Arsenal 1-0 Man City, or Here Comes the Arteta
It’s been a long time coming, but Arsenal finally met City at home earlier today. We’ve taken on the second place Manchester club twice already this season, once at their place in the league and once at home in the Carling Cup; both matches resulted in defeats on our side, but neither were complete disasters (in each game the score was 1-0). Today’s match would keep that scoreline, but flip it in favour of North London.
From the whistle the match was almost entirely in our hands; we started strong and kept pressing forward throughout the first half. At one point our possession was 74%, meaning we did a fantastic job of limiting City’s chances (they would end up with just one shot on goal by the end of the game), while attempting to take a couple of our own. Walcott and Sagna seemed to have the run of the right side of the pitch: Clichy just couldn’t cope with Arsenal’s assault down the flank, which allowed us to create some great crosses and movement. The moment of the first half for me would have to be the corner, taken by Mikel Arteta, that saw Robin van Persie get a header in that was timed and aimed perfectly at an open net, only to have the ball deflected off Vermaelen on the goal line. An accident, for sure, but one that could have seen us go one up before the end of the first 45 minutes. As it was, we continued to dominate possession and play without finding a way through City’s defense for the remainder of the half.
The second half saw us begin on a somewhat shaky foot, giving City 10 minutes to pick up their possession and move forward, but after that it was all Arsenal once again, so much so that we kept the ball in their half for a surprising duration of the game. Our chances came primarily from Robin, again, who was unlucky in that he timed another great header towards the edge of goal that hit the upright and missed the net by the narrowest of margins. It just wasn’t the Dutchman’s day, extending his scoreless streak to 4 games. The breakthrough would come in the 87th minute, when Arteta charged towards David Pizzaro and nicked the ball off him in City’s half of the pitch; the Spaniard took a couple of steps forward and blasted a long range shot into the corner of goal, putting Arsenal up 1-0 with only minutes left to play. It was a fantastic strike and you could see the joy on Arteta’s face as he celebrated with the team. Another fine display came from Alex Song, who has shown himself to be indispensable over the last few months. His lobbed balls and key passes have been a growing boon for the team, but his work as a holding midfield player have been improving as well and more than once today he made critical interceptions and defensive runs that stymied City’s efforts.
It’s this kind of effort, to play through to the end and keep strength of will and character, that has impressed me about this Arsenal team. More and more in the last couple of months we’ve seen players step up their game as the final whistle drew closer, and that’s something we weren’t used to last season. There’s a part of me that still expects Arsenal to concede a late goal and lose the game almost every time, but that part of me has faded somewhat in recent weeks. I feel more confident in the team and get the impression they don’t want to let themselves or the supporters down and, even if they lose, that helps to make up for it somehow.
Manchester City’s title hopes are all but over squashed now and it would be great to see Arsenal as the club that put the rich upstarts out. That’s another 3 points for us, but what’s more important is that we are now 5 points up on Chelsea and 2 on Spurs, with the latter’s 0-0 draw against Sunderland on Saturday. If we keep this up against Wolves and Wigan in the next week the future will be looking red and white by the time we take on Chelsea at home, which should be our biggest remaining test this season.