Arsenal battered Manchester City 1-0 at the Emirates yesterday afternoon, I cannot remember many 1-0 victories that were as convincing and one sided as this.
While last season's Arsenal could have crumbled and folded this team are a collection of professionals rather than a collection of talented players. The defeat and performance last weekend against QPR was erased from the memory and the players set off after the big spenders without any fear.
Right from the very off we took the game to the visitors and pushed them back into their own half. The whole stadium shook as early as the 9th minute as the two heavy weights Yaya Toure and Alex Song clashed legs in the middle of the pitch. That was to be the beginning of the end to Toure's afternoon. He had already picked up a yellow card for pulling back the driving Tomas Rosicky and on 15 minutes, Toure had to be replaced by David Pizzaro.
Moments earlier Arsenal should have scored, Robin van Persie's header from a Laurent Koscielny near post glance on (I swear I've seen that routine in my younger years) was sailing into an unguarded net but Thomas Vermaelen tried to duck out of the way and the ball hit him and rebounded off the crossbar and away to saftey. Incredible bad luck, you won't see that happen again for a long time.
Changes are happening on the pitch. Our closing of the opposition has increased considerably in recent weeks. At Everton a few weeks ago we witnessed a huge amount of synchronised offside's from our defenders, all with arms aloft. We are witnessing the Steve Bould near post flick on from corner kicks and Tony Adams has been photographed around London Colny. Coincidence?
Mario Balotelli should have received a straight red for a shin high stamp into Alex Song. It was horrendous and there is no place for reckless behaviour like that. We have been on the end of those all too many times without it happening again with no punishment.
The closest City came to a goal was a Pizzaro long pass forward to which Szczesny raced out of his goal in true sweeper style to clear away to safety. Balotelli also misconnected with a corner that was cleared. For all the attacking potential Manchester City had on the pitch, that was all they could muster as we were first and hungrier to every loose ball.
While we had plenty of possession and move the ball at a good pace we found it difficult to break down Vincent Kompany and his defenders. Much of our attacking play was coming from crosses in wide areas. Kompany and Lescott were pretty comfortable with those.
Tomas Rosicky was having yet another fine game and his movement and passing between the midfield is superb. His final through passes are not quite as good as the rest of his game and that for me is the difference between the quality he is producing and the next tier above,
Alex Song was having a Jekyll and Hyde performance in the middle of the pitch. On one hand he would hold off two or three City players and play a ball between the lines and the next moment he was giving the ball away in dangerous areas. It could have been a game where he could have won us the game with an assist or cost us the game with a defensive mistake.
Yossi Benayoun was not a player I mentioned to fill the wide left position in my pre match thoughts. He seems to be Arsene Wenger's Park Ji-Sung. A hard working wide player who will give the team greater defensive stability in big games. I spoke about this role in a recent article and still wonder what Arsene's long term plans are for his wide men. Benayoun has been a superb professional and deserved many more starts this season. I suspect he would have had more if he was contracted to the club rather than here on loan.
Alex Song who wasted many of his through passes at QPR found a superb van Persie run and his header hit the base of the post. Two Robin headers, one off the line and one against the post. Kompany could not shackle him as well in this game because he dropped much deeper than he usually does which allowed him time on the ball to link up with Rosicky and Benayoun.
As the second half went on, our right side began to cause them more and more problems. Sagna and Walcott were combining really well and it forced City to replace the ineffective Nasri for the left sided Kolarov. It was from that position where we created yet another chance that was almost impossible to miss. Sagna's cross found Walcott who hit the post, Vermaelen swung at the rebound but miscued to Benayoun who could not do much with the ball at waist height and the ball rolled past the opposite post.
After Vermaelen clearing off the line from his own player in the first half and then that chance going begging, many an Arsenal fan could be forgiven for believing that it would be one of those days for us.
Until Mikel Arteta won a 50/50 with Pizzaro, drove forward and unleashed a long range dipping, bending shot past Joe Hart and into the net for a 'Money time' winner.
To see Arteta so combative at that time of the game was great to see and he is starting to find his range with his shooting. Perhaps we need to see more of him outside the box with the ball at his feet.
We should have scored yet another when City were caught on the break in injury time, Ramsey could have played an earlier pass but didn't, he did however work the space for himself wonderfully well but his finish as has been the case for the most part this season was poor.
Mario Balotelli finally received his marching orders for his third foul on Bacary Sagna, he had also handled the ball earlier in the game. To be honest, I am bored of the Balotelli story already. He is not as good as he thinks he is but as he is nothing to do with Arsenal, I do not actually care very much about his antics. His dangerous play should be punished but I am bored of hearing his name every two minutes.
We could have realistically beaten City 4-0 on the day. Manchester City had one shot on target during the 90 minutes. The expensively assembled visitors also only managed to collect 35% of the possession which is astonishing considering how good they have been at keeping the ball this season. To put it into context, Blackburn Rovers who were beaten 7-1 at the Emirates had slightly less with 31% of the ball. At least they managed 2 shots on our goal.
Another top Arsenal display and we deserved to beat Manchester City this season. In three games against them, there has been one goal in it on each occasion. Once with our youngsters and fringe players, once without any full backs and yesterday where we thumped them.
Victory like this strengthens my belief that we are very close to being where we want to be. The pitfalls that have stopped us are unlikely to be around next season especially if we make third. Wolves in midweek, more of the same please, no less.