Riyad Mahrez shows Man City what they will miss during AFCON – Simon Bajkowski

For most of the first half, Riyad Mahrez cut a frustrated figure.

He had started brightly in his blossoming partnership at set-pieces with Kevin De Bruyne, where the two have started combining to excellent effect from the corner flag. Twice they bamboozled Arsenal with a relatively simple short corner, enabling them to get a good ball into the box and create chances where City should have scored at least one from.

They didn’t though, and that allowed Arsenal to take control of the match and effectively take Mahrez out of the game. The Algerian has learned how to work back and put in the defensive graft because Pep Guardiola would not let him start regularly until he got that message.

But there is no denying that he is not as adept at that side of the game as, say, Raheem Sterling on the other flank. Much of the first half passed him by, with him either being unable to help out Joao Cancelo down the right side or not being found by teammates when they did get the ball back.

That’s not to say that he was any more below par than anyone else in Blue in that first half, but more than most the game was not played to his strengths.

While City didn’t deserve the opportunity to level from the penalty spot in the second half, it would have been impossible for VAR and the referee to review Granit Xhaka’s clumsy challenge on Bernardo Silva and not come to the right decision.

For all the drama around decisions on the day, it was striking that there was absolutely no fuss involved around Mahrez putting the ball on the spot and smashing it into the net.

This is City and penalties we are talking about, let us remember – a team that over the past few seasons literally had players queueing up to miss.

Mahrez has killed all of those worries though. Despite the delay, despite pathetic attempts from multiple Arsenal players to scuff up the penalty spot, he simply kept his head and earned his team parity on the scoreboard. From there, more opportunities opened up for the visitors as Arsenal players and fans reacted badly to the penalty decision, and Rodri poked home a winner.

That kind of composure will be difficult to replace while Mahrez is away with Algeria looking for international honours. Sterling stepped up confidently from the spot against Leicester, but there is nobody quite like Mahrez to make the most of a situation that City have struggled with too much in recent years.

It will only be one player missing, but it will also be that feeling of confidence from the spot.

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