The Ped Report - City 1-0 Arsenal
A full house, once again, at the snowy Etihad Stadium set the scene for the battle of the airlines, as Manchester City took on Arsenal today.
The last two encounters between these teams in Manchester had been tetchy affairs, with honours shared after City turned Arsenal over two years ago with the reverse happening last season, although City were short-handed for almost the entire match.
The Pedmachine told you last season that he did not believe Arsenal were equipped to beat an eleven man City, and so it was proved today.
With injuries forcing an almost expected line-up, Mancini selected to throw in ex-Arsenal man Kolo Toure in the back line at the expense of Lescott. Whilst this may have left many of the Blue-mooners wondering as to the wisdom of this, my reading was that Arsenal dangerman (and maybe son-to-be City reserve dangerman) Van Persie, usually occupies the inside right slot,or drifts into that position when Arsenal are on attack. He also drifts off the line and towards the penalty spot, scoring many goals from that area. Mancini must have thought that a combination of Kolo, who knows and has played alongside Van Persie, plus the ability of Kompany to block off his runs, were a better bet in neutralising the threat than the sheer robustness of Lescott.
Added to that the fact that Zabaleta was playing left back and may have had Walcott plying in his direction all afternoon, perhaps it was more suitable to have the Captain on that side.
Once the match was under way, once again we saw City out of the traps a toute vitesse. Their passing a movement was at time mesmerising and the Gooners struggled to get into the match in the opening exchanges.
City were first to show with a wonderfully slick movement started by Barry who passed crossfield to Zabaleta overlapping on the left. Zaba had spotted Aguero getting free in the centre and played a delightful pass right onto his toes. The rest of the team could have been forgiven for heading off back to the half way line as it opened up once again for Aguero, but with the netting awaiting the ball, Aguero found the South Stand supporters who groaned as the chance went begging.
Shortly afterwards El Magico himself got open in the inside left channel but could not power a shot in to beat the Arsenal keeper.
Gervinho was first to show for Arsenal in their first real attack which was in the sixteenth minute, but an astute save by Hart at the foot of the post, released the danger. Defending the corner brought a new tactic. Aguero, Silva and Nasri stood on half way engaging three Arsenal men whilst the rest tucked up into the box to deny them space. However they forgot Ramsey who was left all alone twenty five yards out. The corner found him unattended but the City defenders closed him down conceding another corner. This time they decided to put a man on him.
The game had opened out by now and it was pretty much end to end stuff. City`s passing was more accurate and our good friend Song had attracted the attention of the referee and was cautioned for a needless foul.
In the next attack for City Yaya found Richards bombing down the right and his early cross finally found Balotelli who, with the help of a ricochet, should have troubled the scoreboard writers, but he hooked it into the path of Szcesny and it bounced to safety.
And so to the other end where a good run by Van Persie saw him find Ramsey ended in an untidy tackle by Kolo which another referee might have seen differently and awarded a penalty, but the chance went.
The first half ended with yet another great chance for the industrious Aguero but it just wouldn`t go his way. Arsenal would have been delighted with their second-half-of-the-first-half showing and to get to half time on equal terms, City having squandered everything. On the seating decks, fears were starting to creep in after similar events at Chelsea on Monday.
As the teams emerged from the tunnel after the break Pat Rice could be heard to say "Get into them early this half - they won`t expect it". Although Arsenal did try to get off on the front foot, nobody had told Rice that the first ten minutes of the second half was prime scoring time for City, going back to the FA Cup Semi Final against Stretford`s Finest, and so it proved today.
A longish ball out of defence towards the left hand corner flag was one that last season would not have found Balotelli haring after it, but this is a different footballer this season and he harnessed the ball in the corner turning immediately to face up Song. Mario cut inside, swatted Song out of the way an unleashed one of his blockbusting shots which Szczesny did very well to stop. It came back off him into the path of Aguero who got a head to it before Vermaelen could get a boot to either and it whizzed out to an unmarked David Silva who tucked away a first time shot.
