LAGOS, Nigeria (VOICE OF ANIJA)-The Gunners lost crucial points at Anfield after being in a winning position, leaving the defending champions craving blood.
Undoubtedly, Arsenal has been excellent this season. They have surpassed all expectations under Mikel Arteta, who has developed one of the most dynamic squads in Europe while admirably adhering to his basic values.
However, they are not nearly prepared to win the Premier League. In front of a boisterous Anfield crowd on Sunday, they let a two-goal lead go and were fortunate to escape with a point in a 2-2 draw.
Despite having played one more game, the Gunners are only six points ahead of Manchester City, and they still have an exciting trip to the Etihad Stadium coming up.
The second half of Arsene Wenger’s tenure at the club saw the Gunners held down by mental frailty, and Arteta deserves enormous credit for resisting that tendency. But his side is currently in unknown territory.
City thrives under pressure to deliver results when it counts, and they won’t give up on their quest for a fifth championship in as many years.
According to Goal analysis, here are the key reasons why Arsenal won’t be able to fend off Pep Guardiola’s team in the end.
Lack of experience
Everywhere you look in City’s squad there are serial winners. The likes of Kevin De Bruyne, Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva, Riyad Mahrez and John Stones have all been here before.
Guardiola’s men know how to raise their game when the stakes are highest, and they are driven by a desire to break records while maintaining their dominance of the English football landscape.
Arsenal have two former City stars in their ranks that have the same mindset, with Gabriel Jesus and Oleksandr Jesus both having played key roles in their charge for the top-flight crown.
But the rest of the Gunners squad lacks experience at this level. Their three standout performers – Bukayo Saka, Gabriel Martinelli and Martin Odegaard – are running on pure adrenaline at this point.
“Because not a lot of us have been here before, we don’t really know how to handle it,” Arsenal No.1 Aaron Ramsdale admitted after their 4-0 victory over Everton last month. “So we’re just going in and playing the games as if we were 10th, 12th, whatever. We’re just going out to play with our group of team-mates and try and win as many games as possible.”
The Haaland factor
Martinelli is currently Arsenal’s top scorer for the season in the Premier League with 14 goals – a highly respectable career-best tally for the Brazilian winger.
Saka has 13 to his name and Odegaard is on 10, while Jesus would almost certainly have been in double-figures too were it not for the knee injury that kept him out of action for three months after the World Cup.
But they don’t have anyone that comes close to Erling Haaland.
In the 4-1 thrashing of Southampton on Saturday, City’s terminator scored his 29th and 30th Premier League goals, raising his season total across all competitions to 44, which is tied with Ruud van Nistelrooy and Mohamed Salah for the most goals by an English club in a single season.
Haaland will inevitably break Salah’s record for the most goals in a Premier League season (34) and could go well past the 50 mark by the time his debut year at the Etihad Stadium is over.
He is quite simply, the most lethal striker in world football, and his presence gives City an advantage in any game.
Guarduola praised Haaland after his latest brace, telling BBC Sport: “We have lived two incredible decades with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, but he is on that level.”
It is unthinkable that City could end up missing out on the title with a player like Haaland firing on all cylinders – and the smart money says that they won’t.
“You have to show a little bit of fight, but there’s a time when to poke the bear and to leave the bear sleeping. He poked it at the wrong time.”
Manchester United legend Roy Keane aptly summed up in the Sky Sports studio why Granit Xhaka’s angry outburst at Anfield ultimately cost Arsenal all three points against Liverpool.
The Gunners were 2-0 up and in complete control before the Switzerland international decided to square up to Trent Alexander-Arnold after failing to win a foul. He thrust his elbow and butted heads with the Reds full-back before both sets of players rushed in to separate the pair, who were subsequently shown yellow cards.
The incident sparked the Anfield crowd into life, Salah halved the deficit moments later and Liverpool eventually secured a hard-earned point.
Xhaka’s contribution to Arsenal’s cause has been immense this term, but he is still prone to moments of madness like this.
“I’m not an Arsenal fan, but if I was an Arsenal fan: what are you doing?! It’s absolutely daft,” former Liverpool defender Jamie Carragher added on Sky Sports. “The game is in your hands and you get involved. Even the challenge, the arm, why do it? And now coming back, head-to-head with Trent, riles the crowd up. Absolutely idiotic from Xhaka to do that. That was going back to the old Xhaka.”
The 30 year old has led his team with his loss of composure, and it’s unlikely that he will learn his lesson. Xhaka has always played on the edge, which is partly why he is so good at his job in the middle of the park, but he has not yet learned how to control his temper.
Guardiola is still the master
At the Etihad Stadium, Arteta spent three years honing his craft as a coach by working with the best in the business.
The Spaniard absorbed as much as he could from Guardiola while serving as his assistant before going out on his own at Arsenal in 2019. He was unable to deliver instant success at Emirates Stadium, in the same way that Guardiola did at Barcelona back in 2008-09, but the Gunners are now reaping the rewards for their patience.
City’s head coach played down his influence on Arteta’s career back in October, telling reporters: “I’d like to say a lot (of City influence at the Emirates) but I’d lie to you. Maybe I learned more off him than he did off me when we worked together.”
City have some challenging fixtures still to come aside from their clash with Arsenal, including away games against Fulham, Brentford and Brighton, but no one would be surprised if they picked up maximum points through to the end of the season.
They’ve done it before, and have the squad depth to juggle Champions League and FA Cup commitments alongside their title challenge without a hitch.
Arsenal have only the league to focus on, which adds more pressure. They travel to a relegation-threatened West Ham for a London derby clash next, before welcoming bottom-of-the-table Southampton to the Emirates.
Arteta’s side must win both of those games before facing City, and they need a positive result at the Etihad to set them up for the three fixtures that could define their season.
The Gunners will host Chelsea at the end of April before taking on Champions League-chasing Newcastle at St James’ Park and facing Brighton at the Emirates – with Roberto De Zerbi’s side also in with an outside chance of a top-four finish.
If Arsenal can stay on top after that run of games, they will certainly be deserving champions, but it feels inevitable that they will be pipped to the post by a City side that is just all-round better equipped to finish the job.