April 3, 2017 / 3:15 AM / 5 months ago

Guardiola's City remain unconvincing title challengers

Britain Football Soccer - Arsenal v Manchester City - Premier League - Emirates Stadium - 2/4/17 Manchester City's Sergio Aguero scores their second goal Reuters / Eddie Keogh Livepic

LONDON (Reuters) - Manchester City's 2-2 draw at Arsenal has prompted faint title talk from the visitors' camp, but their Emirates Stadium stalemate only exposed the enduring frailties that persist with Pep Guardiola's side.

Twice City took the lead, through Leroy Sane and Sergio Aguero, but twice they were pegged back as Arsenal equalised through Theo Walcott and Shkodran Mustafi.

While City can move within eight points of Premier League leaders Chelsea with a win at Stamford Bridge on Wednesday, their inability to kill off troubled Arsenal suggests Guardiola has his work cut out to cultivate a side that can mount a challenge for the title, let alone eclipse Chelsea this season.

Defensively, City were regularly troubled by an Arsenal attacking unit that have themselves flattered to deceive in recent fixtures.

Guardiola praised stand-in right back Jesus Navas, who applied himself manfully despite the ominous prospect of a tussle with Alexis Sanchez, though the City winger's cameo in defence only served to highlight the paucity of options.

"I played him because Bacary Sagna was injured and Pablo Zabaleta were not ready," Guardiola told Sky Sports. "Jesus always deserves the best because he is an excellent guy and I was so happy with him."

Fit-again club captain Vincent Kompany remained on the bench despite being available and cut a frustrated figure watching his team mates toil defensively.

Britain Football Soccer - Arsenal v Manchester City - Premier League - Emirates Stadium - 2/4/17 Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola and Manchester City's Sergio Aguero speak to referee Andre Marriner at full time Action Images via Reuters / John Sibley Livepic

City have conceded 32 league goals this season - 11 more than second-placed Tottenham Hotspur, nine more than Chelsea - and the backline requires a significant overhaul this summer.

Guardiola has crafted a sleek offensive unit but, after a breathless opening 15 minutes at The Emirates, they appeared to ease off as their intensity levels dropped and they allowed Arsenal back into the match.

City only reasserted themselves after Walcott poked home an equaliser, and were unable to rouse themselves in the second half to push on and secure all three points.

"We didn't play in the first half," Guardiola conceded, "after the goal we forgot to play, the desire went.

"In the second half we played more. We suffered a lot in the first half because we did not make those passes together."

The match summed up City's maiden season under ex-Barcelona and Bayern Munich coach Guardiola, as they started brightly, dropped off significantly and ultimately lost their way.

Despite the re-emergence of title talk, the Spanish coach has much to do in order to craft a championship-winning side out of a talented - if flawed - squad.

Reporting by Ed Dove; Editing by Ken Ferris

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