What a fantastic performance. What rotten luck. One stupid moment!
I must say this game turned out to be the reverse of what I’d expected. The first ten minutes were the most exciting and Arsenal had City on the ropes for that period. After that the visitors found their defensive shape and made it much more difficult for Arsenal to open them up. The Gunners were restricted to half chances and shots from distance but Joe Hart was more than up to the challenge.
I’d expected the game to start at a steady tempo and for Arsenal to raise the stakes in the final few minutes. As it turned out Wenger’s men seemed to run out of steam and ideas towards the end but it doesn’t take anything away from a brilliant performance. The passing, movement, and telepathic understanding shown by the players early on was a real pleasure to watch.
I know some people will go crazy over the result and dropped points but we must not forget City have an incredible 11 clean sheets so far including shutouts against United, Chelsea, Liverpool, and Tottenham. I’m convinced the players gave everything and with better luck Arsenal would have picked up the three points. If anything City’s negative display was a great testament to the quality of this Arsenal side.
The Gunners had a number of chances in the first ten minutes but somewhat unfortunately all the best ones fell to the inexperienced Wilshere. The youngster passed when a clear shot was on in the second minute, then tested Hart with a long range strike, and finally had one more volley from the six yard area but couldn’t find the right angle or generate enough power.
The closest Arsenal came was in the 9th minute when RvP struck the woodwork after some excellent individual work. I loved the way the Dutchman used the defenders to shield his strike and I’ve no doubt Hart would have been beaten if the ball had curved a bit more.
The second time the upright was rattled was in the 28th minute when Cesc made an intelligent run across the 18 yard line and Nasri fed him with a delightful ball. The City Keeper was rooted to his spot as the shot was unexpected and perfectly taken, well almost. The ball rebounded off the bar and went just behind Joe Hart. It could quite easily have hit the England international and gone in for an own goal. Theo hit the bar with his follow up but he was off-side.
At that point I’m sure I was not alone in thinking this is not going to be our night.
In the final hour Arsenal pushed the visitors back but they were extremely well organized and limited the Gunners to half chances. Theo, RvP, and Nasri had a crack at goal but it wasn’t enough. Arsenal best chances in the remaining period came when Van Persie let fly from outside the box in the 61st minute. Hart came up with another excellent save.
Defensively Arsenal were fairly solid and it wasn’t a surprise that City couldn’t muster a single shot on target! In order to restrict Arsenal’s attacking threat the visitors had to sacrifice their own. There were some anxious moments no doubt but the Gunners had enough players back on most occasions to cover for each other.
The night was soured by a rush-of-blood moment from Sagna. In the final minute of normal time he went head to head with Zabaleta after a strong challenge that didn’t look malicious. The idiotic Mike Jones sent both players off after taking advice from his assistant. I cannot see how in one game a player can charge at the ref and shove him in the chest without getting so much as a booking, while in another two players get sent off for a moment of madness that wasn’t particularly nasty. This level of inconsistency in the refs is extremely worrying and annoying. And I’m being very polite when I say that.
To be fair, purely on the basis of the letter of the law, Sagna deserved a red. Zabaleta was really unfortunate. But we have seen the refs use some common sense in the big games and that was sorely missing in this one. Well I guess Sagna and Zabaleta’s luck has been transferred to Gary Neville. Surprised, anyone?! Beyond that it’s difficult to say anything about this incident without making it an expletive-ridden rant.
More importantly, Sagna will miss three games now. I’m not completely sure about this but two of those should be the Cup ties and that shouldn’t be a big issue. Hopefully, Eboue will put in a good shift in those games and against West Ham.
Fabianski: swept well behind the defence, came for the ball when he had to, decent distribution, didn’t have to make a save so a relatively comfortable night!
Sagna: Excellent performance on the night till his moment of madness. Physically strong, defensively solid, struggled a bit in the attacking third but that was down to the way City always had two or three bodies to block the crosses and passes.
Djourou: Another strong display at the back, especially in the air. Made a couple of mistakes – first one was in the early minutes when he came out to intercept but lost the tackle to Yaya Toure allowing City to break on the counter, and second one was when he played Tevez onside through poor positioning but the striker blasted his shot over.
Koscielny: I liked the way he read the game, made important tackles, won some balls in the air, and generally showed a great deal of calmness. As someone once said in the comments section, the Frenchman has the ability to develop like some of the great Italian defenders.
Clichy: Another strong performance. Milner and later Adam Johnson got nothing out of him. As I’ve often said, if he gets better cover Clichy will look superb. I’d still like to see him get forward more often and with better timing but that’s something the players have to develop in training.
The defence was really solid and made Tevez and co. look like second string attackers. The organization wasn’t as strong as that shown by City but it seemed to be the direct result of the differing styles of the two teams.
Song: Immense. Worked really hard, made massive defensive contributions, especially on the right but also in the centre and the left. Couldn’t produce in the final third but we can’t really blame him for that.
Cesc: Was excellent in the opening half hour. Unlucky not to score or get an assist. Later on City were too tight and made it difficult for El Capitan. It’s good to see Fabregas coming close to his best.
Wilshere: Brilliant for his age but was a bit of a weak link in the side. Should’ve scored early on and should have done better in bringing the ball out from defence. But I don’t want to be critical of the youngster, these things can be learnt only by playing at this level and he is improving with each game.
I thought the midfield completely dominated the game against players the misery brigade wanted Arsenal to spend big money on. The only criticism would be that there weren’t enough runs into the box by the midfielders, especially in the final fifteen minutes.
Walcott: Not as effective as the earlier games but he had his moments. Should have won a penalty against Kompany because the defenders arm was raised and in an unnatural position. Crossing was decent but shooting wasn’t at his usual high standard.
RvP: excellent movement, brilliant vision, couple of shots on goal were breathtaking, could have done better with delivery on set pieces. Looked tired towards the end?
Nasri: looked dangerous whenever he drifted into the middle, great understanding with Cesc and Rvp, didn’t make enough runs into scoring positions, good job of tracking back whenever required.
The front three were excellent in the first half hour but struggled to penetrate as the game went on. They can’t be criticized for that because City were very well organized and gave everything to keep the ball out of their net.
Subs: I wasn’t convinced by the choice of Arshavin on the right but the crowd didn’t help him at all, which was extremely disappointing. Bendtner rarely got into the box.
Some people will say that Arsenal should have brought Chamakh on or put Bendtner in a central role but I don’t think it would have made a big difference. City have played against plenty of big strikers and their defence has dealt with a gazillion crosses so far. When such a team sets its mind of parking the bus it’s very difficult to break them down. I’d have preferred Rosicky over Arshavin because Little Mozart make those runs into the box and has a fantastic understanding with Cesc. But there is no guarantee that would have worked.
During the hectic Christmas period Arsenal have picked up 8 points out of twelve, dropping points against the rivals in the process, but considering the toughness of the fixtures I’m quite happy with the results. The draw against Wigan does rankle but the win at Birmingham makes up for it. A win over Chelsea and a point against an extremely negative Man City side are pretty good results.