|photo by amarette.||via PhotoRee|
October 24, 2010 / City of Manchester Stadium (Eastlands), Manchester, England
So it's Silva and not Johnson who gets the nod in midfield for Citteh today, making them easier than usual to dislike. Surprisingly, Emmanuel Adebayor finds himself on the bench, as well, despite scoring a hat trick against Lech Poznan midweek in the Europa League.
Arsenal are almost undone right from the very get go, with Fabianski coming to the rescue on a beautiful interplay between Tevez and Silva, with the latter being denied on a ridiculously skilled back heel shot that almost opened up the scoring inside of the game's first minute. Two minutes later it's Micah Richards bolting down the right flank, and Arsenal are again exposed, although the threat is snuffed out before a shot can be fired.
Despite the two opportunities for City in the first four minutes, it's Arsenal with the first break of the game, as Dedrick Boyata (what is he even doing on the pitch?) is excused from the day's outing with a straight red, shown the door by referee Mark Clattenburg for denying Marouane Chamakh a clear goal scoring chance at the other end of the pitch. Chamakh was played through by a wonderful pass from the returning Cesc Fabregas, the man who once again makes the Arsenal trains run on time. The free kick comes to naught, but the dismissal will no doubt affect the rest of the game with the home team a man down for more than 80 minutes.
City are lucky not to be two men down as Nigel De Jong makes yet another rash tackle (are there any regular readers of this column surprised at this news?) to take out Cesc Fabregas in the game's 10th minute. Arsenal fans have to be holding their breath as their captain limps off the pitch yet again; no sooner does he return, though, than it's Gareth Barry, the crab, sending Fabregas again to the ground and his own name into the referee's book.
Both teams trade missed opportunities, Tevez for City and Djourou for Arsenal in a fast-paced, entertaining game. It's Samuel Nasri (thankfully for my fantasy footie team) who finally unlocks the City defense and breaks the deadlock in the 21st minute, cooly knocking Andrei Arshavin's assist over Joe Hart's outstretched hands for the 1-nil Gunner lead.
City shuffle their players time and again in an apparent effort to confuse Arsenal (and me), with Micah Richards popping up as a center forward and James Milner taking a turn at left back. Both teams commit a ton of fouls (shocking for Arsenal, and "cynical," to quote the announcers), and I'll be absolutely stunned if no one else is given the hook before full time.
Referee Clattenburg is a central figure again before haltime, with Vincent Kompany sending Fabregas to the spot for what should be a 2-nil lead, and game over. Instead, Joe Hart comes to City's rescue and smothers the Fabregas' penalty (not one of Cesc's best efforts, to be fair, but still a very good save from the English international), keeping the Citizens' hopes alive. A huge opportunity missed for the Gunners to drive a stake through the heart of Man City is missed, but it sets up an exciting second half of football.
It's Bridge on for (Yaya) Toure [Ed Note: Confusingly, the name on the back of his jersey reads "Toure Yaya," and not "Yaya Toure," but who's counting?] to begin the second half, and Adebayor on for Tevez a few minutes later, the latter leaving with some sort of unexplained knock. Several Arsenal attacks come to nothing as the Gunners search inexplicably for one final pass before trying to knock the ball home. City hang in the game, and with a half hour remaining it's still only one goal that separates the two sides.
That quickly changes in the 65th minute, as Arsenal is on tune for a 2-nil lead, with Alex Song punishing a Wayne Bridge error to extend the Gunners' lead. To be fair, City's defense has been lackluster all night, with both Barry and Bridge being justly punished for not following the attacking play and letting someone else assume responsibility for the man with the ball.
Arsenal swap Rosicky for Arshavin, and Mancini responds with the introduction of Mario Balotelli for his Premier League debut (replacing the useless Gareth Barry, who didn't disappoint), Adam Johnson inexplicably nowhere in sight. Confusingly, Balotelli and Micah Richards share the same barber, making them difficult to tell apart from my vantage point several thousand miles away from the action.
There's not much for Balotelli to do in the match's final minutes, as City are offered no way back into a match in which they were unhinged by an early penalty. City justly deserve to lose as Mancini has once again opted to play an overly defensive midfield controlled by the crab and devoid of the pace and creativity of Adam Johnson.
Samuel Nasri springs late sub Nicklas Bendtner for the final score, as Arsenal pick up one point for each goal today at Eastlands. At full time it's Arsenal 3, City 0, and I'm a stunned farlieonfootie over and out for October 26.