Man City 1 Arsenal 1: Spoils Shared in the Battle of the Etihad
I’d hoped to write a preview for the game yesterday with a catchy title in mind, “Man City Preview: A True Test of Lord Bouldimort’s Black Defensive Magic, but with me going to church earlier than expected, there was no time for the preview.
After witnessing Mark Halsey join the League of Extraordinary Manchester United Referees led by the great Howard “Quatermain” Webb, I was drooling with the prospect of watching my Arsenal give Manchester City a run for their money. Both sides were oozing with quality but it’s fair to say that Arsenal’s opponents had greener bank accounts, a feat Theo Walcott hopes to achieve in the foreseeable future.
The lineup wasn’t surprising but eyebrows were raised when a certain Aaron Ramsey replaced Olivier Giroud in the forward line. Ramsey has put up a series of cameo appearances all season long but Wenger opted for the Welsh captain in this crunch encounter – a tactical move that was worth its weight in gold.
Laurent Koscielny also replaced the Verm to partner Per Mertesacker. Despite having the looks of an assassin that can cause you more pain that Freddy Krueger in your dreams, Thomas Vermaelen succumbed to
an Achilles tendon injury ankle injury thigh strain a flu.
Arsenal was hughly impressive in the first 45 minutes and Arsene Wenger’s side had the lion’s share of possession as well. The Gunners almost drew first blood when captain Mikel Arteta executed a delicate chip to an unmarked Kieran Gibbs. With a goal in his front and Lukas Podolski on his right-hand side, the English fullback found neither and a good chance went begging.
Sergio Aguero was given some room by the Arsenal defense and he wasted no time in lashing a shot that was saved by Vito Mannone in goal. Arsenal then switched defense to attack when Aaron Ramsey fed Gervinho with an inch-perfect ball in behind Gael Clichy but Gervinho’s first touch was as good as Chamakh’s ability to find the net, I’m sure you get my drift.
Podolski connected well with Gibbs yet again but the fullback’s cross was erratic, which handed the momentum to Man City with Scott Sinclair instigating a counter attack but Per Mertesacker was on hand to block the ball superbly. That was the first of a million and one interceptions the BFG had in the game.
For what its worth, Mertesacker would have intercepted an angry herd of elephants stampeding through the Etihad as well.
Arteta spread the play to locate Carl Jenkinson with a cross-field ball that saw the young lad burn his reserves of pace before making mincemeat out of Joleon Lescott. His cutback to Podolski was carefully weighted but the German machine killed a bird in the sky with his right foot.
Santi Cazorla wasn’t going to be left out of the party and he pulled the strings in midfield yet again. He almost located Gervinho with a pin-point pass on Clichy’s blind side but the Frenchman showed great recovery to intercept the ball before the Ivorian pulled the trigger. Minutes later, Gervinho spurned another chance from a Ramsey pass.
With the Gunners edging close to halftime with the scoreline intact, a defensive lapse by Gibbs gifted the home side with a corner. David Silva swung the ball into the heart of Arsenal’s defense and Lescott pounced first to put his side ahead. So much fuss was made about Arsenal’s zonal marking in the box but a few fingers were also pointed at Mannone for failing to dominate his area well…where’s Mr. Wojciech when you need him.
Edin Dzeko almost made it two with a swerving shot but the Italian shot stopper did his job well on that occasion.
The second half wasn’t as frantic as the first in terms of the game’s high tempo but both sides pushed hard for the next all-important goal. Abou Diaby dallied with the ball and lost it to a Man City player that launched a counter attack in split seconds. Aguero was on the final end of the ball but he failed to hit the target after some pressure from Koscielny.
Had Aguero invoked the spirit of Didier Drogba, Ashley Young and that chimp, Gareth Bale, to show off some theatrics in the box, Mike Dean might have pointed to the spot.
Arsene Wenger brought on Theo Walcott and Olivier Giroud for Diaby and Podolski in his bid to get the equalizer Arsenal truly deserved but Aguero tested Mannone yet again with the Italian equal to the task.
