Arsenal defended bravely today at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City, but failed to take their chances. City were enterprising on the counter, and made it count one time, which was enough to win. A late, weak, penalty shout for Arsenal went unheeded, and Joe Hart kept a clean sheet, denying Thomas Vermaelen late. Arsenal fall to sixth place, now 12 points behind City, who solidify their standing at the top of the table.
Arsenal named a lineup with four center backs, while City's featured two former Gunners: Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri. Early on, David Silva tried to free Nasri on the left, but Johan Djourou cleared the danger while the away fans cheered. Arsenal had a little trouble building any sort of passing moves early, but their defenders were alert to City's counter-thrusts in the first five minutes. A Nasri freekick was caught by Wojciech Szczesny in heavy traffic after Mikel Arteta fouled Mario Balotelli.
City's first real chance came when Pablo Zabaleta put in a great early low cross for Sergio Aguero, who controlled but shot just over the bar. City were really bossing the match, Silva testing Szcsesny on 11 minutes. Arsenal hadn't hardly entered City's half. Fifteen minutes in, Arsenal's forwards had hardly touched the ball.
17 minutes in, though, Arsenal started playing. Song played Gervinho through, and the Ivorian's shot caused Joe Hart some problems. The ensuing corner went back to Aaron Ramsey, whose deflected shot caused Hart more problems...the next corner, though, ended up in his arms. Arsenal would try to take a little boost from their first successful foray into City's final third, but only time would tell if they would. City's fullbacks were doing a good job of containing Arsenal along the touchlines, and their press was disrupting most of Arsenal's buildup.
City had a real chance 23 minutes in, Koscielny's headed clearance not making it anywhere. Balotelli took down Micah Richards' cross brilliantly, getting behind Per Mertesacker, but Szczesny produced a great save, smothering the Italian's effort as Arsenal cleared. Arsenal were starting to look a little more composed in their buildup play, and won a free kick from the right on 27 minutes that came to nothing, Robin van Persie floating one in rather than shooting.
City won a corner on 28 minutes that Arsenal did well to contain, but City managed to turn in a good spell of pressure following it, Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry keeping things turning over from the rear of Arsenal's third. Arsenal did manage to escape via Gervinho down the left 32 minutes in, the attack ending when a Ramsey cross to van Persie was headed softly wide.
Arsenal nearly found a breakthrough 35 minutes in, Laurent Koscielny bursting forward and finding van Persie. With options in front of him, he chose to shoot instead, his muffled shot falling into the middle of a Kolo Toure-Aaron Ramsey soup that ended up all over Joe Hart's hands. That makes no sense; just know that Arsenal didn't score.
Gareth Barry earned a yellow card for a hard tackle on Arteta, but Arsenal's free kick did nothing 39 minutes in. Aguero burst around the Arsenal defense a minute later, Thomas Vermaelen trying to cut the angle off, and Szczesny made a good diving save to his right, anticipating the shot well. The last five minutes of the half were approaching; Koscielny earned a yellow for a fine shoestring tackle on running back Aguero. Gervinho neither crossed nor shot as minute 47 approached. Nothing really happened before the halftime whistle, although City had by far more of the first half. Arsenal had chances, but none went in, and 0-0 it was.
Arsenal began the second half pretty well, although Johan Djourou came off for Ignasi Miquel in the early moments, the Spaniard taking up left back, Vermaelen moving to the center and Koscielny to the right. His touch from a Nasri cross gave City a corner, but he defended that well enough, putting Silva off.
The match was pretty even until Balotelli burst away on the left 53 minutes in, and facing Song one-on-one, he cut into the box and lashed a shot that Szczesny could only push into the patch of Aguero, Vermaelen put him off, but his deflected clearance fell into the path of Silva, who buried it and no mistake. 1-0 to City, Arsenal's stout defending finally undone.
Theo Walcott tested Hart immediately, the English keeper pushing the ball over for a corner which came to nothing. Eastlands had come alive, and Arsenal were going to need something more than they had. van Persie put the ball in the back of the net, but was offside, just. City were looking more lively all of a sudden again. In a frantic back and forth few minutes, Aguero nearly made it 2 62 minutes in, flashing a shot just wide of the far post. Nasri flashed a cross low, that nobody got to, just a minute later.
It was all City.
Arsenal, though, were trying, and Gervinho managed to get away on the left, cut back for van Persie, whose first-time shot was tame, Hart claiming. Still, it was something. City won a free kick, which was cleared straight to Zabaleta, who crushed a shot off the post. Arsenal came right down the other end, Walcott's shot/cross headed straight into Hart and out for a goal kick (except RvP was ruled wrongly offside).
69 minutes in, Arsenal's desperation was growing. Wenger removed Walcott for Andrei Arshavin. Vermaelen had a shot from a free kick deflect wide for a corner. Arshavin played a first-time cross poorly, straight to Hart, although the idea was okay. Aguero earned a yellow for a late foul on Vermaelen. 72 minutes in, Balotelli came off for James Milner, as Mancini adjusted things away from attack a little bit. Arteta earned a yellow card for something indiscernable.
Micah Richards may have handled in the box 78 minutes in, but no call came. That is all. No comment.
Aaron Ramsey tried some desperate backheels. No comment.
Marouane Chamakh replaced Per Mertesacker--all the cards were on the table now for Arsenal. City brought on Nigel de Jong for Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko for Samir Nasri. The game was fizzling out a little bit, mainly because Arshavin was wasteful with his passing. 89 minutes in, Koscielny crossed, Arshavin collected, and shot near post, wide, in a poor effort.
Arsenal earned a free kick, which was slid across to an unmarked Vermaelen, who unleashed from 20 yards, Hart pushing the shot over for a corner, which came to nothing. Four minutes of extra time were on the docket, City looking to put things to rest through Aguero and Dzeko. Dzeko hit the side netting on 92 minutes.
Arsenal were not giving up, though, and Thomas Vermaelen nearly scored from 25 yards with a wicked curler that went just wide. That was the last chance, and Phil Dowd brought things to a close, City leaving 1-0 winners. Arsenal defended bravely, but couldn't make their chances count.
Next up: Villa.