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INSTEAD of the clash of the titans we were expecting, Pep Guardiola and Mikel Arteta served up a clash of the tight ‘uns – with Jurgen Klopp the only winner.

Arsenal boss Arteta saw his side grind out the first goalless draw contested at the Etihad in two and half years.

But it was Liverpool boss Klopp who was best pleased with this miserable match as his Reds now lead the Premier League, two points clear of the Gunners and three ahead of champions City.


It was as if Klopp’s two chief title rivals were determined to serve him up the Premier League trophy in a whip-round for his leaving present.,


Arteta is supposed to be the apprentice of Guardiola, the high priest of footballing purity, but instead this was like watching two teams being simultaneously coached by Jose Mourinho.

Neither side managed to force a serious save from either goalkeeper in the dullest of non-events.

Arsenal wasted time, committed tactical fouls and showed precious little attacking ambition – which, as the away side, might be justified.

But City were cautious too and they have still failed to beat any side in the top five of the current Premier League table this season.

The defending Treble-winners are simply not as good as they were last term – their summer signings Jeremy Doku, Mateo Kovacic and Josko Gvardiol have not improved them and Erling Haaland is not the force of nature he was a year ago.

At a similar stage last season, Arsenal were battered here 4-1, Haaland monstering Rob Holding and their title hopes were over.

But this time they travelled with renewed purpose, without having dropped a single point in 2024, and having defeated City at home, as well as in a Community Shield penalty shoot-out.

City were without Kyle Walker and with his fellow England casualty John Stones only fit enough to make the bench.

Arteta chose Jesus on the left flank and the former City man missed the first clear chance of the match when he chested down Ben White’s centre but shot wide of the near post.

It was cagey, though. Both managers had selected four specialist centre-backs and two defensive midfielders, so it was congested in the centre of the park, both teams lacking natural width.

Nathan Ake – who had missed one close-range headed chance from a corner, was soon forced off, with Rico Lewis on as an authentic full-back but City were struggling to find any openings.

Declan Rice was thriving amid the midfield traffic, winning one great tackle to rob Rodri and set off an Arsenal break which ended with Kai Havertz sliding into City keeper Stefan Ortega.

Jesus steered another shot wide as City defended deep.

It was as cautious a match as you could possibly imagine from two teams who needed a win and whose managers preach the beautiful game.

Ref Anthony Taylor was determined to let things flow, Rice getting away with a cynical foul on Haaland on one of the rare occasions that the Norwegian had a sniff.

Jurgen Klopp, desperate for a draw here, would have been rubbing his hands in glee.

Early in the second half, Kovacic curled a long-ranger narrowly wide.

But on the hour, with the game still excruciatingly tight, Guardiola blinked first and sent on Jack Grealish and Doku in place of Foden and Kovacic.

When Jesus was booked for dissent – the first man to go into Taylor’s book despite a glut of tactical fouls from Arsenal – it got the loudest cheer of the afternoon.

Arteta sent for Leandro Trossard, then Gabriel Martinelli for a limping Saka.

Raya was booked for time-wasting at least an hour after City’s fans had first called for that punishment.

Some tactical wonks would have been stroking their chins and declaring it was compelling but for most of us it played out like a game of chess consisting only of pawns.

On 85 minutes, a goalkeeper made an actual save when Trossard darted down the left and saw his effort beaten away by Ortega.


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