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Gary Neville: Arsenal answered big questions over title credentials with unique defensive display at Man City | Football News

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Gary Neville felt Arsenal answered questions about their mentality and their defensive resilience as they held champions Manchester City to a goalless draw in a tight game at the Etihad Stadium.

Arsenal limited Pep Guardiola’s side to a solitary shot on target, becoming the first team to keep a clean sheet at the Etihad since 2021 and ending a 57-game City scoring run at home.

Their defensive display bore sharp contrast to their dire performance at the same ground last season, when City seized control of the title race with a dominant 4-1 win.

William Saliba missed that game through injury, but the Frenchman was described as a “giant on the pitch” by Neville as he named him player of the match on Sunday.

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Watch highlights from the Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal

According to the Sky Sports pundit, Saliba’s performance underlined how much he was missed during last year’s run-in and proved the Gunners are now stronger contenders, despite sitting two points behind leaders Liverpool, who beat Brighton in the earlier game.

“I think they answered two big questions today,” Neville said on Sky Sports. “One is on their mentality. Could they live in a big game against Manchester City?

“They folded here last year and they were all over the place, whereas today they withstood a lot of pressure and looked like a team that could go through a title challenge and have a lot more mental strength.

“That’s a big question answered, because it’s difficult to come here.

“The other one is on the defensive side of things. Last year, it was suggested that without Saliba they were harmed, and that’s been proven today.

“Saliba was immense, there’s no doubt about that. So was Gabriel.

“But for me, the work ethic of the two wide players and the two forwards was also incredible.”

Erling Haaland attempts to shoot despite pressure from William Saliba
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Erling Haaland attempts to shoot under pressure from William Saliba

For a third consecutive game against Arsenal, including the Community Shield and the Gunners’ 1-0 win at the Emirates Stadium in October, Erling Haaland failed to register a shot on target.

“The two centre-halves were fantastic,” added Neville. “They headed everything away, they really did gang up on Haaland. It was a classic one go tight and one hold off, old-fashioned tactics.

“But they had a lot of players around them to enable them to do that. They had the full-backs narrow and tight, they had the midfield compact with them.

“The two wide players tucked in and did a really good job, and then they had the two forward players, [Kai] Havertz and [Martin] Odegaard, when it was needed as well.”

Race for the title
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The schedule that awaits the three title contenders

He added: “When you’re playing against a world-class player, don’t be embarrassed to think you need to double up. I quite regularly, when playing against [Marc] Overmars or [Robert] Pires, had to get someone else with me to gang up.

“That’s what [Gabriel] Jesus did. Jesus got [Jakub] Kiwior out of a lot of trouble today. He was having a bit of a difficult game early on.

“Jesus was right next to him. [Bukayo] Saka next to Ben White. They did a great job collectively.”

Manchester City were left to rue Nathan Ake’s close-range miss in the first half, as well as a late opportunity which saw Haaland uncharacteristically fail to connect with the ball. But Neville put their struggles in front of goal down to their opponents.

Jack Grealish takes on Ben White
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Ben White makes a challenge on Jack Grealish

“I just think Arsenal made it so difficult for them. I’ve never seen a team make it so difficult for Manchester City in the final third. There didn’t seem to be any spaces. The way in which Arsenal defended was quite unique.”

Arsenal did not offer much by way of attacking threat at the other end but Roy Keane agreed with Neville’s assessment of their defensive performance and praised their pragmatic approach.

“Everyone has a plan before the game but when you come to Man City, ultimately you know you are going to have to defend,” he said.

“The players said that they didn’t plan t be that deep in the second half but Man City force you back.

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Manchester City’s Pep Guardiola praised Arsenal’s defensive display

“In possession I think Arsenal probably wanted to do a bit better but they were chasing the ball for long periods in the game. You are going to have heavy legs.

“They had some moments. They had two shots on target and City only had one, so Arsenal will be pleased.

“You have to look at City as the home team and their record, it’s a more disappointing result for them. You have to give credit to Arsenal.”

Keane also highlighted the physical improvement of Arteta’s team compared to last season.

Premier League tilte race: Opta predictor
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Opta’s predictor rates Liverpool as favourites

“Physically, they are a lot stronger than last year,” he said. “There are definitely more athletes in the team. They can deal with that constant pressure, whereas last year, we saw they couldn’t.

“The clean sheet is great but also the lack of shots on target [from Man City].

“Usually, if a team comes here and gets a result, you come away saying the goalkeeper was outstanding, or they got a bit lucky with a few decisions. But they only had one shot on target.”

Arteta: We have made a big step

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Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta was delighted by his side’s commitment and resilience

Arteta praised his side for their dogged display, telling Sky Sports: “If you don’t win, you’re never happy happy. But I think we have made a big step. We have experienced what happened here last year and we have come across in a different way.

“We have played a lot of parts of the game in an exceptional way and other parts of the game where we have the feeling we can do much better, especially with the ball in the first phase of the build-up when we didn’t have enough composure and patience to play more.

“Because after we committed some big, big, big situations to have the chance to win the game.”

Martin Odegaard is marked by Josko Gvardiol
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Martin Odegaard is marked by Josko Gvardiol at the Etihad Stadium

He added: “The commitment of all the players, the discipline they have in all the defensive parts. When we were really high in the pitch trying to win the ball we won the ball a lot. Then when they break that press we had to track back, stay deep, we had to be really patient and defend the box really well.

“I think it’s 2021 the last time they haven’t scored at home, three years, that’s a difficult job.

“To come to this big place, not a lot of teams have done what we’ve done today, and especially when there is a lot at stake, you have to respond and it’s another step.

“Nothing changes. We wanted to win. Unfortunately we know the Liverpool result but we have to carry on. Still a lot to play for.”



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