Arsenal produced a professional second-half display to dispatch ten-man Manchester City 3-0 and move up to second place in the Premier League table.
So often in the past the big moments have gone against us in the big games but after Mark Clattenburg showed tremendous bravery to send off Dedryck Boyata after four minutes for clear last-man challenge on Marouane Chamakh, the Arsenal boys took advantage to secure an emphatic victory.
There were a couple of surprises in the Arsenal team – Denilson was a last-minute replacement for the injured Abou Diaby while Bacary Sagna returned at right-back ahead of Emmanuel Eboue – but it was City who made the early running. As early as the very first minute Johan Djourou dived in rashly on Carlos Tevez on the wing, the Argentine wriggled free to cross for David Silva and the Spaniard’s shot was superbly saved by Lukas Fabianski.
Despite looking shaky at the back we responded well going forward: Andrey Arshavin was put through on goal by Cesc Fabregas, only for the linesman to incorrectly flag for offside while our captain repeated the trick to release Chamakh. This time there was no flag as Boyata blatantly took down the striker, the referee produced a red card and the complexion of the game changed.
At first our boys didn’t handle the one-man advantage particularly well. Defensively we looked scattered – Djourou in particular having an afternoon to forget – while City appeared intent on doing whatever it took to turn the game into 10 v 10. Our midfielders naively assisted, Denilson in particular clashing with Tevez shortly after the sending-off.
But after 20 minutes of surprisingly even football, Nasri combined with Andrey Arshavin to score a superb opening goal. The Russian found space cleverly in the area and Nasri played a clever one-two before burying the shot past Joe Hart. The Frenchman is now our leading goalscorer for the season.
Upon scoring the opener our game relaxed and we produced some good passing football. Fabregas caused all sorts of problems with his excellent control and intelligent movement, a combination that sucked Vincent Kompany into the foolish concession of a penalty. But with the opportunity to go into half-time with a two-goal lead Cesc rather telegraphed his penalty and Hart produced a super stop.
As the referee blew for half-time my mind wandered back to Tomas Rosicky’s miss at Sunderland: would we rue this mistake too? I also feared a second-half sending off for one of our players: Denilson, Song, Fabregas and Nasri were all in the book and the former two, in particular, were throwing their bodies around rather needlessly at times.
It appeared that the manager said the right things at the break because the second half was exactly what was required. Aside from another early David Silva shot which produced a second world-class save from Fabianski, we controlled the game from start to finish, attacked patiently and were far more secure at the back. A number of chances came and went to score the second goal but in the end it was Song who got it, flicking home a superb shot after excellent initial probing from Chamakh and Fabregas.
At 2-0 the game was well and truly over and City knew it. Emmanuel Adebayor’s introduction did nothing to help their cause while our substitutes – Tomas Rosicky, Nicklas Bendtner and Theo Walcott – created more problems for the City defence. In the end it was the Dane who put the icing on the cake, slotting home a third goal after more good work from Nasri and a superb result was confirmed.
I have been critical in the past of our ability to get the job done in the big games but this was a big game and, early red card or no early red card, we well and truly got the job done. Three points away from home against one of our major title rivals (it still feels strange to say that), three goals scored and rather brilliantly, a clean sheet.
We still looked a bit shaky at the back but with Sebastien Squillaci having an excellent game and Fabianski once again flawless, there is real cause for optimism. Djourou’s game was tainted by some poor decision-making early on but like the rest of his teammates, became more assured in the second half of the game.
Further forward everybody contributed. Arshavin was quiet but grabbed an assist while Chamakh was fouled for the red card. Nasri scored the first and assisted the third while Cesc played a part in the sending off, the second goal and won the penalty. Song scored the second goal and produced a brilliant second-half performance while Denilson was terrific despite minimal playing time this season.
City manager Roberto Mancini made the bold statement that his side would have won the game if not for Boyata’s red card, but I don’t agree. The home side made a bright start but nobody seems to have realised that had the linesman not incorrectly flagged Arshavin offside, we may well have been a goal up when Chamakh was put through. As for the red card incident itself, if Boyata doesn’t foul then Chamakh scores and with a goal advantage I would fancy us to beat any team in the world.
At the end of the day the scoreline read Manchester City 0, Arsenal 3 and it doesn’t get much more emphatic than that. A proud day to be a Gooner and hopefully, just hopefully this will create some much-needed confidence and belief in the boys that they can get the job done in the big games.
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