MANCHESTER, England — Manchester City landed a potentially crucial psychological blow on Arsenal by knocking the Premier League leaders out of the FA Cup with a 1-0 fourth round win at the Etihad.
Nathan Ake’s second-half goal was enough to settle a finely-balanced tie for Pep Guardiola’s team, but while the defeat knocked the Gunners out of the cup, it is the impact the loss will have on their title chase that manager Mikel Arteta will be most concerned about. With City and Arsenal due to meet for the first time in the league at the Emirates on Feb 15, City will go to London knowing that they have already beaten Arteta’s team this season and that could make a significant difference.
1. Holding and Arsenal exploit Haaland’s big weakness
So Erling Haaland is human after all. The Manchester City forward was controlled, smothered, fouled and frustrated by an Arsenal defender who hasn’t even started a Premier League game all season. If Rob Holding can tame him, there is hope for everyone else.
Haaland has failed to score more than once this season, of course. The Norway international also had a quiet day during the 2-1 derby defeat against Manchester United earlier this month and since the start of 2023, he has scored in just two of six games in all competitions.
But there was something different about his no-show against the Gunners. For the first time this season, Haaland looked uncomfortable in a City shirt, and he struggled to cope with Arsenal’s tactics and the role manager Pep Guardiola wanted him to play.
In an attempt to beat the Arsenal press, City opted to hit long balls to Haaland with the expectation that he would hold it up and lay it off to his teammates. But he couldn’t do it. Haaland is a forward who wants the ball played over the top so he can use his pace and strength to run onto it. Despite his imposing frame, he is not a striker who enjoys playing with his back to goal, and he enjoys being closely marked even less.
Holding, who has only started cup games for Arsenal this season, is a journeyman defender at best, but he used his experience and defensive knowledge to contain Haaland. While he did stray over the line at times with his challenges, that element of the game is one that all the top strikers have had to overcome in the past. Haaland has yet to add that to his many strengths.
It’s worth noting it wasn’t just holding. Every Arsenal defender made it their job to crowd Haaland out whenever he had the ball, and the tactic worked.
Haaland spent much of the game throwing his arms in the air and shaking his head, but there was no goal. He is too good a player for this performance to be a concern, but the reality is that opponents will now know what he doesn’t like and he can expect plenty more games like this from now on.
2. Turner and Ortega highlight strength in goalkeeping depth
First-choice goalkeepers Ederson and Aaron Ramsdale sat this tie out, with both managers opting to hand game-time to their back-up keepers Stefan Ortega and Matt Turner.
City’s Ortega has more top-level experience than Arsenal’s Turner and he has shown on several occasions that he is a more than capable deputy for Ederson. But having been restricted to outings in the FA Cup and Europa League since arriving at the Emirates from New England Revolution last summer, Turner was facing a Premier League opponent for the first time at the Etihad.
It couldn’t have been a tougher test for the USMNT keeper, with Haaland leading the line for a strong City team. But the 28-year-old performed well and he showed that he has the same kind of attributes that Gunners boss Mikel Arteta rates so highly in Ramsdale.
On two occasions, Turner raced out of his penalty area to beat Haaland to the ball and snuff out a City attack and he also communicated well with his defenders. And when Nathan Ake scored the opening goal in the second-half, Turner was helpless to deny the City defender, who curled the ball beyond his grasp into the far corner.
With Arsenal now eliminated from both domestic cup competitions, it’s likely that Turner will have to wait for the Europa League to come around to have any hope of a game. But if Arsenal lose Ramsdale to injury or suspension between now and the end of the season, Turner showed against City that he can step up and perform in the Premier League.
3. Man City kid Lewis could be another Philipp Lahm
File this away under “spoke too soon” by all means, but Manchester City have unearthed a rare talent in teenager Rico Lewis and he is already displaying some real similarities to former Bayern Munich and Germany star Phillip Lahm.
The 18-year-old, born less than 10 miles from the Etihad in Bury, only made his first-team debut earlier this season, but he has made himself a regular member of Pep Guardiola’s squad with his consistently mature performances.
Primarily a right-back, Lewis can also play in midfield and he performed both roles against Arsenal. What impresses most about Lewis is his calmness and awareness, both with and without the ball. When he moved into midfield, he was constantly scanning the area around him, enabling him to take the ball, pass it and move into space.
To be able to play with such authority at his young age is a testament to Lewis’s talent and the Lahm comparison may already have been made by Guardiola.
During his time as Bayern coach, Guardiola transformed Lahm from a full-back to a midfielder – he made a similar move with Joshua Kimmich – and he could do the same with Lewis. Guardiola has already trusted the youngster in big games against Liverpool and Arsenal, so he clearly has huge faith in him, which looks to be justified.
Best and worst performers
Rob Holding, DF, Arsenal: The best defenders in the world have struggled to contain Erling Haaland this season, but Holding was excellent and did not give the City forward any time or space.
Takehiro Tomiyasu, DF, Arsenal: Making a rare start at right-back, but the Japan international was strong, athletic and disciplined in his role. Looked a much better option for the Gunners than Ben White.
Rico Lewis, DF, Man City: The 18-year-old City defender is a real star of the future. Equally comfortable at right-back or when he pushed inside the play in midfield.
Erling Haaland, FW, Man City: He likes the ball played over the top to run onto, but City wanted him to be a target man who would hold the ball up, but he just couldn’t do it.
Thomas Partey, MF, Arsenal: The Arsenal midfielder did not dominate the game as he has done for much of this season and was substituted at half-time.
Kevin de Bruyne, MF, Man City: Not his usual self for City. Has struggled to find his best form since returning from Belgium’s disappointing World Cup campaign.
Highlights and notable moments
It wasn’t the world’s best game, but Ake did take his goal rather well as Man City held on to advance.
NATHAN AKE GIVES MAN CITY A 1-0 LEAD AGAINST ARSENAL! pic.twitter.com/XuuuLIBftt
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) January 27, 2023
After the match: What the players/managers said
“I thought we deserved to win. We were better in the second half, but it was tough – they pressed very high and it was hard to play out. We had to use Erling more. [On the goal] It was a good pass from Jack [Grealish], and I think it’s the first one I’ve scored with my right foot, so I’m pleased with that. There’s still more to come from this team. Today was more about resilience; we stayed strong and made sure we didn’t concede.” — Man City defender Nathan Ake
Key stats (provided by ESPN Stats & Information research)
This is the first time Arsenal and Man City each fail to score in the first half in a match between them since April 2017 (all comps). Back then, Arsenal went on to beat Man City 2-1.
Nathan Ake: 2nd goal this season (1st since Dec. 22 in EFL Cup). He joins Joao Cancelo as the only Man City defenders with multiple goals this season.
Manchester City: First win in FA Cup vs Arsenal since 1904 (had lost each of the previous 4 meetings in the competition)
Manchester City: 6th straight win vs Arsenal (all comps). Four of those came without allowing a goal.
Both of Nathan Ake’s goals this season have been game-winning goals (all comps). That is tied for most GWG this season among defenders on Premier League clubs along with Arsenal’s Gabriel.
Manchester City: The fixture list doesn’t get much easier for Pep Guardiola & Co. after Friday’s FA Cup game. A trip to Spurs in the Premier League (Feb. 5) is up next, followed by a home date with Aston Villa (Feb. 12) before a potentially decisive league clash at Arsenal on Feb. 15.
Arsenal: After a week of training and downtime, the Gunners have three straight league games at Everton (Feb. 4), against Brentford (Feb. 11) at home and then the big visit of Man City (Feb. 15).