Arsenal battle but lack of depth sorely obvious

Arsenal’s team selection at the Etihad highlighted a significant gap in the current depth of the two squads, and although they were competitive the end result was no big surprise
Arsenal battle but lack of depth sorely obvious

UP FOR IT: Manchester City's Erling Haaland (left) is clattered by Arsenal's Rob Holding during the Emirates FA Cup fourth round match at Etihad Stadium, Manchester. Pic: Mike Egerton/PA Wire

Man City proved they still have a deeper squad - but this was no disaster for Arsenal 

Arsenal’s team selection at the Etihad highlighted a significant gap in the current depth of the two squads, and although they were competitive the end result was no big surprise.

Six changes, a completely revamped defence and a deputy goalkeeper thrown in to play against City’s first team was a big move by Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta and it’s hard to take any other conclusion than he was prioritising the Premier League.

That’s a big call when you consider Arsenal’s FA Cup history – they have won it a record 14 times, including under Arteta in 2020.

It showed, most of all, that Arsenal’s squad depth could be their biggest weakness in the title battle, despite their five point lead, and explained why they are still active in the winter transfer window.

Roy Keane, as ever, was most vocal about Arteta’s selection policy. Speaking on ITV, he said: “It’s a huge gamble and a huge risk and I think it will backfire on him.” In fact, it was a tight match in the end, in which Arsenal’s second string created some decent chances and held their own, only to lose to a goal from unlikely hero Nathan Ake.

So, who takes most comfort here? Arsenal for competing well with their reserves and knowing they will be fresh for the league? Or City knowing they have the deeper squad – and more choice of silverware? Take your pick.

City losing Stones to injury has a silver lining in the title race 

John Stones limping off the pitch with a hamstring injury shortly before half-time was a difficult moment for City but it would be a long shot to suggest it is a major blow to their title chances. Why? Well, because the man replacing him was fit-again Ruben Dias.

Dias, who has also been struggling with a hamstring problem, is not exactly a lowly understudy. He was Premier League Player of the Year when City won the title in 2021, his debut season, and may well be seen by some as an upgrade.

It’s never good to lose players, but the return of Dias, if the Portuguese international can hit top form (and he certainly looked decent in the second half in this tie) could be a positive rather than a negative. Another sign of how strong Pep Guardiola’s squad really is - as was the fact that Ake, a centre back at left-back, scored the winner and kept Bukayo Saka quiet too.

Chelsea’s last-minute steal of Arenal target Mudryk could be a blessing for the Gunners 

You sense that the Gunners would never have signed Leandro Trossard if Chelsea hadn’t gazumped them for Shakhtar’s 100m man Mykhailo Mudryk, but that doesn’t look a problem at the moment.

The Belgian winger made a strong impact from the bench against Manchester United last time out and at the Etihad he started and looked dangerous and direct down the left wing. Given that Gabriel Martinelli, who usually plays that role, is so young, it was vital that Arsenal found back-up – and Trossard’s work allowed the Brazilian star to come on fresh later in the tie.

Perhaps in the long-term Mudryk may prove to be the Ballon D’Or contender that some claim he is; but in Trossard, Arsenal have a Premier League-ready play who has settled in quickly and made an instant impact. That’s what you need in a title race; this year is Arsenal’s chance to do it – they cannot wait until 2024.

Trossard, well coached at Brighton, looks a bargain and Albion fans will tell you he can also play up front. After all, he scored seven goals this season before leaving the south coast. So, when Eddie Nkethiah needs a rest there is cover. Funny how the air of depression at losing Mudryk has dissipated so quickly. 

Manchester City’s first half malaise isn’t going away, despite this result 

Ever since been booed by their own fans when going into half-time against Tottenham 2-0 down, analysts have been looking at City’s tendency to struggle the first half of games.

They also went behind at home early to Brentford and Crystal Palace, were 2-0 down at half-time at Southampton in the League Cup, and were slow off the mark at Old Trafford, Anfield and Elland Road.

Many of those games they went on to win, not least the Tottenham fixture which ended 5-2. But there’s a surprising vulnerability to the City defence this season and a lack of energy in the first 45 minutes which other teams will try and target.

So, although it’s City in the hat for the fifth round, Arsenal – who have still only lost four games all season in all competitions – have no need to feel second best just yet. The way their 7500 away fans sang to the bitter suggests this is a bump in the road, not a dead end.

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