Man City 1 (Silva 53) Arsenal 0
Rarely do you feel so positive after a defeat. Improved form, a greater sense of team spirit and unity, and perhaps a slight readjustment of fan expectation has mended a lot of the bridges between the club and the supporters since our last trip to Manchester, and despite tasting defeat in the league again there yesterday, none of that will have been sullied thanks to a terrific performance that deserved more than it got.
Most of the recent clashes between the clubs have been dull affairs, and even the Carling Cup tie a few weeks back was devoid of real entertainment. But yesterday was entirely different – a basketball match played out between two teams attacking at will, and with an intensity that ensures that both should end the season in decent positions. City again came out on top, but they had to work far harder for it than in the majority of their games this season – remember this is the team that put six past United and five past Spurs. They average around three a game, but despite our patched up defence, packed with centre halves, we held them at bay valiantly.
They had chances of course – aside from Silva’s winning goal, Zabaleta struck the post, Szczesny saved superbly from Balotelli and Aguero missed a great chance early on. And with the chance to seal the game with a simple pass for a Balotelli tap in, Nasri woefully overhit an assist even Eddie McGoldrick wouldn’t have got wrong. Thanks for the millions, fellas.
But we caused plenty of problems too – Hart was forced into a couple of terrific saves from Gervinho and Ramsey, and later Walcott and Van Persie stung his fingers. Late on, Vermaelen had two terrific efforts that could easily have seen us snatch the point we probably deserved, and were it not for a marginal (but correct) offside flag, Van Persie would have levelled.
We also had a strong penalty appeal when Richards handled in the box, but to be honest I didn’t think it warranted a spot kick. The rule these days seems to be all about arm position, and his were firmly down by his side, so despite the phrase ‘seen them given‘ being tailor made for the incident, I think it would have been a soft one. The trouble is that the handball rule has become a little like the offside rule – the laws keep changing, no-one knows what they are and every referee applies them differently.
Phil Dowd, as ever, had a mixed game. His yellow cards were often bizarre, both in their presence and how he followed one up by ignoring the exact same foul by someone else, but in fairness the big decisions were correct. He also resisted City’s attempts to get Song and Arteta sent off when first Richards and then Barry realised they were going into challenges with carded players and flung themselves to the ground. It was a tactic that does City no favours – an excellent side they are turning out to be, and a club that I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for (largely because of a good mate who suffered through every moment of their yo-yoing through divisions), but since gaining riches they have also developed a cynical side. Not pleasant, but perhaps inevitable.
But credit where it is due – not many teams would have kept a clean sheet against us yesterday, or indeed beaten us, and if they continue that form they could well lift the league title at the end of the season, no matter what that means for the soul of football.
As for us, we still have some work to do – Djourou’s injury means we’re struggling even more for fit defenders, and with Arshavin and Chamakh continuing their struggles, our options from the bench are sadly limited at the moment – but we should take an enormous amount of encouragement from what was a terrific display.
Continue in that vein, and we’ll be absolutely fine.