‘New year new me (but same me though).’ Words uttered by basketball player LaMelo Ball but truly lived by Arsenal Football Club. This year is seen by many as the year that Arsenal take another step towards the elite clubs in English football.
To make that step, they have to prove that not only can they compete with the top teams, but that they could beat them. By almost design, they had their first crack at one of those clubs. The football Gods had decided that the first team Arsenal face in 2022 would be none other than the champions and league leaders Manchester City.
The game started pretty evenly. Manchester City had a couple of opportunities through Raheem Sterling and Gabriel Jesus through the fine work of Kevin de Bruyne.
However, Arsenal had the real first chance of the game. A lovely ball over the top from Aaron Ramsdale to Gabriel Martinelli put the Brazilian in behind the City backline. Eventually, the ball found its way to Lacazette who set up Odegaard. However, the outstretched leg of Ederson denied the attacker. Arsenal had shouts for a penalty, but it was denied by the referee Stuart Attwell and by VAR.
City hit back immediately though. A cross from Sterling found Ruben Dias. He missed the header, much to his noticeable displeasure.
After that, Arsenal began to increase their pressure. It was as if the miss by Dias had awoken a fear of losing to City again. After that point, they won nearly every duel and the fan noise intensified.
Arsenal’s pressure was rewarded in the 31st minute after fine work from Kieran Tierney down the left-hand side. His driving run at City’s backline created space for others. The Scotsman would eventually lay it off to Bukayo Saka, who swept the ball past Ederson in the goal.
Arsenal’s pressure had been rewarded. They went into halftime with a 1–0 lead, but there was a feeling around the Emirates that it should have been more.
The second half started much like the first half ended. Arsenal putting Manchester City under pressure.
However, City showed the calmness of champions by immediately taking control of the ball and taking the sting out of Arsenal’s attack. This led to Bernardo Silva getting in behind the Arsenal defence and being brought down by Granit Xhaka.
His penalty claim was initially turned away. However, Attwell was sent to the monitor by VAR and all football fans know what that means. Penalty! This was calmly slotted away by Riyad Mahrez, bringing City level.
Arsenal nearly hit back. Aymeric Laporte headed past his own keeper and was saved by Nathan Ake who cleared the ball of the line. His clearance went straight to the feet of Gabriel Martinelli who put the ball over the crossbar. A very big chance for a team that was moments away from being down to ten men.
Surprise! Arsenal had a red card. Gabriel who had earlier been booked for dissent towards the referee brought down his fellow countryman Gabriel Jesus in midfield. As a result, he was sent off, much to the dismay of him, his teammates, and the fans in the stadium.
With that sending off, Arsenal became the first Premier League team to receive a hundred red cards.
After that red card, the game went as you would expect. City probed for an opening and Arsenal looked to strike on the counterattack.
Much to Arsenal’s credit, City struggled to find a route to goal. However, in the 90+3 minute, the defence was breached. Rodri was the first to the second ball after Ben White had blocked Aymeric Laporte’s attempt on goal. With that goal, a familiar feeling of losing to Manchester City swept through the stadium.
So yes, ‘new year new me (same me though)’ described this game for Arsenal. The new me is that they showed an ability to compete with the top team in the league. They also showed that they could outplay the top team in the league for large stretches of the game. However, the same me came in the ill-discipline. Again, another performance was undone by a red card and another Granit Xhaka yellow card for good measure.
City on the other hand showed exactly who we thought they were. They are champions for a reason. They were second best for most of the afternoon and yet still found a way to win. This may not have been a vintage Manchester City win but in the interest of the title race, it was a win.