Belfast Telegraph

Man City lose control of top four fate with Arsenal draw

Man City 2 - Arsenal 2

By Mark Ogden

They still sing about 'fighting to the end' at Manchester City, but as Manuel Pellegrini departed to boos at the end of his final home game as manager, the prospect of Pep Guardiola inheriting the poisoned chalice of a Europa League campaign became increasingly realistic after Alexis Sanchez earned Arsenal a point in a 2-2 draw at the Etihad Stadium.

So much for fighting to the end. This City team appear to have started to wave the white flag and the nightmare scenario now is of Manchester United winning their final two Premier League games, at West Ham and at home to Bournemouth, to claim the fourth and final Champions League qualification berth.

Arsenal can still miss out on the top four, but it would require a defeat at home to already-relegated Aston Villa next Sunday for that distant possibility to become a reality.

So City must now wait and watch. But having lavished over £150m on new players last summer, they should have been going into the final weekend with the title at stake - if not already won - rather than this.

Pellegrini's reign is ending with a whimper and Guardiola could yet be left to pick up the pieces of a season in the Europa League when he arrives in the summer.

Having arrived back in Manchester just before 4am on Thursday morning, following the Champions League semi-final elimination against Real Madrid, the big question mark over City was how they would react.

As it was, the home side started as though they had spent the week relaxing and preparing for this fixture.

Jesus Navas divides opinion among City fans, but despite his deficiencies, the Spaniard possesses lightning pace and it was his foray down the right which led to Sergio Aguero's opener on eight minutes.

His cross found Fernandinho and the Brazilian's head down was missed by Mohamed Elneny, leaving Aguero to send a half-volley past Petr Cech from 20 yards.

Pellegrini's players could only hold onto their lead for 60 seconds, however.

Gael Clichy's woeful attempt to clear a cross saw his header bounce inches wide of the far post, thereby gifting Arsenal a corner, and the chance was devoured by Olivier Giroud, who escaped the static Eliaquim Mangala to head in his first Premier League goal for 881 minutes.

Aguero almost restored City's lead on 16 minutes, but his right foot strike from 12 yards was deflected over by Gabriel.

Moments later, Arsenal suffered a blow with the loss of Danny Welbeck, whose Euro 2016 is now in doubt.

On came Jack Wilshere, however, after his own lengthy lay-off. With him in the game, Arsenal suddenly possessed the ability to bite back.

Fernandinho's drive and energy kept City on top, however, and the home team regained the lead on 51 minutes when Kevin de Bruyne broke from deep before cutting inside and beating Cech.

But Arsene Wenger's decision to introduce Theo Walcott from the bench injected much needed pace into his team's attacking forays and the England winger repeatedly broke behind the City rearguard.

His arrival re-energised Giroud and the pair caused consternation for the City defence, but it was Sanchez's burst forward which ultimately saw Arsenal level the scores.

The Chilean broke with pace following Wilshere's pass forward and his lay-off to Giroud on the edge of the penalty area was returned by the French forward, leaving Sanchez with a clear strike at goal.

Facing Joe Hart, Sanchez coolly fooled the goalkeeper by sending him the wrong way with his right foot shot to make it 2-2.

It was a deserved equaliser for Arsenal and a hammer blow for City.

But if rivals United win their final two games, the ramifications of this result will only be truly felt next season.

Man City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Clichy, Jesus Navas (Bony 79), Fernandinho, Fernando (Toure 79), De Bruyne, Iheanacho (Sterling 71), Aguero.

Subs Not Used: Caballero, Delph, Demichelis, Tasende.

Booked: Otamendi, Fernandinho.

Goals: Aguero 8, De Bruyne 51.

Arsenal: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel,Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny (Coquelin 76), Ramsey, Sanchez, Iwobi (Walcott 59), Welbeck (Wilshere 24), Giroud.

Subs Not Used: Gibbs, Ospina, Cazorla, Campbell.

Booked: Gabriel.

Goals: Giroud 10, Sanchez 68.

Attendance: 54,425

Referee: Anthony Taylor (Cheshire).

Belfast Telegraph


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