The game had really opened up by now and a screamer by Walcott looked destined for the top corner until Hart offered a different solution with a superb save.
Then on 62 minutes a superb interchange by Aguero and the irrepressible Nasri, having an excellent game against his former employers saw a blistering shot fire inches wide. Almost immediately another cute ball from Nasri across the face of goal didn`t find an outstretched foot as Balotelli elected not to risk a hamstring injury by stretching to divert the ball into the net. A minute later Van Persie finally got open, but Hart once again made an excellent save.
If I`d not got my woolly gloves on it would have been nail-biting stuff and Arsenal pressed for the equaliser, having to be mindful of how rapidly City counter attack, but what the hell, they went for it.
With Aguero having struck the upright with another blistering effort, Wenger released Vermaelen to assist with his attacking options. His first effort was destined for the top corner until a quality intervention by England`s Number One and, deep into stoppage time City were relieved to see another well hit shot curl to safety around the post.
Make no mistake about this match. It was a superb encounter between two teams who know what the ball is for. Both teams passed and cherished and participated in what was probably the best premier league match this season, which although favouring City 1-0 could have been 6-0 or 5-5.
From City`s viewpoint it was an excellent team performance. The reshuffled back pack at times looked untidy. Richards was in juggernaut mode but on occasion getting found dreaming or simply out of position. So it was when Van Persie`s effort was disallowed for offside. Richards seems unhappy when he doesn`t have director-in-chief Kompany alongside him.
At least Kolo didn`t cause too much mayhem and performed reasonably well. On the left and against all odds Zabaleta was simply exceptional. This wonderful young man really does accentuate the meaning of "City til I die".
The midfield early on was bossy enough but did allow Arsenal to compete. Barry was tremendous once again, having definitely stepped up to the plate now. Silva showed his box of tricks, Yaya was robust and tidy, but it was Nasri who was sensational in there. He is now starting to show us what he did for Arsenal and how the poor Gooners must be missing this man. He was here, there and everywhere, issuing his reminders to Arsene Wenger. Time and again he set up chances and Sergio Aguero could and should have been taking the ball home.
Balotelli is unrecognisable from the footballer that arrived at City last season. He relishes the challenge and is definitely a winner. This young man has everything and reminders of this are in every aspect of his play.
Arsenal came to play true football on the back of a fairly reasonable unbeaten run and they did just that. Readers of the Ped Report will recall my fury at last season`s match, where I was and still am insistent that injustices were handed to City courtesy of Mr Clattenburg. Once again I thought that Song rode his luck a bit as to an extent did Gervinho, but Wenger has got another team coming together here. Yes it needs a replacement for Nasri, plus someone else to score when Van Persie doesn`t, which isn`t all that often, at least until he signs for City. It may also need some help at the back as they can be opened up especially by the quality operators in front of them today, but they are a game group and play their football the way both sets of supporters like it.
On the subject of supporters it was good to see them getting back together today, as it always used to be when these teams played each other. We can understand the dismay the Gooners felt over the Adebayor debacle and then the antics of last season`s match, but there has generally over many years been a comradeship and respect between Arsenal and City fans. I know you won`t like the product of City`s richesse, but it is here to stay. If you get beaten by a team that plays the way City does then fair enough. It`s better than getting knocked about or bullied by some other lesser teams.
This match did much to restore my respect for Arsenal as a team and their fans. You may recall that last season I was scathing about them and took great delight in their week of doom when they were ejected from just about every competition in 8 days. If your team can stay healthy and out of the referee`s notebook you can mount a challenge for the top four as we head into the new year. But please do two things. Stop chickening out against Stretford. If you play football against them they are beatable. And two, please sign a keeper whose name I can spell!!
Man of the match for me was Samir Nasri with Hart and Zabaleta hot on his heels. That highlights the quality City has across and along the field of play.