Manchester City 0 Arsenal 3
As I pointed out on Friday`s arsecast (ahem, shameless plug), I always had a strong predilection that Arsenal were going to win on Sunday. I think too many have merely been blinded by the figures City have spent without actually looking at what it`s bought them. This is not to write City off as a bad team, they`re obviously not and they have some very talented players. The truth is however, they don`t have that many players in their squad I would take over and above what we have. So it was with a foreboding sense of positivity that we left a London enveloped in a chilly, watery autumn sunshine. We were greeted at Eastlands by a larger than normal police presence, presumably a precautionary measure given the proclivity of over zealous celebrations and over exuberant reactions to those incendiary taunts. In the end, it looked like they under resourced the home end, which was far more worthy of police scrutiny at points during the match.
The match took on a lively start which I hadn`t expected, I felt City would try to take the tempo out of the game, but it was they that injected it in the opening minutes. Milner played a ball down the right which Tevez raced onto, Djourou naively committed with a sliding tackle which he missed, allowing Tevez to skip through unchecked, he pulled a cross to David Silva, whose close range flick was brilliantly held by Fabianski. Once again Arsenal were caught in the same channel with Clichy too far upfield when Yaya Toure burst down the right, Djourou was left with a difficult choice whether to stick or twist. He ended up doing neither, but Sagna was on hand to make a last ditch clearance from Toure`s low cross. But in their own imitable way, Arsenal adjusted to the pace quickly and caught City sleeping when Fabregas was given time and space between City`s errant midfield and defence, he picked out a defence carving pass to Chamakh who was tripped en route to goal by Boyata. A textbook professional foul and Clattenburg was left with little recourse but to produce the red card. City were going to have to play for some 85 minutes with ten men against a team that can keep the ball for fun.
City fans somehow formulated a sense of faux injustice around the red card and the game became niggly thereafter, with a series of bookings for Arsenal players. Whilst the Gunners were naïve to be drawn into silly fouls in the centre circle, but City, who shifted the make up of their back four three times before half time, had a game plan to even up the numbers with the likes of Silva and Tevez looking to exaggerate the contact of every foul and Clattenburg duly produced the yellow cards the crowd bayed for. Though Arsenal began to exert control over the game, a defensive mishap nearly cost them dear when Djourou hammered his clearance against Squillaci and the ball fell invitingly for Tevez on the edge of the box, but he meekly toe poked his effort straight at Fabianski. But the Gunners were tightening their grip, with Fabregas pulling the strings in midfield, seldom wasting a pass. It was he who switched the ball to Sagna on the right, he swung in a good cross (but you`re still sticking with that line that he can`t cross, right?) and Johan Djourou headed over when he really ought to have hit the target.
But Arsenal did not continue their wasteful habits in front of goal for long. Nasri, who was involved and busy all afternoon, sent a probing ball into Arshavin in the area. City had minutes earlier, shifted their defensive unit around yet again with Yaya Toure at left back, and he and James Milner stood and watched as Nasri moved into the area, Arshavin duly delivered a neat touch in the Frenchman`s direction and Nasri drew Hart out before lifting the ball over the prone keeper and into the net. His seventh goal in seven games. His omission from the French World Cup shambles has worked out very well for Arsenal. Though the away side were in control, defensive mistakes still looked to be on the horizon. Milner played Micah Richards in behind Clichy, Richards cut in, taking out Djourou and Squillaci as he did, but fortunately screwed his shot wide on his left foot when he ought to have scored. It was a stern reminder of the need to remain solid despite our advantage. I think the warning was heeded by the team after that. But they were gift wrapped a golden opportunity to finish the game five minutes before half time.
Sagna played a probing ball inside from the right to Fabregas in the area, he tapped the ball past the lunging tackle of Kompany and Arsenal had a penalty. Nasri showed willing to step up but Fabregas pulled rank. He stepped up and hit a firm penalty to the keeper`s left, but Hart sprang to save it. It wasn`t the worst effort in the world and a good save by the keeper, but penalties generally need to be along the ground or into the roof of the net to beat a keeper who has guessed the right way. Cesc`s fell into the clichéd observation that "that was a nice height for the goalie." This was the only point of the afternoon that I really had a bad feeling about the outcome. That was the 3rd penalty we`ve missed away from home this season. Sure enough, the miss gave City a temporary lease of life and Vincent Kompany rose unmarked to head Silva`s corner over the bar. Half time was pretty welcome when it came, the penalty miss had given City a boost and the crowd were baying for a red card. With four Arsenal players on bookings, it wasn`t hard to see the Gunners surrendering their one man advantage. I`ve since read reels of complaint from City fans around Arsenal`s alleged bad conduct in the game, which is quite extraordinary. I guess I would just like England to make its mind up. When we`re habitually kicked, we`re told to man up and stop whingeing. When we stand up for ourselves we`re called dirty and cynical. Seriously, make your minds up one way or the other and let`s stop this collective amnesia shall we?
