Arsenal's 2-2 draw with Manchester City resolves nothing, keeps Arsene Wenger stalemate going

These days, Arsenal’s Emirates Stadium is primarily a place where several tens of thousands of people gather once a week or so to have a group therapy session for their chronic anxiety.

The primary object of that anxiety is the club’s 67-year-old manager Arsene Wenger, who has just set off on his third decade in charge of the club. Arsenal stopped winning things on the regular since its last Premier League title in 2004 and its run to the Champions League final in 2006. Yet Wenger has endured, even though his side has seemingly slipped a little bit further from competing with each passing season. Even the pretty soccer, the one thing it could be relied on to deliver consistently, has eroded.

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Last year, when every other big club inexplicably crumbled in concert, and Leicester City somehow scampered off with the title, it took Arsenal until the final day of the season to nip Tottenham to the finish line and nab second place. It was the club’s best finish in 11 seasons.

This season, Arsenal hasn’t been very good. Even though it finished two rounds of Premier League play in first place – the ninth and 15th matchdays – it somehow never quite felt like the Gunners were in it. And even though, for once, they won their Champions League group stage, they were crushed 5-1 twice by Bayern Munich – for an unimaginable 10-2 aggregate score – for a seventh straight elimination in the round of 16.

Guardiola and Wenger shake hands after a draw that kept the status quo for both sides. (Reuters)
Guardiola and Wenger shake hands after a draw that kept the status quo for both sides. (Reuters)

Going into Sunday’s showdown with Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City – disappointing in its own right this year – Arsenal had lost six of its last seven games, two in a row in Europe and four of five in the league. The slide comprised losses to Chelsea and Liverpool but also included defeats by Watford and West Bromwich Albion.

Wenger’s contract runs out after this season. He has reportedly, and to the consternation of a great many beleaguered fans, been offered a two-year extension. He isn’t yet sure what he’s going to do. Somehow, it’s up to Wenger to decide if he still wants to the be Argenal manager after a decade of one of the world’s biggest and richest clubs treading water or regressing, while simultaneously pleading poverty and claiming not to be such a big team.

That’s resulted in slightly sad campaigns like the #WengerOut movement.

If Arsenal lost on Sunday, there was hope among those fans that Wenger would be fired after all, or that at least his extension offer would be taken off the table. Or that he would take the none-too-subtle hint and leave of his own volition.

If the Gunners won, and perhaps even got themselves back into the race for fourth place and a spot in the Champions League to continue their unbroken run in that competition going back to the 1997-98 season, well, maybe things were going to be OK.

Instead, a chaotic 2-2 tie resolved nothing.

It didn’t help Arsenal climb out of sixth place – as a win would have. And it didn’t get City within nine points of leaders Chelsea, who lost to Crystal Palace on Saturday, like it would have had the visitors won.

A pretty poor game got off to a wide-open start. In a fifth-minute sequence, Danny Welbeck’s shot for Arsenal was deflected just wide. Then, at the other end, Leroy Sane latched onto a long ball from Kevin De Bruyne, kept Hector Bellerin at bay, circled goalkeeper David Ospina and then rolled it into the net ahead of Laurent Koscielny’s slide.

City nearly doubled the score a short while later, when De Bruyne’s shot clanked off the near post and David Silva’s shot was parried by Ospina. But Arsenal got a grip and managed to push the play further up the field and to control more of it.

For much of the game, City seemed the superior team, albeit one that wasn’t that bothered about getting another goal.

So Arsenal hung around. And in the 40th minute, a poorly cleared ball was headed back into the mixer by Shkodran Mustafi. Theo Walcott managed to scramble it past Gael Clichy and poke it by goalkeeper Willy Caballero to equalize.

But just 131 seconds later, De Bruyne again dinked a ball off the near post. On the ensuing play, Silva found Sergio Aguero, who ripped the ball into the far side netting to make it 2-1 City.

On the brink of halftime, Walcott volleyed just high, and then, ominously, Arsenal’s defensive rock Laurent Koscielny had to come off for Gabriel at halftime with an injury.

But City neglected to get a third goal. Aguero headed wide on an open effort from a Jesus Navas cross.

So Mustafi, in the 53rd minute, rose highest on a corner, even leaping over his teammate Welbeck, and headed home to tie it up again.

Ospina then saved a long rocket from Fernandinho and another Aguero header with a majestic leap.

At the final whistle, Wenger and Guardiola – who had publicly defended his French colleague from his many critics before the game – shook hands, neither man particularly pleased or disappointed.

Sixth is the worst Arsenal have been placed after 28 rounds of games since Wenger took over in the fall of 1996. Four times before, the Gunners were in fifth at this stage, and each time they managed to climb at least one spot.

That feels unlikely this year. And fourth place, in which City holds a seven-point lead over Arsenal, seems out of reach. The benchmark that Wenger never once slipped below in 20 seasons will likely not be met this year.

Yet in North London, the managerial status quo remains intact.

Leander Schaerlaeckens is a soccer columnist for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter @LeanderAlphabet.

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