Feature

#MCIARS: Four things we noticed

Leno

EMPTY-HANDED FROM EMPTY ETIHAD

This was an alien concept for all of our players. We had never played a competitive game behind closed doors before (Manchester City experienced it in the Champions League earlier this season) and it was clear the surreal atmosphere took a while for both sets of players to get to grips with.

The substitutes were sat - at least three seats apart - in the lower tier of the stands, and the media were situated a few rows behind. From there every shout from the players could be heard - Shkodran Mustafi and Bernd Leno were among the most vociferous.

Manchester City decided against piping crowd noise through the speakers, but had two giant screens showing fans watching via a huge Zoom call.

If this is the new normal, it's going to take some getting used to.

Etihad screens

SHUFFLING THE PACK

The game was barely five minutes old when Mikel Arteta had to use the first of his five allotted substitutes. Granit Xhaka was stretchered off clutching his ankle, and was replaced by Dani Ceballos. Twenty minutes later Pablo Mari - starting his third consecutive match – was also forced off with injury with David Luiz coming on to take his place in the back four. Although five substitutions are now allowed, each manager is only allowed to stop the game three times to make his changes. Arteta had used two of his 'substitute opportunities' inside the opening half hour.

In fairness the changes didn't disrupt us too much and we looked solid in the opening half hour, restricting City well and taking the game to them, until Raheem Sterling's goal in stoppage time.

But the forced changes early in the second half caused more disruption. Kieran Tierney - making his first start since December - was moved into the centre following David Luiz's red card, and Bukayo Saka dropped to full back.

From then on the hosts dominated possession and controlled the match.

With 25 minutes remaining Arteta's last throw of the dice was making a triple change - bringing on Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette. City also finished the game with 10 men after Eric Garcia's injury - which produced 11 minutes of injury time.

That was when we had our best chance of the game - set up by Nelson, but Aubameyang scuffed his shot wide.

Xhaka

LENO PLAYS HIS PART

Players might have been excused for showing some rustiness after 102 days without a game, but that was demonstrably not the case for Bernd Leno.

He had a quiet opening, but was then called into action three times in quick succession to deny Raheem Sterling, David Silva and Riyad Mahrez.

He was given no chance with Sterling's crashing finish in first-half injury time, but made several more notable stops after the penalty.

He even got a touch on Sergio Aguero's shot, but was unlucky to see the ball bounce off the post into Phil Foden's path for 3-0.

In all the German stopper made 12 saves, but he couldn't prevent our first league defeat of 2020, and the first on the road under Mikel Arteta.

Leno

PROTEST MOVEMENT

There were plenty of 'firsts' tonight for Arsenal: First ever competitive game played behind closed doors, first time playing a league game in June for more than 70 years, first match played with social distancing regulations, and it was also the first time in Premier League history that all the players' names on their shirts were replaced to support a cause. The cause in question is of course Black Lives Matter, a movement that players from right across the Premier League have been very publicly backing on social media in the past few weeks. And this latest show of support was particularly effective. The eyes of the sporting world were on this match, on the first day of Premier League action for more than three months, so this protest received a huge global audience. All 22 players - and the referee - also took a knee on the pitch prior to kick-off.

The minute's silence for victims of the coronavirus crisis was also particularly poignant in a near-empty arena.

Each of the player's shirts also sported an NHS badge, in recognition of the incredible work undertaken by those on the frontline. It's a reminder that it was largely due to the dedication of people such as NHS workers, that we have been able to get back to playing football in this country, when not so long ago the cancellation of the whole season looked like a very real prospect.

Auba BLM

 

 

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