But their attacking threat, midfield control and defensive security in general play were on a level that has rarely been seen at the Emirates in recent seasons. Bukayo Saka and Martinelli caused more problems for City’s defence than any team has done for weeks, while Thomas Partey and Xhaka were dominant in midfield in the first half.
With Martin Odegaard in front of the two midfielders in the heart of the pitch, Arsenal had a balance and control which they have not enjoyed against City since Pep Guardiola arrived on these shores. Partey was spraying passes across the pitch and winning it back in City’s half, Xhaka was dictating play alongside him and Odegaard was dovetailing with the brilliant Saka down the right.
All of this contributed to the pride within the ground, and indeed the rage at the officials when the game was ripped out of Arsenal’s grasp. The home fans knew that Arsenal were playing at their maximum, which only made it more galling when the key decisions — Odegaard’s unsuccessful penalty appeal, City’s penalty, Gabriel’s red card and the repeated refusal to show Rodri a yellow card — went against them.
Those refereeing calls gained the most attention, and meant that Arsenal and their supporters had someone else to blame. Martinelli’s wasted open goal, Gabriel’s foolish sending off and Xhaka’s rash challenge meant that Arsenal were also at fault, however.
On another day, these moments would not have mattered and the refereeing decisions would have gone their way. It was an afternoon of fine margins, which in itself is a sign that Arsenal are rapidly growing as a team.