Arsenal and Manchester City played out a scoreless draw today in a match in which Arsenal dominated possession and chances, but couldn't find the final end product against a determined Citizens defense.
[For SBN Manchester City perspective, please visit Bitter and Blue.]
This was supposed to be a Manchester City squad, assembled for hundreds of millions of pounds, that would blow apart the Premier League. The strikers alone on the team: Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Jo, Roque Santa Cruz, Mario Balotelli...City supporters were supposed to get Avatar, but based on tonight's match, they got Evan Almighty.
[NB: the preceding is not about cinematic quality, but rather about ambition-to-money ratio. Evan Almighty cost $175 million to make. Think about that: $175 million. For a comedy. About a guy named Evan. Who becomes
God Noah. And it's not even in 3-D.]
Arsenal opened the match with all the intent in the world. Jack Wilshere passed up a chance to shoot after two minutes when he had only Joe Hart in front of him, and six minutes later, Robin van Persie started what was to become a trend by smashing a shot low against the post. The Gunners continued to own most of the play as the first half marched on; Gareth Barry saw yellow for a late challenge on Bacary Sagna before Theo Walcott steered a shot wide of the far post.
Three minutes later, Arsenal broke on the counter after a City corner kick, and some lovely interplay between Cesc Fabregas, van Persie, and Samir Nasri led to Fabregas smashing another effort off the same post, before the rebound was crushed against the opposite post by (an offside) Walcott. It was going to be one of those evenings; the first half crept along and petered out with City not generating any dangerous chances apart from one Carlos Tevez effort.
Halftime rang in no changes for either side, and Arsenal continued to dominate possession. City struggled to string passes together and had no creative players regularly seeing the ball. Their back four and their defensive midfielders (Nigel de Jong, Yaya Toure, and Gareth Barry) worked together really well to limit Arsenal's final pass in and around the penalty area.
Arsenal's best chance came in the 62nd minute as van Persie collected a Wilshere feed twenty yards from goal and fully laced a shot toward Hart's upper 90. Hart was equal to the shot, getting fingers to it and pushing it over the bar, but it was a wicked effort.
Shortly thereafter, the changes began ringing for both teams. Adam Johnson replaced Jo on the right for City, a largely ineffective Andrei Arshavin came in for Walcott, Nicklas Bendtner came on for Wilshere in a vague attempt to maybe change shape, but nothing was on as Arsenal continued to throw themselves at a wall. It was not so much that they lacked the quality to beat City tonight as it was a combination of effective last-ditch defending and inch-poor luck for the Gunners.
As injury time started up, the final incident of note in the match occurred after Bacary Sagna took exception to a tackle from Pablo Zabaleta. Sagna, after being stamped and kicked for the past three weeks, finally lost his cool, the pair headbutted each other and shoved each other, and referee Mike Jones rightfully had enough and sent both off. Straight reds for the pair means both will miss three domestic matches, two of which for Sagna will be the League Cup semifinal against Ipswich and the FA Cup third rounder against Leeds.
All in all, a supremely frustrating night for the Gunners, the better and by far more ambitious team, but unable to capitalize on their chances again in the final third.