The Ped Report Arsenal 0-2 City
It was with trepidation that the depleted number of Blue Mooners headed for the Emirates today.
Arsenal away has for decades been a home banker, never any kind of hunting ground for City who really needed to win against the back ground of the Stretfords having sneaked a 2-1 victory against Liverpool in their Sky-favoured advancement.
Fielding his best available eleven, give or take Tevez for Aguero and Nastasic for Lescott, Mancini must have told his boys to simply "go for it" today and play a brand of football that for once the opposition would allow. No nine-at-the-back for the Gunners, for they too generally play excellent stuff at home as City have discovered to their chagrin, year after year.
Garcia got his first chance to seek to fill the enormous boots emptied by Yaya Toure, safely ensconced in Africa and it was he and the irrepressible Barry who were to provide the barrier today with Milner and Silva in the creative and energetic areas.
Dzeko continued up top and you can generally see his confidence improving every time he gets a starting nod off his manager. And so it was today as he lead the line from the off in exemplary style against the no-nonsense defending of Vermaelen and Koscielny.
Mike Dean was the man in the middle, a key figure-to-be and as readers of the Ped Report will be aware, he rates very highly on my officials list if for no other reason than he applies the laws of the game with no fuss. Indeed he had to do this today.
It was the combination of Mike Dean and Koscielny that lead to the first talking point and major decision of the first half. Koscielny clearly pulling Dzeko back when in a goalscoring position was red-carded by the official who pointed to the spot in the process. We are not used to seeing City's strikers not take their chances from 12 yards. Dzeko was given the responsibility and saw his effort pushed on to the post by Scznezny as the Gooners lived to fight another day. This was probably the big blot on the Dzeko landscape today and begs the question as to why Tevez didn't line up the spot kick?
But for long it was not to be as City took advantage of the numbers, gaining and regaining possession and the upper hand and after 22 minutes a quick free-kick from Tevez to Silva slipped in Milner who hammered home from an unlikely angle. Time to calm the nerves and assess what needs to be done here. As usual it was about possession and City were not intending to relinquish that in a hurry.
With possession inevitably come chances and Garcia was unlucky not to add to the score twice as he saw one header go just over and another cleared off the line. Were we starting to see something from him we maybe didn't know he had?
City continued to let Arsenal know who was the gaffer. Just after the half hour their persistence was again rewarded after the heroic Zabaleta won a good tackle and Milner steered the ball into the path of Tevez whose shot was parried by the keeper as far as Dzeko who was handily lurking in the six yard box to atone for his penalty miss and ratchet the scoreboard a click further.
Surely from this position on it was about keeping the ball and keeping concentration in their bid to claw back a big three points and maybe a goal or two in the process? City continued to boss the half.
Arsenal sacrificed Oxlade-Chamberlain for Compare the Mertesacker.com immediately they lost Koscielny and then Podolski for Giroud on the hour in their bid to consolidate and try to look positive at the same time. Ramsay also replaced Diaby a short while later as Arsene Wenger threw in his last card. The first signpost was passed without City looking troubled although Milner somehow found his way into Mike Dean's book for a "foul" when replays show he got the ball in advance.
The Blues were setting about their second half task in masterful fashion giving little away and keeping possession. Garcia was definitely shutting-up this commentator with a superb display unprecedented in his earlier excursions. Tevez should have put the match to bed when one-on-one with the goalkeeper but once again Sczezny made an impressive save to keep his side alive and when former Gooner, Clichy, joined Milner in the book, Arsenal should really have profited from the free kick with Giroud heading over.
Captain Kompany then joined Koscielny in the showers for a lean looking two footer a la FA Cup derby last year. It looked a bit lean but as I've said, Mike Dean applies the laws of the game, and as he sees it, so a tense last ten was set up with ten men each and the field opening up. Mancini wasted no time in pulling off Tevez and implanting Lescott into the back four. No trials of a back three today against this quality of opposition, whose heads were still not down and if anything starting to look up again.
