Arsenal 2-1 Man City
Arsenal produced a wonderful performance on Monday night to lay down a marker in this season’s title race as the Gunners defeated Manchester City 2-1 at the Emirates.
With several key players out injured such as Cazorla, Coquelin and the team’s talisman Alexis Sanchez, Arsene Wenger and the fans needed eleven heroic performances from those in red and white. That is exactly what they got. Olivier Giroud chased and harried all night, as did Mesut Ozil, Joel Campbell and Theo Walcott to help the team succeed on the defensive side of the game.
As in the away game at the Etihad last season, the tactics were to surrender possession to City, soak up the pressure and hit them on the break. Once again they worked perfectly as City struggled to break down the Arsenal defence. However these tactics can only work if all the players work their socks off for the team and give their all for the cause. Concentration is also key as one mistake; one lapse could easily result in disaster.
In fact the pivotal moment in the game arrived as a result of a lapse in concentration. For one moment Arsenal appeared to have abandoned their cautious approach as they had struggled to maintain possession throughout the opening 30 minutes. The Gunners full backs were caught up field as the home side lost possession deep in the City half. A deft flick from Aguero found Kevin De Bruyne and he surged through into the Arsenal penalty area. Fortunately, the Belgian elected to shoot towards the far corner rather than pass to the unmarked David Silva for a tap in and the chance was lost.
Had City scored, the game would have taken on a different complexion. The Gunners would have had to come out and chase the game, opening themselves up to the possibility of conceding more. As it was, less than a minute later and Arsenal were in the lead. In these big games it is often a moment of genius or supreme skill that turns the match on its head. Alexis Sanchez is usually the man the team look to for such a moment, but without him on the pitch, it was Walcott who took the mantle. Mesut Ozil registered an assist as he passed the ball to the Englishman, but this was a goal that was all about Walcott. The former Southampton man cut inside onto his right foot and fired an unstoppable, powerful curling effort right into the bottom corner of the goal to send the Emirates crowd wild.
City attempted to turn up the heat in response, but Arsenal hit them again just before half time. Ozil registered yet another assist, this time with a more telling pass as he picked out a through ball to Olivier Giroud. The Frenchman has had several critics throughout his time at the Emirates, especially for his performances and lack of goals in the big games. As he bore down on goal however Giroud looked every bit a top quality forward as he keep his head down, concentrated on generating power in the shot and keeping the ball low. When he looked up Giroud saw his effort fly through the legs of Joe Hart and into the back of the net.
It wasn’t just Giroud that answered his critics on Monday night, the whole team did. Over the years so much has been made of Arsenal having a soft underbelly, but once again they proved to the pundits that this team has grown up and matured. Faced with a referee that was allowing some ferocious tackles to go unpunished it would have been easy for the Gunners to feel sorry for themselves, hide and allow themselves to be bullied. But instead Arsenal stood tall, gave as good as they got and matched City’s physicality all across the pitch.
With Coquelin out injured Mathieu Flamini has been recalled to first team action and has been outstanding. Throughout the match the Frenchman constantly barked orders to this teammates and urged them onto victory. Flamini was the at the centre of the physical battle, flying into tackles time and time again in a game that was full of thunderous tackles.
Behind Flamini, the Arsenal defence were outstanding too. Koscielny has just been different class so far this season. So composed and calm under pressure he sweeps in to clear the danger throughout the game and gives a sense of great reassurance to those around him. Alongside him, Per Mertesacker was also excellent on Monday night, winning every single one of his aerial battles, to form a formidable partnership with Koscielny, while both full backs worked extremely hard in tandem with their wingers to help prevent City from attacking the Gunners on the flank.
As a result, City were short of ideas. They had the lion’s share of possession but rarely created anything of any note and in the end it took a moment of sheer brilliance from Yaya Toure to get them back in the game. The Ivorian’s impudent effort left Cech with no chance as the ball nestled in the top corner of the net with only 8 minutes left, to provide the game with a very tense finish. In previous years Arsenal would have succumbed to the pressure and allowed City to equalise, but once again they showed that things have changed at the Emirates and held on for a famous win.
The fans recognised the efforts of their players and the importance of this great victory as they created a wonderful atmosphere, urging their team on in those last few tense minutes, creating a wonderful cacophony of noise just before the final whistle and then serenading their heroes as they walked off the pitch at the end. This is what football is all about, the fans and the players coming together as one to achieve greatness. Arsenal cannot afford to now rest on their laurels. The next few games will be extremely difficult as none of the injured players are due to come back and the games come thick and fast. The Gunners have proved they have a tremendous spirit within the squad and will need to count on it again if they are to come through this busy Christmas period.