Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1
On the surface, plenty were ready to dismiss this game prior to kickoff, with the League Cup fourth on the priority list. I think a lot of that might also have been in expectation of defeat against a City side that looks set to make the Premier League a rather uninteresting and diluted "competition" for a few years. I accept the point that the League Cup is 4th on the list of priorities and, as such, a largely changed side is called for. However, I wasn`t quite as ready to write the result off. Nowadays the League Cup is one of two trophies we have a realistic chance of winning. Finishing in the top 4 is and ever more shall be the most urgent priority, but that doesn`t mean it has to be our only aim.
The fact that the game sold out very quickly suggests there were a few Gooners who lived in hope too. Pre match I had the good fortune to meet with my old mate Jim for a pint. Jim used to come to away games with me back when we were at college, but dropped off the regular matchday scene a few years back with the advent of wife and two children. The game kicked off to the predictable chorus of boos for Nasri. It certainly seemed to put him off his game. I`ve seen the accusation levelled against Nasri in the press that he is a bit of a hider and I think it`s a criticism he has got some way to disprove.
Frimpong certainly seemed to take exception to him from the start. I did initially worry, as I sometimes do with Frimpong, that he plays the crowd more than the game. After a few early nibbles, he settled into the game very well and expunged any concerns I had. The beginning of the match set the tone for a very even and absorbing encounter, even if it produced few opportunities of note. Adam Johnson swayed inside Ignasi Miquel and fired a long range shot which brushed the roof of the net on its way over, momentarily deceiving the City fans into believing it had ruffled the back of the net.
Meanwhile, Arsenal`s best chance of the whole game arrived in the 9th minute. Chamakh fended off Toure before feeding the ball wide to Coquelin. His measured low cross went all the way to the back post where Ju Young Park stabbed a scuffed shot towards goal. It seemed to have enough to drift past Pantilimon, but the Romanian keeper thrust out a limb at the last second to paw the ball away. In a game where you felt the first goal would be key in determining the winner; it felt like a golden chance wasted.
The enterprising Oxlade Chamberlain powered in from the right, used Chamakh as a sounding board as the Moroccan laid the ball back into his direction. The Ox hit a fulminating left footed strike from 30 yards which arrowed towards the top corner, only for Pantilimon to thrust a fist into the path of the goalbound effort. Shooting on his weak foot from thirty yards. You can`t say the boy lacks confidence. The game appeared to be very nip and tuck at this point; Coquelin and Frimpong easily holding their own against the likes of de Jong, Hargreaves and Nasri.
So much so that Mancini made a tactical change on 32 minutes. Replacing Kolarov with £38m striker Sergio Aguero. Instantly, you could see his movement made City more threatening. At that point, I thought Arsenal were in for a very tough game and probably a bit more than they could handle as City wrested control. I was relieved to hear the half time whistle with the scores still level. I felt we were in for a very demanding second half. But City didn`t really press home that superiority. Edin Dzeko fired a shot which hit the stanchion behind Fabianski`s goal. The Bosnian then flicked Zabaleta`s cross just wide in a contest that produced little more than half chances.
In the final 20 minutes, the game did open up with both teams throwing off the shackles and looking to avoid extra time. City poured forwards, only to find themselves caught on the counter. Djourou sprinted down the right and sent in a low cross which Benayoun just didn`t manage to connect with. But from the resulting corner, City were able to turn the tables and affect a more clinical counter. From the start, the defensive shape from the corner wasn`t right as Djourou wanted to go forwards but couldn`t issue the instruction for a colleague to stay back in time.
The corner was taken amidst a flurry of confusion in Arsenal`s defence. A poor delivery was cleared easily at the front post. Coquelin and Djourou (I think?) dived in but Dzeko had the savvy to beat them both to the ball and hurdle his way to the touchline, before playing a defence slicing pass to Johnson. Johnson held off Djourou and cleverly touched the ball into the path of Aguero, who made no fuss of steering the ball past Fabianski. It was the sort of quality and precision £65m worth of strikers gives you. It was enough to win the game.
To their credit, neither crowd nor team looked particularly downhearted. The Gunners dusted themselves off and gave it a good go. Their best chance undoubtedly arriving in injury time. The lively Gervinho once again injected some penetration into the team and he put a cross into City`s six yard area that seemed tailor made for the head of Chamakh, but he arrived fractionally too late to connect. And the chance was gone.
Overall, it was a defeat and one I can`t pretend to be unbothered with. That`s 33% of our trophy chances gone for the season and whilst I think the trophy "drought" is hyperbolised to the nth degree, I always think a club of our vintage should be disappointed when the chance to get one fades away. But it`s difficult to feel downhearted. The performance of the two young central midfielders was very enthusing.
Squillaci is a player who is maligned ridiculously in advance of his supposed incompetence, but he and Koscielny in particular kept £65m worth of strikers under wraps. It was only when both were forward for a corner that Aguero and Dzeko- quality players each- were able to make genuine inroads. Chamberlain produced another exciting performance going forwards. But I don`t think it`s a huge secret that we need reinforcement upfront. Chamakh worked hard and bought others into play, whilst Park made promising runs. Though neither got the quality of service they perhaps required, you don`t ever get the sense that either looked dangerous. Nevertheless, the team shouldn`t be and probably aren`t too downhearted. LD.
21.FABIANSKI, 20.DJOUROU, 18.SQUILLACI, 6.KOSCILENY, 49.MIQUEL (5.Vermaelen `80), 15.CHAMBERLAIN (23.Arshavin `87), 26.FRIMPONG, 39.COQUELIN, 30.BENAYOUN©, 29.CHAMAKH, 9.J-Y.PARK (27.Gervinho `67). Unused: 24.Mannone, 40.Eastmond, 53.Ozyakup, 56.Yennaris.
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