By Rob Kelly at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal were held to a 2-2 draw by Manchester City in a thrilling lunchtime kick off at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Gunners dominated the early exchanges, with Danny Welbeck coming so close to a debut goal with a chip that struck the inside of the post.
But for all their possession, they could not take advantage - and in the 28th minute the champions made them pay as Sergio Aguero scored a suckerpunch of a goal.
Arsene Wenger’s side upped the tempo again at the start of the second half and just after the hour mark they had their reward as Jack Wilshere dinked home a beautiful finish.
Suddenly it was game on, and the red hordes kept pouring forward as they went in search of another. When it arrived, it was more than worth the wait as Alexis Sanchez volleyed into the top corner after further fine work from the excellent Wilshere.
But Martin Demichelis’ header from an Aleksander Kolarov corner brought the scores level again in the closing stages, before Edin Dzeko twice came close in injury time.
It had been fantastic entertainment, but in the end a point apiece was probably a fair result from a breathless afternoon’s work.
SETTING THE SCENE
The international break had been kind on Arsenal, who welcomed a host of players back into fold after proving their fitness during the interval. The only doubt had been Aaron Ramsey, who sustained an ankle knock on Wales duty, but he was passed fit and took his place in midfield.
Much of the pre-match talk had centred on new signing Welbeck, fresh from two midweek goals for England, and he was thrown straight in up front in place of Yaya Sanogo. The 23-year-old was part of a rapid frontline that will have had Formula One star Lewis Hamilton - watching alongside Theo Walcott in the stands - nodding in appreciation.
The only other change saw Wilshere replace Santi Cazorla, who dropped to the bench alongside the fit again Mikel Arteta.
City, meanwhile, came into the game on the back of a surprise defeat to Stoke City and with a record of only having won once at Arsenal in 17 Premier League games. They made a surprise change, with Frank Lampard replacing Yaya Toure, while Gael Clichy started - but former Gunners Bacary Sagna and Samir Nasri were on the bench.
In the build up to this game, Wenger had spoken of the need for his side to be more aggressive, mobile and strong in the challenge than last term - and they responded with a robust opening that put them firmly on the front foot.
With Wilshere and Ramsey controlling the centre of the park, the Gunners were excellent in the early stages, with Alexis stinging Joe Hart’s fingers with a fierce strike after six minutes. Moments later Welbeck shot wide after good work up the left from Nacho Monreal and Mesut Ozil.
It was exactly the start Wenger will have wanted, and after 12 minutes his side came so close to taking the lead they merited when Welbeck pounced on a defensive error and lobbed Hart only to see the ball hit the inside of the post and roll clear.
The champions were rattled by the speed and aggression of Arsenal’s approach, but for all their dominance they could not take advantage - and in the 28th minute they fell behind.
It came from a lightning fast City counter as the dangerous Jesus Navas escaped down the right flank to just about keep the ball in play. The Spaniard raced into the box and crossed low for the onrushing Aguero to touch past Wojciech Szczesny at the near post.
It was a blow, and it could have been even worse moments later when Szczesny was called on to deny David Silva with a smart save after the Spaniard had found some space in the box.
The momentum had shifted slightly, but with Ramsey, Ozil and Alexis in lively form Arsenal continued to threaten - although they could find no way through before the interval.
The red waves of pressure started to build again after the interval and, just two minutes in, lovely interplay between Ozil and Wilshere released Alexis in the box, but his cross was just about cut out at the near post.
But with City able to impose themselves far more than in the early stages of the first half, it was a much more even affair. Indeed the visitors nearly doubled their lead before the hour mark when Clichy raced into the box and beat Szczesny to a Silva pass, but he poked his shot just wide of the far post.
Frustration was growing among the Arsenal players as some robust challenges went unpunished, but that soon dissolved as Wilshere scored a magnificent equaliser.
It came as Ozil won the ball to force it back to Wilshere, just inside the City half. The England international looked up and fed Ramsey before continuing his run, before collecting the return pass and beating Hart with a sublime finish. Game on.
With the match now very much there to be won, Arsenal streamed forward and moments later Ozil released Mathieu Debuchy to the right of the box. The France international had had another fine game, but he could not cap it off with a goal as his drive was directed just off target.
The game was then turned on its head by an even better goal with 14 minutes remaining as Wilshere’s powerful header found Alexis in the box, and his first time volley found the top corner.
What a goal, and what a comeback.
Wilshere was in sensational form and after another trademark surge forward, he dinked the ball over the top for Ramsey but the Welshman’s strike drifted wide.
There was bad news near the end though, as Debuchy was stretchered off the pitch after falling awkwardly on his ankle, throwing Calum Chambers in for what promised to be a frenetic finish.
With six minutes remaining, City grabbed an equaliser as the unmarked Demichelis headed home from a corner, before Welbeck curled a fine effort just wide from 20 yards in response.
Both teams pushed on in search of a winner, and City came closest as Dzeko’s late effort hit the post and bounced back into Szczesny’s arms.
In the end, time ran out on a breathless, thrilling game and both sides had to settle for a share of the spoils. It had been quite an afternoon.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg
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