Manchester City 1 Arsenal 0: Arsenal composure is gone for a Barton

Midfield dynamo strikes from spot to leave Gunners struggling at wrong end of table
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The Independent Football

All the Arsenal talk - away from transfer-market conjecture at least - has been of their gleaming new Emirates Stadium. And now it will centre once more on the vulnerability they show on their Premiership travels.

Nine away League defeats last season, many of them early on, cost them any chance of mounting a serious challenge to Chelsea for the title. One domestic trip into the 2006-07 campaign, the weakness has resurfaced, although Manchester City performed with great credit at the end of a troubled week. City's first goal of the season was enough to bring their first victory during a tea-time in which they survived several Thierry Henry misses and two efforts against their woodwork.

The hosts found themselves bottom of the table at kick-off following afternoon victories for the three clubs previously below them. And their position might have looked less promising still had it not been for two uncharacteristic Henry misses in the first 20 minutes.

First, the striker turned his rival captain Richard Dunne from Alexander Hleb's excellent pass, only to hit the legs of Nicky Weaver with his left-foot shot, then he perfectly timed his run on to Cesc Fabregas's short ball before dragging right-footed wide of the far post. The style was coming from expected quarters but there was no shortage of spirit from a City side also carrying a goal-scoring threat.

Jens Lehmann, fortunate when his poor clearance struck Paul Dickov and bounced straight back to him, was lucky again when well beaten shortly afterwards. Joey Barton sliced inches wide after Trevor Sinclair had outwitted Justin Hoyte on the touchline and passed along the edge of the area.

Sinclair also shot powerfully off target from distance before City's new little and large strike partnership clicked just past the half-hour. Dickov spun away from Johan Djourou and centred nicely for Bernardo Corradi, only eight yards out, to produce a header that Lehmann saved superbly to his left.

In a rapid succession of near misses, Henry failed again when denied by another good block by Weaver before Robin van Persie slammed against the inside of the near post from 12 yards following Hleb's pass.

But it was City who went ahead four minutes before the interval. Hoyte's challenge on Sinclair as they went for Corradi's long diagonal ball was not in the same league as the horrific Ben Thatcher assault on Pedro Mendes in midweek. But it was clumsy enough to be punished by Uriah Rennie with a penalty that Barton dispatched into the roof of the net.

Again, Arsenal were left shaking their heads when Kolo Touré nodded against the bar from Fabregas's corner. The Gunners still looked uneasy at the back early in the second half as Barton squared only for Dickov to send his shot too close to Lehmann.

The more familiar pattern of City being pushed back resumed, though, with Van Persie driving a yard wide. Chances continued to arrive for Arsenal, whose exasperation was summed up by two hopelessly wayward Henry free-kicks that took his tally of unsuccessful goal attempts to eight. That said, Van Persie should have equalised with a header he powered wide when Fabregas's corner found him inside the six-yard area.

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