Manchester City 0-0 Arsenal: ‘Stern and steely Gunners not going away in Premier League title race’

Arsenal are almost a year on from the start of the collapse that cost them dearly in last season’s Premier League title race so all vital signs will be placed under the fiercest scrutiny as they face the same pressures again.

The ultimate test remains a visit to Manchester City, who forced Arsenal to crack under the strain of relentless pressure last year, flaws exposed cruelly in a 4-1 thrashing at Etihad Stadium that proved a defining moment of the campaign.

So here they were again, returning to the scene of that misery, the Gunners attempting to prove their credentials and improvement in an environment where they have drawn one and lost eight since their last win in January 2015.

And, amid a truly dreadful goalless game that flouted its pre-match billing as a potential classic, Mikel Arteta’s side did at least prove they are made of sterner stuff than last season. They are not going away this term.

What this result means in the wider context will be discussed later but this performance and result was an illustration of Arsenal’s direction of travel.

Under manager Arteta they have won a reputation as a fluent, pleasing on the eye side whose attractive approach has enabled them to stand comfortably alongside City and Liverpool.

Here, however, the Gunners showed steel and, on occasion, even a streak of ruthless cynicism to come away with a point. And it left Arteta a happy man.

Arsenal’s “they shall not pass” approach was helped by the leniency of referee Anthony Taylor, who showed a remarkable reluctance to produce yellow cards, which led to frustration for City and their supporters – exactly what the away side will have wanted.

And whereas in the past the Gunners have looked flaky and vulnerable, there was superb organisation, a fiercely well-drilled approach and a willingness to throw bodies in front of everything when the need arose.

Goalkeeper David Raya had a remarkably untroubled game, only pulled out of his comfort zone with an early save from Nathan Ake’s header.

The Gunners crowded City everywhere. The arch-creators Kevin de Bruyne, Phil Foden and Bernardo Silva were given no room to create anything for Erling Haaland, who roamed the margins without influence.

It is a long time since City were so impotent at home, unable to lay a glove on Arsenal in the areas that mattered.

The visitors’ defence was outstanding, from Ben White on the right flank to William Saliba and Gabriel in the middle. They met every challenge, their two clean sheets against City this season making them only the fourth team to shut out a Pep Guardiola side twice in the same league campaign.

It was also the first time Guardiola’s side have failed to score in a Premier League game at home since a 2-0 loss to Crystal Palace in October 2021, a sequence stretching back 47 matches. It even ended a run of 75 consecutive City league games without any being goalless.

Arteta told BBC Sport: “We made another big step today. They have the capacity to change formations to get you deep in many moments.

“I think we had the best situations. We were really aggressive at times and getting the ball into great areas. They are very physical but I think we coped with that very well. It was a really tough test. We wanted to win but when you cannot win you must not lose.”

One of the contributing factors to Arsenal’s demise last season was an injury to outstanding defender Saliba, who showed against City just how vital he is to their cause.

Captain Martin Odegaard said: “Any team in the world would miss this guy. You see the quality he has on and off the ball, so I’m glad he is fit now. Brilliant player. Brilliant performance today.”

For all Arsenal’s understandable delight, the real winners were Liverpool, who have a two-point advantage at the top of the Premier League after beating Brighton at Anfield earlier then having the luxury of watching their closest rivals take points off each other.

The downside of Arsenal’s display was their lack of threat, with only six shots in the game, their lowest in a league fixture since November 2021, when they had five against Liverpool at Anfield.

Arteta’s side might have got more had they risked more, so there can be no clear answer yet to the question of whether this was one battling point gained or two points lost to conservatism.

What is certain is that this was another demonstration that Arsenal are better equipped to deal with the rigours of a title race than they were 12 months ago.

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