Manchester City 0 – Arsenal 2 (Cazorla (pen) 24. Giroud 66)
Man of the Match – Santi Cazorla (Arsenal)
Finally, the monkey is off the back. Months of moaning about how Arsenal just fail to turn up in big games, and are just not as good as the cash rich sides on the top of the Premier League, could finally cease, as the Gunners produced a composed, uncanny and gritty performance to emerge with 3 points from the Etihad Stadium, a ground which hasn’t been the happiest hunting ground in recent seasons.
With the manager now having more resources at his disposal through the returns from injuries of Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini and Theo Walcott, the squad looks stronger with every passing week. Kieran Gibbs was named on the bench, as Spaniard Nacho Monreal started at left-back. Unsurprisingly, his compatriot Hector Bellerin too made it into the starting 11, after strong performances in recent games, instead of Callum Chambers, most people’s choice to start in place of Mathieu Debuchy. David Ospina kept his place in goal after clean sheets against Hull City in the FA Cup and Stoke City in the Premier League
Francis Coquelin kept his place in defensive midfield, as Aaron Ramsey marked his return with a start, while there was no change in the front 4. Alexis Sanchez, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud all started. For the hosts, Sergio Aguero and Vincent Kompany made starts after passing fit to play, post recent injury problems. With Yaya Toure on national team duty with Ivory Coast at the African Cup of Nations, there were starts for both Fernandinho and Fernando in the centre of the park. The prospect of quick Spanish winger Jesus Navas facing his international teammate Nacho Monreal on the opposite flank may have been discomforting for Arsenal fans.
Manchester City started in attack mode, and seemed to cause early problems for Arsenal. Fernandinho forced Laurent Koscielny into a foul, which earned the Frenchman a yellow card in just the 3rd minute. Arsenal started with a 4-1-4-1 formation, Francis Coquelin being the vital, disciplined cog in front of the defence, making vital interceptions throughout, to counter the creative pursuits of Spain star David Silva and in-form Argentine Sergio Aguero.
Arsenal didn’t offer much in an attacking mode, with Manchester City playing high up the pitch, allowing them to get control of the ball quickly. Arsenal had to rely on quick counters from Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to thwart City’s defense. Arsenal’s first real chance on goal came when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain collected the ball on the right-wing, overran a challenge before crossing for Olivier Giroud, whose diving header was deflected for a corner by Vincent Kompany.
In the 24th minute, Arsenal would make the unlikely breakthrough, as Nacho Monreal looked to play a quick one-two with Olivier Giroud, but was impeded in his run by Vincent Kompany. It may seem that Monreal went down too easily, but there definitely was contact from the Belgian captain. Santi Cazorla made no mistake from the penalty spot, and despite Joe Hart guessing the right way, the penalty smashed the back of the net as Arsenal went up 1-0 at the Etihad.
Arsenal fans would have liked to take a 2-0 lead, but the Gunners weren’t really able to keep possession, as the ball just didn’t stick to the Gunners’ legs for prolonged periods. Manchester City, on the other hand were frustrated by Arsenal’s zonal pressing and interceptions. Santi Cazorla was having a field day as he bought Arsenal out of several delicate situations with delightful dribbling. Manchester City had to retort to passing but not really make a dent or a killer pass, with David Ospina having a quiet day in the office for most parts of the first half.
The ineffective James Milner was bought off for Montenegro international Stevan Jovetic, who according to rumors, may well be looking for a move back to the Serie A, after the champions splashed £28 million on Ivory Coast striker Wilfried Bony from Swansea. David Ospina made his first real save of the match when Sergio Aguero’s left footed shot was palmed away by the Colombian international for a corner. City made more chances, and Ospina had to parry a shot from Jesus Navas before Fernandinho blasted over from close range.
Alexis Sanchez tricked Pablo Zabaleta to skip away from the Argentine, but his shot was wayward and went out for a throw in, when he really should have done better with Olivier Giroud hoping for a ball towards him. Aaron Ramsey too was guilty of the same, as the Welshman showed signs of rustiness. Both managers decided to spruce up things, with former Chelsea man Frank Lampard replacing Fernandinho and Tomas Rosicky coming on for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.
Moments later, the Gunners doubled the lead. Stevan Jovetic bought down Alexis Sanchez. Santi Cazorla took the free-kick and Olivier Giroud headed home the goal, under absolutely no pressure from City’s defenders. It was the simplest of goals to score, and the Frenchman celebrated with a slide on the Etihad turf.
Arsenal had the 2 goal lead, but there were moments of comedy, first when Nacho Monreal seemed to wildly kick a ball, but it could have ended up anywhere. It instead ended up for a corner, Ospina luckily seeing the funny side of it. Manchester City were now desperate and looked to some long range options, as Arsenal’s defence got tighter. Jovetic’s shot struck the outside of the post.
With 10 minutes, the manager bought on defensive reinforcements, as Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs replaced Alexis Sanchez and a tiring Aaron Ramsey. Flamini almost had an immediate impact when he was played in by Santi Cazorla. He could have crossed in to set up Giroud, but waited, before Vincent Kompany cleared the danger. Bosnia striker Edin Dzeko came on, and forced a save from Ospina, but Arsenal held on for the remainder of the match to register a 2-0 victory.
The points are priceless, especially on a weekend when Southampton, Tottenham and Manchester United, all won, with the race for a top 4 finish heating up. Arsenal’s win was creditable, and the performances of unheralded Ospina, Monreal, Bellerin and Coquelin were commendable.
This was Ospina’s third consecutive clean sheet, and his first away clean sheet in his first away game in an Arsenal shirt. He didn’t have too much work to do, especially with solid work from his defense. Nacho Monreal has proven to be an important player for Arsenal this season, filling in at centre back at various points of the season, owing to injuries to Koscielny. He put up a solid performance, and so did Bellerin, unfazed by the challenge of first, Milner and then Jovetic. Francis Coquelin, at the moment seems to be the answer to Arsenal’s central defensive midfield problems. He put up a commanding, disciplined performance, but his future will still hold some question marks.
The man of the match was undoubtedly Santi Cazorla who put up a tireless performance for 90 minutes, skipping several challenges to get Arsenal out of tricky situations. He made no mistake from the penalty spot and provided the delivery for Giroud’s goal. A masterclass from the Spaniard. And, while you bask in the glory of a good win, enjoy this piece of skill from Per Mertesacker. Classy!
Jai Arsenal :)
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