Arsenal 1 Man City 0
It’s always a strange feeling hosting a team in the throes of title failure. Having been in the same position as Man City supporters in the past, we know how painful it is to watch a championship challenge blow up as players turn into shadows of themselves. Yesterday felt like we were doing them a favour by finally ending their diminishing hopes of silverware.
On the other hand Arsenal played with the diligence of a team looking to seal third/fourth as quickly as possible. This was not a classic attacking display but it was a game we dominated and deserved to win. The willingness to keep pushing for a goal despite being repelled for the majority of the game was a pleasing sign that our hunger was not affected by the ending of the winning run last week.
I admit I wasn’t convinced we’d make the breakthrough, even though we were getting closer and closer as time wore on. After controlling the first 30 minutes and seeing Vermaelen deflecting RVP’s header off the line, we appeared to run out of impetus as the first half came to an end. Life would have been made easier if Balotelli had rightly received a red card for his shocking tackle on Song but enough is already being written about Mad Mario so I’ll not add to it here.
The second half followed a similar pattern of controlled possession without much of a cutting edge. Inevitably we fell into sideways football at times – frustrating but understandable given the way Man City were filling the box with players. We should have scored one of the chances which hit the woodwork, from Van Persie’s header and Walcott’s shot, but I was still hoping someone would attempt a dribble or try something different given we were struggling to carve out chances. It made the substitution of Ramsey for Benayoun all the more bemusing when the Ox was ready and waiting. It highlighted the absence of Gervinho, who didn’t even make it to the bench. No word as far as I know about why he was missing – has he really impressed so little that Wenger prefers Ramsey on the wing?
Thankfully Arteta’s superb shot brought us the goal our domination had earned and killed off Man City’s stodgy effort at keeping the title chase alive. You can’t even say they came for a draw, even though they defended well for the most part. They just looked to be hoping for the best now that their season has spiralled out of control. Apart from Kompany, that is. He stood out as easily the best defender on the pitch, as he did at Eastlands earlier in the season.
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I love a 25-yard screamer. We see precious few of them from the Arsenal nowadays, seemingly under orders from Wenger to keep the ball moving and create an opportunity closer to goal. I’ve said before we’d be a much more potent attack if we had a threat from distance – defences back off Song in particular because they know he won’t even attempt a strike, making things even more difficult to find a killer pass in a congested area. Arteta’s goal not only reminds Wenger how potent a weapon the long shot can be but will also add a seed of doubt into opponents’ minds in the future.
And so, after Spurs’ draw at Sunderland, we move clear of them again in the race for third/fourth. The players shouldn’t think like this but I would hope winning our remaining three home games, including Chelsea, would be enough to get us there.
Moving on from Nasri
As we reach the climax of the season, it was fitting to see Samir Nasri again. This time last year the speculation over his desire for a transfer – in addition to the rumours about Cesc – epitomised the uncertainties surrounding the end to the last campaign. It was followed by the messy handling of Nasri’s move, part of a rather chaotic summer.
Going into the final six games this year everything feels a lot more settled and far fewer first-team players want to be elsewhere. Van Persie’s contract renewal remains the big counterpoint but the difference is there hasn’t been any agitation from his side – not yet, at least – to force a move. This summer’s transfer activity and planning should be built on a more solid foundation. If Wenger can make the right decisions over the next few months, it bodes well for the position we could be in another year’s time.