There are those who complain that a sending off so early ruins a game as a contest. Perhaps if the red card were on the other foot I might be inclined to agree but not yesterday.
Not just from my blinkered red and white position either, it remained a game which was still very much in the balance until Alex Song scored Arsenal’s second in the 65th minute. City had chances, Arsenal had players walking yellow card tightropes, and the pessimist in me was convinced we could screw this up. I’m thoroughly delighted to that part of me proved wrong.
Roberto Mancini was about the only person in the Middle Eastlands who thought the red card was harsh. Cesc’s through ball to Chamakh put the Moroccan behind the City defence, Boyata took him out on the edge of the box. There was only one possible outcome and Mark Clattenburg dished out the red. City reshuffled and Arsenal probed for the opener. Johan Djourou should have scored from a Sagna cross but headed over.
In the wake of the sending off the home crowed were baying for blood every time an Arsenal player went into a tackle. Denilson was yellow carded within a couple of minutes for a foul on Tevez. Song took a swipe at someone and got booked. Then it was Cesc’s turn as he swept de Jong’s legs out from underneath him and I was worried that the ref would look for a reason to even things up. Only Djourou’s booking seemed harsh to me but on reflection the way we played the second half might not have been possible without those bookings.
City got stuck in, Cesc in particular was on the end of three fairly tough tackles. Two from de Jong – and my only complaint about the ref yesterday was that he didn’t get a card, the bloke’s like Teflon – and one from Gareth Barry. As nervy as it was with players on yellows it was nice to see the lads stand up for themselves a bit. If City’s plan was to intimidate it didn’t work, if it was to try and even up the numbers a half-time chat from the boss and a reminder to focus on the football ensured that didn’t work either.
The opening goal came in the 20th minute. The outstanding Samir Nasri had the ball on the edge of the box and played it in to Arshavin whose return pass was beautifully weighted. Nasri’s finish under pressure from both the defender and the keeper was one of a player full of confidence and his 7th goal of the season.
It wasn’t one-way traffic though, defensively we were shaky, particularly down the left hand side. Both Djourou and Clichy had moments which might have been punished and Micah Richards sent a left footed shot not far wide. A little warning for Arsenal but it should have been game over at half-time when Cesc was fouled in the box by Kompany. The captain stepped up to take the penalty but it wasn’t one of his best and Joe Hart made a decent save.
So half-time 1-0 and the missed penalty seemed to give City a bit of a boost. Adebayor came on for the clearly struggling Tevez and in the early part of the second half it was hard to know which side had 10 men. City played well and Fabianski made an excellent save from Silva. From the subsequent corner he did just enough to put off Adebayor who, having escaped Djourou rather too easily, headed over.
That sparked us back into life a bit and when Wayne Bridge intercepted a pass in the area it fell invitingly for Alex Song who fired it intop the top corner. At 2-0 there was only going to be one winner. City brought on Balotelli (is there something written into the contracts up there that the players have to have that ridiculous pseudo-mohican hair?) but he did nothing of note. Arsenal replaced Arshavin with Rosicky and gave late run-outs to Bendtner and Walcott. It was the former who iced the cake, Nasri’s energy late on prevented the ball going out for a throw and he played in the Dane for his first goal of the season.
Amazingly I’ve just read that this was Arsenal’s first clean sheet away from home for 10 months. That tells you a lot about why we’ve struggled I think, and crucially it was a win against a title rival, something we haven’t managed for quite some time either. It was a little more edge-of-seaty than it might have been but there were plenty of positives to take from the game.
As for the man of the match, I know many will point to Nasri and again the Frenchman had an excellent game. He was industrious, creative and has added the goals to his game which we always suspected were there. Cesc was rather dismissive of the award given to him by Sky, asking how he could be man of the match after missing a penalty, but for me the outstanding performance on the day came from Lukasz Fabianski. Having been exasperated by him on far too many occasions it’s only right to give him the props when he deserves them.
His saves were a crucial part of the win yesterday. When we were exposed down the left in the first minute his reaction save from Silva’s flick was fantastic. His later save, again from Silva, kept things at 1-0. He made a brilliant save from an Adebayor header even though the lanky twat was offside and late on he tipped one over the bar from Boateng. Saves aside though his overall game was excellent, his decision making, his distribution, his handling, all the nuts and bolts stuff which has let him down in the past was spot on.
He’s still got some way to go but he’s definitely moving in the right direction – and whatever you think you think about him it’s far better to see him play like that than the alternative. Fair play and let’s hope he keeps it up.
It was important to get a win in a big place to strengthen the belief of the squad and continue our march forward. What I think we did today [we did with] intelligence and overall the needed performance to play against ten men.
The win moves us into second in the table and ensures that the points we clawed back on Chelsea last weekend remain clawed back. A win like that, even against ten men, will instill more confidence and belief, and now it’s a matter of maintaining this momentum. There’s a Carling Cup game in midweek against Newcastle then West Ham visit the Grove. Overall there are things from yesterday that we can work on and improve, particularly from a defensive point of view, but you can’t argue with the result which is far and away the most important thing.
It’s a nice way to start the week, I have to say. The focus will shift to the midweek game so more on that in the days ahead.