Arsenal v City. It’s wasn’t the stuff of Fifth Round dreams, was it? A costly trip to London and the likelihood of City being despatched from the tournament for the third season in a row in front of some of English football’s most disagreeably unclassy fans, potentially in rather a chastening fashion.
City! We underestimated you. Again. Sorry.
That Arsenal would make a rash of changes, nine in total, was scarcely a surprise – they’ve got to chase Barcelona’s shadows on Tuesday. Perhaps the casual observer may have been more surprised at Steve Bruce opting to go one better than Arsène Wenger and hit double figures, this being “City’s big day out” – but we’re at Ipswich on Tuesday and at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Friday. This is a busy time of the season.
Attacking the end populated by about 3,000 City fans, bleary-eyed for this TV-dictated early start, it was a worrying start to the game. Arsenal moved the ball about with dizzying slickness, with City reduced to desperately holding on in the early stages and thankful that the referee didn’t spot a probable handball by Alex Bruce in the area.
Welbeck headed softly straight at Eldin Jakupović, Walcott shot from the edge of the goal area at the Bosnian, Welbeck tested him again and then Iwobi flashed it wide; followed, finally, by Welbeck having a low shot saved by Jak’s feet.
All this inside half an hour.
Frustrated, Arsenal’s play deteriorated and the match began to be conducted in places outside our own penalty area. Maguire was rightly booked for a horrible piece of diving after a couple of neat turns in the Arsenal area. Shortly after, Welbeck wasn’t booked for a horrible piece of diving in our area. Hmph.
What a breathless, scary half. 45 to come. Eek.
Step forward Eldin “Lev Yashin” Jakupović. Sometimes, it really is your day. Gibbs dragged the ball back cutely to Walcott. Saved.
Iwobi shot from just outside the area. Deflected wide.
Campbell struck a free-kick low and hard – saved, quite brilliantly, onto the post and the rebound slashed over.
Seeking to stem a renewing tide, Steve Bruce brought on Tom Huddlestone for Taylor and Moses Odubajo for the again impressive Josh Tymon.
It worked, a bit – in as much as it was another five minutes before Eldin “Peter Schmeichel” Jakupović had to pull off another brilliant save, a deflected shot from Iwobi seeing him stick out a firm hand to palm it wide, even though he’d already almost dived past the ball.
Giroud shot. Saved. Time began to slip away from Arsenal.
Aluko came on for Powell, eager but leggy on debut. He should have won it for City when latching on to a low cross with his marker sloppily leaving him, but his low shot was straight at the Arsenal keeper. Oh, Sone.
Back to the far end, and one very good final chance for Arsenal when Huddlestone cheaply coughed up a free-kick, about 22 yards from goal and right in the middle. Sanchez took it, but a mite too centrally and Eldin “Boaz Myhill” Jakupović blatted it to safety.
And somehow, we emerged from this awful looking fixture with our first clean sheet against Arsenal in a century and with a battling draw to our name.
It’s hard to look past Eldin Jakupović, and he’ll rightly get the bulk of the acclaim. His time at City has been an erratic one, confined largely to cup fixtures and only featuring in the League when absolutely necessary; but on this occasion, he was magnificent.
Sure, plenty of Arsenal’s shots were either wayward, or perfectly saveable. However, quite a few were not, and some of his saves were genuinely outstanding. Quibble over his football for the effort he tipped on the post, but he made instant amends with an amazing fingertip save.
But allow his defence some credit too. City could have collapsed under the weight of Arsenal pressure at the start, and we definitely rode our luck – Bruce ought to have had a penalty given against him. But City toughed it out and frustrated an Arsenal team we always know can become irritated when the flashy football doesn’t yield goals.
Elsewhere, Steve Bruce made two smart substitutions early in the second half to change the pattern of the game when it was beginning to go against us. Huddlestone likes to sit deep, which is fine when everyone is forced to. Taylor wasn’t really influencing play, and Tymon’s exciting little cameo had run its course. Meanwhile, bringing on Aluko later on was a fascinating little ploy. With a better finish, it’d have won us the game; as it was, his pace and trickery just kept Arsenal honest at the back, preventing them from throwing absolutely everyone forward.
A Cup replay. A game that the manager might not want, but he’ll recognise the value to his squad’s morale and belief that comes with holding a side as good as Arsenal. The owners won’t mind a home replay, with revenue from both the gate and probably a television company.
Most of all, a still slight but definitely increased chance of making the FA Cup quarter finals. This was a very good day for City.