James Lawton: Wenger can take pride in his side's refusal to buckle

At times, City's stars, particularly Aguero and Silva, threatened to run wild

The Etihad Stadium

Arsène Wenger made it sound more a sacred mission than merely the most oppressive challenge in English football but in the end his team collided with a reality that confounded the noblest intentions. City were just too strong in their ability to generate the kind of pressure that wears down the toughest resolve and that was the fate of Wenger's best hopes.

There was, however, an edge of optimism in his voice when he had talked of Arsenal's chances of not only containing the creative force of City but firing a few shots of their own and – if it didn't happen that way, if Robin van Persie's extraordinary marauding ran into a rare blind alley – no one here could say that Wenger was merely whistling in an Arctic wind.

Arsenal took on the team with attacking resources to burn – and indulge and tolerate to a remarkable degree. In the end, they had played them pretty much to a standstill. Certainly, City manager Roberto Mancini was obliged to cut back on some of that indulgence when Arsenal, far from cowed by the Silva strike, launched a series of menacing counter-attacks. He pulled Balotelli off for the much tighter discipline of James Milner. It was then a question of which team's nerve would hold the better.

Van Persie roamed with an often biting edge, was defied point-blank on one occasion by Joe Hart and had a goal ruled offside. Gervinho twisted and turned against the force of City's defence, in which Vincent Kompany started magnificently and then tended to improve, and before long it was clear that we had a game of great edge and quality. It was one that also made Wenger's speculation about Arsenal's stiffening resistance to the might of City seem a good deal less than fantasy, although of course the suggestion that Van Persie will soon enough be heading up the M1 and the M6 to join City's stable of attacking talent has become one of the game's firmer projections.

Still, seven wins in eight games no doubt helped Wenger's musing, along with the ambush Chelsea inflicted on Mancini's team at Stamford Bridge. It all sounded perfectly reasonable when Wenger said it – right up to the moment Balotelli, Sergio Aguero and David Silva combined for the first goal early in the second half.

The move was launched by Samir Nasri, who ran a gauntlet of boos from the Arsenal fans that may have been relentlessly tedious for the rest of us but seemed to give him an edge of determination that hasn't always been so obvious since he defected from the Emirates. A few minutes later, the Frenchman was a few inches away from killing off his old team, his pass across the Arsenal goal carrying just a fraction too much weight, flying past the unmarked Balotelli.

A sacred mission, did we say? This was more like a firestorm, not least when Pablo Zabaleta swept on to a loose clearance and smashed it against the post.

But if Arsenal seemed on the point of disintegration, or at least a serious running into the ground, it was entirely an illusion.

There is now a substance about Arsenal that you might have thought had gone forever had you been across town at Old Trafford a few months ago. Then, they were deserted by Cesc Fabregas and Nasri and pretty much the last vestiges of the team around whom, Wenger kept insisting, a reasonable person might just keep on spinning a few viable dreams. Yesterday, it was not so hard believing that this was an Arsenal team hoarding something more than too many regrets.

Thomas Vermaelen enlivened the last act with two ferocious drives on Hart's goal. Both of them brought a chill to the stadium which has come to assume that all opposition is likely to sooner or later come under a little too much pressure.

What Arsenal did here, though, was show that the foothold they have regained near the top of English football is one which they can defend with some strength and plenty of skill. It was a statement which Mancini acknowledged with his move to stiffen City's resistance to Arsenal's attempt to rescue something more than pride in a fine performance.

City, of course, reclaimed the leadership of the Premier League they had relinquished for just a few hours. Ultimately, it was a re-possession that no one, not even the downcast Wenger, could seriously challenge. There were moments when City stars, Aguero and Silva in particular, threatened to run wild.

It says everything about the re-gained spirit of Arsenal that it didn't happen. However, it was hard not to believe that someone might pay for Arsenal's considerable achievement – and quite soon and possibly with some considerable pain.

News
John Travolta is a qualified airline captain and employed the pilot with his company, Alto
people'That was the lowest I’d ever felt'
Life and Style
healthIt isn’t greasy. It doesn’t smell. And moreover, it costs nothing
News
i100

Other places that have held independence referendums
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur
film

It scooped up an unprecedented 11 Academy Awards when it was first remade in 1959

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding
musicThe singer said 'the last thing I want to do is degrade'
News
news

Arts and Entertainment
Blossoming love: Colin Firth as Stanley and Emma Stone as Sophie, in 'Magic in the Moonlight'
film

Actors star in Woody Allen's 'Magic in the Moonlight'

News
A male driver reverses his Vauxhall Astra from a tow truck
newsThe 'extremely dangerous' attempt to avoid being impounded has been heavily criticised
News
peopleThe Times of India said actress should treat it as a 'compliment'
Arts and Entertainment
Maxine Peake plays Hamlet at Manchester's Royal Exchange
theatreReview: Maxine Peake brings emotional ferocity to Shakespeare's starring part
News
news

Watch this commuter wage a one-man war against the Circle Line
Property
Home body: Badger stays safe indoors
lifeShould we feel guilty about keeping cats inside?
Life and Style
fashion

Olympic diver has made his modelling debut for Adidas

Travel
travel

...and the perfect time to visit them

Sport
Jonas Gutierrez (r) competes with Yaya Toure (l)
football

Newcastle winger reveals he has testicular cancer - and is losing his trademark long hair as a result

Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week