Mikel Arteta was the match winner on a day when Arsenal took a massive step towards automatic Champions League qualification and practically handed the title to Sir Alex.
It’s only fair we helped United as they did us a favour an hour earlier by beating QPR to pull eight points clear of City. You can bet the boys in blue would’ve been aware of this as they kicked off and they looked thoroughly demoralised. They were lethargic and despondent as a motivated Arsenal took control of the game, enjoying plenty of possession and camping in City’s half, albeit without really creating many clear openings.
It was good to see the Gunners up for this game — not like last week when they thought QPR would be brushed aside without much effort and ending up deservedly beaten.
But then we’ve always been able to motivate ourselves for the glamour games — it’s the matches where complacency can sneak in which worries me most about this group of players. Until we conquer this mental weakness we will not be involved in a title race anytime soon.
Major incidents were few and far between as both managers opted for a cautious approach. Wenger once again chose not to field two wide attackers, playing Benayoun on the left so that the little Israeli could tuck in and help win the midfield battle. Wenger used a similar ploy against Spurs and, like then, it worked well today. Yossi was busy and hardworking, helping Song and Arteta get control of the game, but it did curtail our attacking options, leaving Walcott as our only wide outlet. Unfortunately Mr Inconsistent had a poor game and was hardly involved meaning we had to try and pick our way through a solid defence which was well marshalled by Kompany.
Someone who didn’t have a poor game was Rosicky. He was at the heart of our attacks, switching play well when needed and looking bright and creative. His form over the last couple of months has been excellent and along with the goals of van Persie he’s been a major factor in us taking 24 points out of the last 27 available.
Our cause was helped when Yaya Toure limped off after 17 minutes and moments later Balotelli should’ve followed him down the tunnel when he went over the top on Song. The ref didn’t even give a foul to the incredulity of everyone sitting around me as, even from 80 yards away, we could tell it was an attempted leg breaker.
Shortly afterwards we had our best chance of the half when van Persie smacked the bar with a header and we went in at the break the superior team but with nothing to show for it.
City had been curiously unadventurous considering they had to win the game and Mancini’s tactics seemed to be one of containment. I was expecting them to open up in the second half and have a real go, but instead it was Arsenal who upped the tempo — our desire to overtake Spurs seemed to be greater than City’s desire to reel in Man Utd.
On 62 minutes Van Persie hit the woodwork again when his header from Song’s clever chip bounced away off the post and from that point on it was wave after wave of red attacks.
Pick that one out Joseph!
We went even closer when Walcott turned Sagna’s low cross against the post and as Vermaelen sliced the rebound goalwards, it seemed Benayoun couldn’t miss from two yards out. But somehow the ball was half blocked and trickled agonisingly wide for a corner — an incredible let off for Man City and our best chance of three points seemed to have gone.
With five minutes remaining Wenger finally gave Oxlade-Chamberlain a chance, bringing him on for Theo. By then Ramsey had been chosen to replace Benayoun despite the game crying out for the sort of direct running and trickery that only the Ox could offer. It seemed as though the gaffer had left it too late to unleash him and if we’d drawn 0-0 questions would rightly have been asked. But on 87 minutes Arteta rendered the debate needless when he advanced on the City defence and instead of trying to tippy-tap our way into the six yard box, he thought “Why not have a go?” and slammed in a 25 yarder which skidded past Hart and into the net.
The match was won but there was still time for pantomime villain Ballotelli to demonstrate what an over-privileged moron he is when he scythed through Sagna and belatedly saw red. For me the buck stops with Mancini for wasting his money on such an immature plank.
Speaking of wasting money, wasn’t it nice to see Nasri do absolutely nothing before suffering the humiliation of being subbed in front of 60,000 jeering Gooners. I had to laugh as a chant of “He’s on the bench! He’s on the bench! He’s on the — Nasri’s on the bench!” went up around me. Almost as funny as when Tevez and Kolarov were warming up in front of us and had to listen to “He plays when he wants! Carlos Tevez — he plays when he wants!” Even Kolarov chuckled at that one as he did his stretches!
So we’re five points clear of Chelsea and two points in front of Spurs. Every Spurs fan I know had been bleating on about how we still had to play Man City and Chelsea and therefore would drop points. Well, hasn’t worked out like that has it you Spuds! As much as this result lifts our confidence again after last week’s blip, it will deflate our London rivals as they didn’t expect us to beat Mancini’s men. They know they really need to win all their remaining fixtures to overhaul us and that puts huge pressure on them.
Chelsea in particular have to win at the Emirates and also hope we slip up somewhere else. Given that they come to us in between two games against Barcelona (where they will be totally hammered), I’d say we’re clear favourites, especially if we play as we did today. And I’m not talking about our technical ability, I’m talking about our mental approach.
On to Wolves on Wednesday then. If we approach that match as if we were playing Man City we’ll get a comfortable victory. But if the boys are still congratulating each other and thinking about all the nice things the papers are saying about them, and how Wolves are bottom of the table, then we could be in for a QPR-style shock. Fingers crossed Wenger gets them as motivated as they were today.
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