near post. The anticipation was building at the Etihad and the crowd collectively rose to their feet as Raheem Sterling chased down a long diagonal ball in the seventieth minute. Arsenal’s backline dropped back in time to cover the danger, but the quick feet of Sterling managed to carve out a yard of space as he drove into the box. The Englishman beat Cech at the near post with a quick snap-shot, completing the comeback.
Arsenal’s dilemma is hardly unavoidable at this point in the season, but to escape the confines of yet another fourth place finish will require a force of will that they lacked on this occasion.