Late on, Santi Cazorla fashioned a chance for himself at the edge of the box but Joe Hart popped up from nowhere with a brilliant save despite having little or no time to ascertain the trajectory of the shot. Cazorla swung in the resulting corner but Lescott’s panicky clearance fell kindly to Laurent Koscielny and the rest they say, was history.
Both teams pressed on for the sucker punch and it would have been Man City having all the bragging rights when Silva’s corner was headed to safety by the Arsenal defense only for the ball to be sent back into the box by some random City bloke.
Out of the fucking blue, Vincent Kompany attempted an audacious overhead kick that was parried by Mannone but Koscielny almost changed from hero to zero when he lashed his clearance straight at Aguero, whose shot missed by a lick of paint.
With Man City failing to kill off the game, Arsenal had the chance to make it a fairytale ending when Gervinho had the ball on his feet on the edge of the area with minutes to spare. However, the Ivorian had a rush of blood to his big forehead and he blasted the ball into oblivion.
Mike Dean blew his whistle to call it a day but it was a great contest from start to finish. The game had everything you wished to see in a football match. From a Manchester City perspective, the defending champions were pushed to the wall all game long but they still managed to claw a goal from nothing.
From an Arsenal perspective, it was one of those games that made me proud to support this great club. The desire was glaring, the technique was top-notch and Arsene Wenger’s side played like a true tight-knit bunch with each Gunner making up ground to provide support to another offensively and of course, defensively.
Mannone (7.5) had a good game and made some important saves as well. Was a bit culpable for the goal though, as he went for the ball and failed to claim it.
Jenkinson (9.0) put up his best performance in an Arsenal jersey. Watching this kid today made me marvel at Arsene Wenger’s exemplary vision to locate such an unearthed gem and allowed Farmer Emmanuel Eboue to go without breaking sweat. Jenko locked Sinclair in a cage and threw the keys to the stands and he supported the attack very well.
Gibbs (6.5) didn’t really impress me with his distribution in the final third. That’s one part of his game he needs to improve on because he has the pace to get in behind defenses superbly.
Koscielny (8.5) deputized admirably for Vermaelen and showed Arsenal fans what they have missed all this time he was on the bench. Arsene Wenger will have a big decision to make in his center back pairing in the next fixture against Chelsea.
Mertesacker (8.5) read the game intelligently and was more than a match for every attack Manchester City posed. He had his fair share of interceptions as well.
Arteta (8.0) was superb in midfield and his distribution was top-notch.
Diaby (6.5) lost the ball a couple of times and was swallowed up as the game progressed. Fair play to the lad for staying fit all game long as well. C’mon, it’s Abou Diaby.
Cazorla (8.5) was ubiquitous in midfield and was more than a handful for the Man City defense. Arsene Wenger has outdone himself this time with a peach of a signing.
Ramsey (8.0) was very efficient in his play and he supported the midfield superbly as well. It’s good to know that some time in the dugout has sharpened his senses, maybe it’s Gervinho’s turn.
Podolski (7.0) worked tirelessly on the left hand flank in the first half and provided width to the attack.
Gervinho (6.0) had a stinker as profligacy became his watchword. However, it’s also worth noting that he had a better output in the final third unlike the post-AFCON 2012 Gervinho that was a pain to watch last season.
Walcott (6.0) failed to influence the game whatsoever. I’d have preferred to see the Ox in his stead but who am I to question a manager that has made 50,000 substitutions?
Giroud (6.5) executed a few neat one-twos here and there but failed to put himself in a position to let one fly.
Coquelin didn’t play long enough to get a rating.
In Wenger’s post-match interview, he stated how pleased he was with his team’s performance, talked about rotating his center backs and he had nice words for Mannone as well.
So with another impressive offensive and defensive display, Arsenal is fifth in the Log with nine points and they are still unbeaten as well. For those that don’t know,
- The last time Arsenal faced Sunderland in the opening game, they won the league.
- The last time London hosted the Olympics, they won the league.
- The last time the world of lawn tennis witnessed four different Grand Slam champions, they won the league, and
- The last time Arsenal beat Southampton with a 6-1 scoreline, they went through the next season unbeaten, winning the league in the process.
The signs for a great campaign are here.
Let’s hope that we’ve have the last laugh in May.
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