The clash between Manchester City and Arsenal had all the anticipation of a heavy-weight title fight. Arsenal was on an eight-game winning streak, and it entered the matchday as the league leaders. Manchester City had not lost since the turn of the calendar year, and a win at home would allow Pep Guardiola’s side to keep pace in its bid to win the Premier League for the fourth year in a row. What fans got was a slow game that ended scoreless, far from the excitement that this fixture promised while fans waited during the March international break.

Viewers would be hard-pressed to find the standout moment of the game. Was it Nathan Ake’s header after 15 minutes that forced a save out of David Raya? Perhaps it was Gabriel Jesus dragging his shot attempts wide or the long-range effort from Mateo Kovacic. It was a chess match between Pep Guardiola and his former understudy, Mikel Arteta. The only issue is that chess matches are boring for the neutral viewer, and this potentially historic clash between City and Arsenal will go down as one of the most forgettable.

One of the biggest issues with Pep Guardiola is the fact that he overthinks games. A brilliant tactician, Guardiola will try to outwork the other manager to exploit areas of concern. At the same time, he is defensively resolute. The only issue in doing this against Arsenal is that Mikel Arteta entered this game with the same mentality. Arsenal’s low block was strong, at times putting 10 players behind the ball while only Gabriel Jesus provided an outlet for escape. Manchester City prodded and pried away at the Arsenal backline to no avail. That led to passing, some scrappy play in the middle of the field and more aimless passing.

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A defensive focus from kickoff brings a draw between City and Arsenal

The issue with this game was apparent before the ball started rolling. Both Arsenal and Manchester City started a full defensive line of players that generally play as center-backs. Granted, Ben White and Josko Gvardiol have made a home on the flanks, their traditional location is in the middle. Having these players in defense eliminates the ability of other playmakers who could fill those roles. For Arsenal, that includes a player like Oleksandr Zinchenko. In Manchester City’s case, that was Rico Lewis, but an injury to Nathan Ake allowed Lewis to come into the game.

Both managers opted for a timid strategy instead of attacking the game. That in itself is surprising. Given Liverpool’s win earlier on the day against Brighton, both sides needed a win to keep pace with Liverpool. Now, the Reds hold sole possession of the league lead. Arsenal trails Liverpool by two points, while City is three points back with a worse goal differential. None of the three teams have overly daunting schedules to close the season. Each will play Tottenham, Arsenal and Liverpool play Manchester United. Meanwhile, Manchester City has a massive game midweek against Aston Villa.

Given the remaining schedules, picking off all three points against a title contender should have warranted a more attacking game plan, particularly from Manchester City. City had scored in 58 straight home games across all competitions, yet it failed to have a serious threat outside of Ake’s first-half chance.

While it is easy to point out the issues with Manchester City, Arsenal and Mikel Arteta deserve praise. As the team on the road, a draw would have been a good result for Arsenal against Manchester City. The two players of the game were Arsenal’s true center backs, Gabriel and William Saliba. For the third time this season, Saliba and Gabriel held Haaland without a shot. The Norwegian may not be as prolific as last season’s records, but he is still ripping the Premier League apart with a league-leading 18 goals in just 24 appearances.

Less than ideal for the Premier League

Arsenal will be content with the draw at City, and this is likely the best-case scenario for Liverpool after defeating Brighton. However, this is not what the Premier League needed in terms of title-deciding games. The memorable moments for the league center around goals. Manchester City won the Premier League with goals from Sergio Aguero and Ilkay Gundogan. Eden Hazard won the Premier League for Leicester City with a dramatic late goal against Tottenham. Those moments make the Premier League. A scoreless draw like this one between two elite teams that have potent offenses goes against that.

PHOTOS: IMAGO