This time of year seems to be Vinnie's "Denis Law" moment. We all know that Denis got sent off either late November or early December so his four week ban would see him spend Hogmanay in Scotland but quite what festival appears in Belgium at this time of year I don't know. It is still refreshing to see our players not biting the referee afterwards. Unlike a different team in red eh? The red nosed knight would have been filling his trousers if that would have been Jersey Tugger Vidic.
Arsenal were now trying to step on the gas in a bid to rescue this match and Dzeko and Silva were perhaps fortunate not to bother Dean's pockets with a couple of interesting challenges with the official ruling "free-kick sufficient". Barry however was not so lucky in the closing stages as his foul on Wilshere brought out an inevitable yellow.
As the clock wound down it was time to introduce the pantomime element and the Clown Prince, Balotelli, fresh from 2 goals in the under-21s, was introduced for the hard working goalscorer, Dzeko. I thought this was a superb effort by Dzeko today. I've said for weeks that we perhaps don't give him credit for the graft he puts in. We see him miss chances but like Barry he puts in a lot of work off the ball. And for me he can miss chances and even penalties if he simply scores. He's done that today, he gave City the cushion and he delivered the bridgehead. All his colleagues had to do was to keep the goals against column empty. The dodgy red-top scribes persist in the idea that we are ready to let Dzeko go, but this is not realistic. Balotelli will never be as productive or as hard working as the Bosnian and my favours lie fairly and squarely in his camp. As I've said before, we started last season with Dzeko and Aguero and scared the life out of the world, it was only a poor decision by Mancini that ruined that and I would start with those two anytime.
Mike Dean was doing his best with his Fergie watch adding almost a third half but there were going to be no late surprises today as another ghost was exorcised. It is, what, 37 years since City last beat their London-based Elite Development Squad in their own back yard in a league match, and what a day for Joe Hart to register his 200th appearance with a clean sheet against a team that generally knows where the net is at home. But at last it was City's big day in North London and this does throw down a marker. With their miserable record against Arsenal, Stretford's finest must have been dreaming of ten clear points tonight but the spectre of last season is starting to form. Indeed the Stretford droolers in the media were well predicting an unassailable 10-point lead at the close of business today but City broke the mould. This was an accomplished performance of defending champions going quietly about their business, not about so-called noisy neighbours. Whilst the red and white end of just outside Manchester cannot seemingly keep its big mouth shut, the Blues systematically set about a difficult task in exemplary fashion to keep themselves in touch with the top of the table and the defence of their title. No doubt Sky will continue to put the Stretfords on first each week to heap the pressure on City, but there are only Chelsea and probably United themselves who can live with City after a performance like this, the latter only if they continue to get their slices of fortune.
Astonishingly, the Blues did not miss Yaya. Different dynamics were applied and an accomplished performance by Garcia, today not playing a cameo under pressure and the "business as usual" work from Milner would lead me to suggest that Nasri needs to spend a week or two warming the bench. I for one need to see Milner given a run against the likes of Fulham, QPR and possibly Stoke in the FA Cup as his robustness will be important in all of those matches.
I am delighted with this City performance. The Emirates is not an easy gig and even against ten men for a while they still have the quality as do City to create something in adversity. Man of the Match? Can there be eleven? It is difficult to give it to anyone especially as arguably the best two players encountered a bad point - Dzeko missing a penalty and Kompany getting flirted.
Let's say it was a total team performance and move on!
all times East Manchester
Sa 19Jan 15h00 Fulham, The Etihad, PL
Sa/Su 26/27Jan Crystal Palace or Stoke City, A, FAC4
Tu 29Jan 19h45 QPR, Loftus Road, PL
Su 03Feb 16h00 Liverpool, The Etihad, PL
Sa 09Feb 17h30 Southampton, St Mary's, PL