Manchester City 1 Arsenal 0: Wenger still believes as City reverse leaves Arsenal facing ominous gap

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The Independent Online

Rarities were not confined to Manchester City's first League win over Arsenal for 15 years and that true collector's item, the Thierry Henry stinker, at Eastlands on Saturday. Unusually for the win-at-any-price Premiership, there were also principled stands to admire in both the winning and losing manager.

At the ugly end of the spectrum, a manager low on resources and high on pressure suspended his own international full-back for shaming the club. The reward for Stuart Pearce in dispensing with Ben Thatcher, after the furore over his tackle on Portsmouth's Pedro Mendes in midweek, was a release from his troubled start to the season, secured by only City's second win in 13 League games and the scalp of a rival whose commitment to the beautiful game remained steadfast despite the damage to his title hopes.

Two games into a new campaign is no time to discount the merits of a Champions' League finalist, although an eight-point gap between Arsenal and leaders Manchester United has an ominous feel even at this embryonic stage. Saturday, however, proved a time when upholding the exalted beliefs of Arsène Wenger was beyond a side without the physical condition and, more pertinently, the experience to embrace them, and the result was transition at its most painful.

A defence whose average age is 22 - enforced upon Wenger by injury, the release of Sol Campbell and a refusal to genuflect to Ashley Cole - offered City rare hope at the end of a torturous week and they duly took advantage, making an obvious target of Cole's 21-year-old replacement, Justin Hoyte.

There are few more ominous sounds at the start of a season than a beaten manager appealing for faith in his methods, but Wenger is one of the few whose methods inspire absolute faith. This was not a reverse reminiscent of their lack of fight at places such as Bolton last season and, but for ridiculous over-elaboration in front of goal and unseasoned errors at the back, they would have prospered against City.

However, their faltering start has rekindled unwanted memories of last season when, as they began without an away League win until November, the title was out of sight before Arsenal found their stride.

After a week when a Thatcher dominated the headlines, however, Wenger appropriately insisted he was not for turning. "We have to keep believing in how we want to play even when the result doesn't go as we would like," he said. "In [Alexander] Hleb, [Tomas] Rosicky, [Robin] Van Persie and Henry we have the players who want to play on the ground. We created a lot of chances. We play the football we think suits us. In the last nine years we have been in the Champions' League nine times so we don't have to follow the route Manchester City play because we are not capable of that. It is a bad start and I hope it won't affect the belief of the players."

Asked if he was frustrated by City's dogged approach and resolute defending in the second half, Wenger responded: "It should frustrate you, you have to watch it."

However, veiled criticism of City's style was unmerited. Pearce's team could have been four goals down by the time Hoyte was caught out by one of several searching balls into his left channel and felled Trevor Sinclair for a blatant penalty that Joey Barton clipped home off the bar. Yet they were deliberate more than direct and exposed why Wenger requires more leadership in his defence or should continue to price Cole out of a move to Chelsea.

"We studied Arsenal and felt there was a certain way to win this game," Pearce admitted. "We know Trevor is good in the air, got a bit of pace and the diagonal ball got us a penalty in the end. We tried to target their weaknesses but there aren't many of them."

City survived their own penalty scare when Van Persie was shoved by the otherwise outstanding Richard Dunne, while Henry, yet to rediscover his sharpness post-World Cup, was unusually hesitant at the sight of goal and denied twice by the reborn Nicky Weaver. "There have been many times when I wondered if a day like this would come again and whether I'd even play again," said the City goalkeeper, who has lost five years of his career to injury and illustrates Wenger's conviction that suffering will give way to success.

Goal: Barton (41 pen) 1-0.

Manchester City (4-4-2): Weaver; Richards, Dunne, Distin, Jordan; Sinclair, Barton, Dabo, Vassell (D Mills, 79); Corradi (Miller, 90), Dickov (Samaras, 86). Substitutes not used: (gk), Ireland.

Arsenal (4-4-1-1): Lehmann; Eboué (Flamini, 83), Touré, Djourou, Hoyte; Hleb (Adebayor, 76), Fabregas, Gilberto, Rosicky (Walcott, 66); Van Persie; Henry. Substitutes not used: Cygan, Almunia (gk).

Referee: U Rennie (South Yorkshire).

Booked: Manchester City Jordan; Arsenal Van Persie.

Man of the match: Dunne.

Attendance: 40,699.

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