LONDON â€” After Arsenal twice conceded against Manchester City, Arsene Wenger was apprehensive.
“At 1-0 down and 2-1 down, just before halftime, our fans could have turned against us,” Wenger said. “I think they were absolutely sensational and helped the team today get through those difficult moments.”
Not that there was too much to celebrate after Sunday’s 2-2 draw in the Premier League. A fifth loss in six league games would have darkened the mood further around the Emirates Stadium, but a point still leaves Arsenal treading water far from the Champions League places.
Man City remains seven points ahead in fourth place, with 10 games to go for Arsenal, including one in hand over Guardiola’s side. It leaves Wenger’s enviable record of securing 20 successive seasons of Champions League qualification under threat.
Within that atmosphere, it’s hard for Arsenal or Wenger to contemplate any announcement yet that the embattled manager is extending his 21-year reign. But the smattering of protests that did erupt on Sunday was restricted to publicity-seeking stunts outside the Emirates Stadium. And Wenger hopes the resilience demonstrated against City is a positive sign for the closing weeks of the season as the manager’s contract winds down.
Far from capitulating as so often in recent years at Arsenal, Theo Walcott wiped out Leroy Sane’s City fifth-minute opener. Although Sergio Aguero immediately fired City back in front, Shkodran Mustafi restored parity eight minutes into the second half and Arsenal protected the point.
“We started with quite a high level of anxiety and we are punished straight away,” Wenger said of Sane’s close-range finish after racing onto Kevin De Bruyne’s long ball. “It was a mental test and overall you could see that the team was touched on the confidence front, the fluency in our game suffered.”
Then the Gunners recovered.
“We have shown some mental strength,” Wenger said, “and that will help us to come back to our natural fluency.”
City also needs a confidence-booster after a third consecutive league draw that left Guardiola deeply frustrated.
“After the first half, we score a goal, forgot to play,” Guardiola said in a blunt assessment. “We missed a little bit, forgot a little bit to attack. That’s why in the first half Arsenal was better. Of course, we had the chance to make the counterattacks, but we missed easy balls and when this happens, you cannot control the ball.
“The second half was much better, especially when Yaya (Toure) went in (off the bench for Raheem Sterling), because he has this huge personality to play.”
City’s next game is also in London on Wednesday at Chelsea, whose lead was trimmed to seven points on Saturday after losing at home to Crystal Palace. Second-placed Tottenham beat Burnley.
SWANSEA 0, MIDDLESBROUGH 0
The scrap to stay in the Premier League was the focus of Sunday’s other game. Just like in Arsenal’s meeting with Manchester City, a point did little to help either Swansea or Middlesbrough.
Swansea is only a point and a place above the relegation zone, while Middlesbrough is five points behind the south Wales club with a game in hand.
Rob Harris, The Associated Press