City brought on Wayne Bridge at half time, meaning yet another shift in the defensive line up for City. That, coupled with an injury to Carlos Tevez disrupted City`s rhythm one too many times and they looked somewhat lost in the lack of a contingency plan. Arsenal meanwhile, were more cautious with the tackles and looked to keep possession. They ought to have extended their lead when Chamakh outmuscled Boateng and pulled the ball back for Nasri; Nasri touched it back to Fabregas who tamely shot at the keeper from close range. City did flicker briefly with the only player that looked likely to create a goal for them, David Silva raced down the right hand side past Sagna and sent a shot arrowing towards the far corner, but Fabianski turned it aside with an outstanding reflex stop. But the Gunners deservedly put the seal on the result with twenty two minutes left. Nasri and Fabregas combined on the right to try and slip Chamakh into space, Wayne Bridge got his toe to the ball to intercept, but it fell invitingly to Alex Song who gleefully prodded the ball into the top corner. Arsenal`s celebration was punctuated by literati of objects thrown from the City end at the cavorting Arsenal players. A practise that continued throughout the game whenever the away side had a corner betwixt the South Stand and Colin Bell Stands. Given the willingness of Adebayor and the City supporters to paint the travelling Arsenal fans as hooligans last season, I thought it only fair to mention that, as well as the stones that pelted our coaches as they were whisked away from the stadium.
The goal well and truly sucked the life out of City. The man deficit ad drained their legs and rendered them impotent as an attacking force, as Silva and Milner were forced to sit deeper than desired and left Adebayor isolated as a result. The Gunners launched a quick fire break which almost amounted to a goal, Nasri found Denilson on the edge of the box, he poked the ball wide to Rosicky, who was in space with the defence stretched, but Rosicky tried another pass to Denilson when he should have shot and Richards just toe ended the ball out to safety. With two minutes remaining though, Arsenal did add a layer of sheen to the score line. Clichy cleared the ball down the line. It looked as though it was destined to go out but Nasri refused to give it up, just keeping the ball in, before slipping the ball into the channel for Bendtner, who was free to make a beeline for goal. Hart advanced but Bendtner clipped the ball over the ailing England keeper. The City fans eloped to the exits in their thousands, the sound of "you`re just a sh*t club with money" ringing in their ears. Previously cordial relations appear to have soured between the two clubs in the wake of last season`s nonsense. There was time for further goalmouth incident, Fabianski making a point blank save from an Adebayor header, even though Adebayor was familiarly offside. Fabianski then acrobatically tipped over Boateng`s left foot drive. It`s hard to see how we can take him out of the nets now; Fabianski appears to have turned supporter opinion. It was against the same opponents at the Grove in April that his every touch was sarcastically jeered by the home fans. (These will be the same people that will now fete him as an ironic hero- see Eboue, Emmanuel).
Arsenal could have themselves added a fourth with another swift break, Walcott shifting the ball to Sagna on the right and he drilled his shot narrowly wide of the far post. The final whistle was greeted with high fives of congratulation in the South Stand as we set off home with smiles plastered across our faces. The result was well deserved; Arsenal played in a controlled way, dominated the game and used their technical ability in possession to weary their opponents. City were ultimately undone by a mixture of having to play a man down against a team so cute in possession as much as a lack of a contingency plan for losing a man. It was a pleasing and controlled team performance. I don`t think you can underestimate the importance of having Denilson`s qualities reinstated in midfield (given a choice between the two, I would still play him ahead of Song). Samir Nasri and Lukasz Fabianski can be very pleased with their afternoon`s work, as can Bacary Sagna. But for me, Fabregas dominated this game, both on and off the ball. A cautionary voice to his team mates, a clenched fist when they needed it and I struggle to think of a single pass he made that wasn`t absolutely the right one perfectly delivered. He dictated the tempo of the game and I am still of the belief that we are so accustomed to seeing him do it that we take it for granted. All of a sudden the picture looks rosier again, though I still don`t buy that we`ve beaten a title rival, not yet. I think City are still a splurge or two away from that, but they will be in the top 4 shake up again for sure.LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 3.SAGNA, 18.SQUILLACI, 22.CLICHY, 17.SONG, 15.DENILSON, 4.FABREGAS c (14.Walcott `82), 8.NASRI, 23.ARSHAVIN (7.Rosicky `72), 29.CHAMAKH (52.Bendtner `72). Unused: 6.Koscielny, 27.Eboue, 28.Gibbs, 53.Szczesny.