Arsenal struggled to recover from an early Laurent Koscielny red card as Manchester City scored twice in the first half to seal their first win away against the Gunners since 1975. James Milner and Edin Dzeko did the damage for the visitors after the latter had had an early penalty well saved by Wojciech Szczesny.
Despite a spirited showing and raucous support from the Emirates crowd Arsene Wenger’s side couldn’t find a way to break down a stubborn City defence even when referee Mike Dean gave Vincent Kompany his marching orders with ten minutes to go.
The big pre-game team news centred on Abou Diaby’s inclusion in the starting line-up after Mikel Arteta picked up an injury in training yesterday. At the back Thomas Vermaelen returned to the side in place of Per Mertesacker, Theo Walcott started up front and Olivier Giroud took a seat on the bench after a late fitness test on his gashed knee. The above wasn’t particularly relevant for long.
A fine block from Vermaelen deflected a David Silva effort over the bar as City asserted themselves on the game early before Mike Dean made the visitors’ job a lot easier by sending off Laurent Koscielny for an innocuous coming together with Edin Dzeko in the box on 8 minutes.
At first you couldn’t tell what the referee had blown for as Szczesny punched the ball off Tevez’s head to clear the danger. Subsequent replays showed the Frenchman grappling the Bosnian striker to the floor denying him a clear goal scoring opportunity. The card, the fifth in the last six meetings between the sides, was probably fair although it didn’t stop us complaining vehemently.
Amazingly Szczesny pulled off a remarkable double save from the resulting penalty. First he used his legs to deflect Dzeko’s strike onto the post then the Pole managed to grab the ball as it raced across the goal line. The Emirates erupted with defiant roars.
Unfortunately, the reprieve was only temporary. Chamberlain was immediately sacrificed for Mertesacker as Wenger shuffled the pack but our players looked dazed and confused. At a time when we needed to keep our heads we did anything but.
It was annoyingly unsurprising when we finally conceded and although Dean played his part – blowing for a silly foul by Podolski – we really brought about our own downfall. Rather than organise the defence Vermaelen turned his back on the game after his complaints fell on deaf ears. Seeing a gap in the centre of our defence Barry acted quickly by slipping the ball to Silva who in turn found Tevez and finally Milner who slapped home a vicious strike off Szczesny’s post and in. 1-0.
We really struggled to make any headway in the final third in the first half hour as we battled a City side marshalled by the impressive Vincent Kompany. Walcott did fire high and wide from a corner on 16 minutes, but his effort was representative of his performance as a whole.
He wasn’t the only one not performing to the necessary standards; 50-50 challenges were lost all over the pitch one of which, between Zabaleta and Gibbs, directly led to City’s second. The Argentine crunched into a challenge, fed James Milner and the England man drove a wicked ball across the box which Tevez tapped goalwards. Szczesny did well to stop the initial shot but could only watch helplessly as Dzeko tucked home the rebound from a yard. 2-0.
Diaby and Podolski both had efforts of varying quality as we ralied, but in truth as the half-time whistle approached we were lucky not to be further behind. Only Wilshere’s header off the line prevented Dzeko getting his second while a frustrated Vermaelen picked up a yellow for a cynical challenge on the physical striker.
Dzeko and Milner continued to cause havoc after the break, the Bosnian again close to adding to his tally with a header, before the crowd was given a lift by a driving run by Wilshere, a blocked Gibbs effort and Giroud replacing the ineffective Podolski.
Having struggled to maintain defensive discipline at 0-0 it was predictable that gaps appeared at the back as we became increasingly desperate and gung-ho going forward. City seemed happy enough to pick us off on the break and on more than one occasion it took desperate last ditch challenges to stop killer City balls reaching their intended target in and around the six-yard box. When Tevez did get free one-on-one with Szczesny he was denied by some fantastic goalkeeping.
Milner, Wilshere and Zabaleta picked up bookings and Ramsey entered the fray in place of the tiring Diaby but we didn’t really test Joe Hart despite trying to hit long balls to Giroud. The Frenchman had a fantastic chance to reduce the deficit with 18 minutes remaining but he could only head over from when the goal was beckoning.
With 16 minutes remaining the catcalls from the Emirates crowd finally paid off as Mike Dean cracked under pressure and sent off Kompany for what was deemed a two-footed challenge on Wilshere. It was free-kick, maybe a booking but not a red.
The question was whether Arsenal could get a quick goal to set up a tense last ten minutes. Mertesacker was deployed as an auxiliary striker as the tactics book (if there was one being used) went out of the window. Unfortunately, despite winning the ball time after time our lofted passes into the penalty area met with little success. It was as spirited as it was exasperating from the Gunners.
In the final minute Walcott finally got free behind the City defence but even though his low drive beat Hart it was cleared off the line by a City defender. It was the last action of merit as the visitors played out five minutes of injury-time with a lengthy period of possession football. A bad day at the office all in all and although the team played with heart in the second period, it was the fact they didn’t play with their heads in the first which has done the damage.
We’ve five more games in the next 17 days so there’s no time to feel sorry for ourselves.