If football was really a game of fairy tales, Kasper Schmeichel's header from a Manchester City corner in added time would have brought his team an equalising goal, kept them at the top of the Premier League table and won Sven Goran Eriksson the Manager of the Month award. Instead it was comfortably held by Manuel Almunia and the younger Schmeichel had to content himself with an earlier penalty save that had seemed likely to condemn Arsenal to another afternoon of Emirates frustration until Cesc Fabregas broke through at last.
His goal 10 minutes from the end of a slow-burner of a match was the first City had conceded in four matches under Eriksson, who according to his opposite number Arsène Wenger has worked "a miracle" in creating a coherent team out of so many new Manchester residents. In winning their first three games, however, they had looked stronger in defence than attack, an impression confirmed yesterday when Almunia was forced to make only one difficult save.
It came in City's best spell, early in the second half, after which Schmeichel was much the busier. Eriksson confirmed later that he is no longer looking to sign a new goalkeeper. Arsenal, unbeaten so far and virtually certain to progress through the Champions League qualifying round on Wednesday (they lead Sparta Prague 2-0 from the away leg) are proving there is life after Thierry Henry, though Fabregas is providing much of it.
He pushed Schmeichel, City's defensive pair Richard Dunne and Micah Richards, and their midfield shield Dietmar Hamann hard for the game's individual honours. Wenger believes that mental strength stemming from experience will prove invaluable to his younger players this season, especially at home when the crowd are growing frustrated. Eriksson or not, it was familiar fare for Arsenal supporters watching their team trying to walk the ball in.
Typical was the incident in which Schmeichel's occasionally suspect handling of crosses let him down, Alexander Hleb wanting too many touches. Arsenal were twice forced into defensive changes before the game was 20 minutes old. Gilberto Silva was drafted in at centre-half after Philippe Senderos injured an ankle in the warm-up and later Bacary Sagna hobbled off after being clattered in the back by a team-mate Mathieu Flamini, who had to replace him at right-back as Denilson came into midfield.
The Brazilian saw plenty of his compatriot Elano, who was again City's main creative influence. His fine reverse pass offered Martin Petrov the clearest opportunity of the first hour, which was fizzed past the post. An equally good one followed only a few minutes later, Stephen Ireland's excellent pass sending the lone striker Emile Mpenza through for a shot that required Almunia to plunge down for his one save.
In between times everyone on the City bench – except of course the phlegmatic Eriksson – leapt to their feet vainly demanding a penalty as Michael Johnson went down under a nudge from Kolo Touré. In the 67th minute a penalty was rightly awarded at the other end as Richards made his first error, tripping Hleb.
His team escaped as Schmeichel beat Robin van Persie's shot away with his legs, reviving unpleasant Arsenal memories of his father's save from Dennis Bergkamp in the last minute of the 1999 FA Cup semi-final. "I hope I don't meet his grandson," Wenger smiled.
Cheers became full-throated roars at last as Schmeichel was beaten for the first time this season. Hleb was fed on the right of the penalty area once again and this time his pass found a colleague in a dangerous position, Fabregas striking it diagonally up and over the goalkeeper into the roof of the net.Reuse content