Very rarely do highly anticipated games live up to the hype surrounding them. For many weeks now the game featuring league toppers Arsenal facing off against Manchester United has been billed as the game of the season. Despite this lofty description the game ended up being all that and a box of chocolates.
Though Arsenal was 6 points ahead of Manchester City this was to be a match between two very talented sides. It was 1st place versus 4th place. The contest was to see the best defensive team in the Barclay’s Premier League face off against the best offensive side. Arsenal had only conceded 11 goals so far this season. Manchester City is an offensive juggernaut having scored 25 goals in its last 5 home games. Each team plays two very different styles. The contrasting styles would be going head-to-head in a may the best side win contest.
The two teams had had two very different weeks in Europe. Arsenal has lost on Wednesday in Champion’s League to Napoli whereas Manchester City was the victor against Bayern Munich on Tuesday. Arsenal had 24 hours less rest than Manchester City. Because of that Arsenal would go into the contest trying to use possession to control the tempo of the game.
The Gunners would be bolstered by the return to the starting 11 of Theo Walcott. Walcott was starting his first game for Arsenal since September due to an abdominal injury. His pace should cause problems for Manchester City. In the formation of 4-2-3-1 Walcott’s speed on the outside should help stretch out the Manchester City defense. In response to this, Arsenal coach Arsene Wenger had gone with a creative midfield leaving holding midfielder Santi Cazorla on the bench. The giant Costel Pantilimon continued getting the start in nets for Manchester City over Joe Hart. This was his 7th start in a row.
Winning in the Etihad Stadium has been an impossible task for all teams who have played there this season. Manchester City is the only squad to remain unbeaten at home. Arsenal seemed the right team to challenge them as they are the number one team on the road having conceded only 5 goals against as visitors. Though Arsenal has not won in Manchester City since October 2010.
On a chilly afternoon in Manchester the visitors in light blue were the side exerting pressure in the early minutes of the game. After about the 10th minute Arsenal seemed to collect themselves and started playing better. The game was levelling off. That is until the 14th minute. Manchester City had won a corner which was taken by Samuel Nasri. He played it to the front post where fullback Martin Demichelis flicked it on to the far post. Due to his great anticipation and ability to wiggle away from his marker Laurent Kolcielny striker Sergio Aguero was ready to volley it powerfully into the net. A strong finish resulting in his 13th goal of the season. He is having a great season and is 2nd in scoring behind Liverpool’s Suarez.
Manchester City has now scored in 58 consecutive home games. Etihad seems to continue to be the scariest place for visitors to come into. Theo Walcott made an impact on the game as predicted and leveled the score in the 31st minute. It came off a turnover by City midfielder Yaya Toure created by Aaron Ramsey just inside the Manchester half. Ramsey then played the ball to Mesut Ozil, who was very composed over the ball and spotted an unmarked Walcott near the top of the 18 yard box. His weak shot slightly deflected off former Bundesliga and La Liga defender Demichelis’s head. The deflection froze keeper Pantilimon allowing the ball to bounce into the right side of the net.
This was a game in which plenty of goals were scored and there was plenty of chances to score. Exciting for fans, but heart attack inducing for coaches. Manchester City retook the lead in the 39th minute. From a central position Toure found Pedro Zambaleta on his right. Zambaleta played a square ball across the face of goal. Alvara Negredo timed his run perfectly and redirected the pass from 4 yards out beyond a diving Wojciech Szczesny.
More bad news for Arsenal was that after the goal Kolcielny stayed down. He seemed to be having a problem with his left leg and was in considerable pain. He was stretchered off the field and it was announced later that he suffered a deep laceration to his knee. Wenger was forced to use his first substitution replacing the injured fullback with Thomas Vermaelen.
Manchester City is so strong that even Aguero going off about 2 minutes into the 2nd half due to a right calf problem did not seem to slow them down one iota. In the 50th minute they doubled their advance when midfielder Fernandinho scored his 1st of the campaign. Mathieu Flamini could not maintain control of a pass deep in his own end and Fernandinho collected the ball. He then advanced to the corner of the box and took a shot that curled just inside the far post.
The next 20 minutes would be about Arsenal’s mental toughness. They could fight to get back into the game or concede more goals. They fought. Within the next 5 minutes Arsenal striker Olivier Giroud had 3 good scoring chances, but could not connect on any of them. It was a good period for the Gunners. They were finally rewarded with a goal in the 62nd minute. Once again it was Walcott who did the damage. Ramsey found Walcott unmarked inside the 18 yard box. Walcott finished excellently past the 6’8” Pantilimon.
There was 25 minutes remaining in the game and no one dared go anywhere. This was a scintillating contest. A very open game that was quite entertaining.
Manchester City turned it on again a few minutes later and re-established their 2 goal lead this time courtesy of Spanish midfielder David Silva. The man who came on in place of Aguero, Jesus Navas played a low ball across the face of goal from near the end line on the right side. Silva deftly redirected the ball into the net leaving the keeper no chance.
Instead of sitting back to protect their 2 goal lead Manchester City continued to press forward. This might not be always wise, but it certainly makes for an interesting game. In the 88th minute they scored their 5th goal and Fernandinho got his 2nd. Nasri took the ball off Jack Wilshere at midfield. He and Fernandinho were off on a break together. Fernandinho passed to Nasri, who sent it back to Brazilian. Showing plenty of composure, Fernandinho calmly poked it over Szczesny. The game for all intents and purposes was over.
Even the 5 minutes of added time were exciting. In the 4th minute of added time Arsenal won a corner. It was played to Sagna. He crossed the ball and lanky fullback Per Mertesacker outleapt everyone to head it into the goal. One minute later the 3 goal advantage was re-established when Arsenal keeper Szczesny was forced to pull down substitute James Milner inside the box. Referee correctly awarded a penalty kick and gave the Arsenal keeper a yellow card. Toure stepped up and scored the game’s final goal. 6-3 and a dominant win by Manchester City. They are now temporarily in 2nd place just 3 points behind 1st place Arsenal.
Even though going into the game in 1st place by 5 points some have wondered if Arsenal has the mettle to win the title. This game showed that they do have some adjustments to make. Arsenal’s away form has to get better. Manchester City, especially at home, are a tough team to deal with. They seem to be able to score at will. Also they can turn a defensive position into an offensive one very quickly. This game went a long way towards showing that the Premier League title is far from determined and that even the 4 Champion’s League positions are still up for grabs. Should all lead to a very exciting rest of the season.
-Referee: Martin Atkinson
-Goals: 1st Half:
14th minute: Manchester City – Sergio Aguero
31st minute: Arsenal – Theo Walcott
39th minute: Manchester City – Alvara Negredo
50th minute: Manchester City – Fernandinho
62nd minute: Arsenal – Theo Walcott
65th minute: Manchester City – David Silva
88th minute: Manchester City – Fernandinho
90th + 4 minutes: Arsenal – Per Mertesacker
90th + 6 minutes: Manchester City – (pk) Yaya Toure
-Shots on Goal: Manchester City – 7
Arsenal – 6
-Corners: Manchester City – 8
Arsenal – 8
-Man of the Match: Fernandinho – Manchester City
-Final Score: Manchester City – 6
Arsenal – 3