Manchester City vs Arsenal match report: Super Santi Cazorla inspires solid Gunners to victory

Manchester City 0 Arsenal 2

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The Independent Football

To get a measure of how long it has been, the last time that Arsenal beat Manchester City away from home, it was Samir Nasri who scored the first goal for Arsène Wenger’s side and if that feels like a generation ago until you consider it was Alex Song and Nicklas Bendtner who got the other two back in October 2010. Not a single Arsenal player who started the game that day is still contracted to the club and three of them now play for City.

If Arsenal are unrecognisable from those days more than four years ago then there is a case for saying that today's side were pretty unrecognisable from the one that stumbled to defeat against Southampton on New Year’s Day.

Since then they have put Hull City out of the FA Cup and beaten Stoke City decisively – both at home – but this was the real masterpiece of the three, a victory that their delighted travelling support will hope stands as a marker in the bone-chilling January snow.

The frailty among frailties in Wenger’s team has been their failure to beat the Premier League elite, or the top four in any one season. They even lost to David Moyes’ Manchester United last season and this was their first win against a fellow Champions League side, ie a team that had finished in the top four the previous season, in 16 games. The strange thing about this performance was that Arsenal played as if they do this every week.

 

The penalty that set them on their way on 23 minutes might not have been given by every referee, but it was not an outlandish decision by Mike Dean and the peerless Santi Cazorla, the game’s outstanding player, dispatched it. Cazorla was wonderful, especially as City became more frantic and left space on the counter-attack, allowing Arsenal’s No 19 to drive forward with the grim intent of a small mammal fleeing for cover. At the back, Arsenal defended in a way that might have been considered impossible at the start of the month.

They also took their chances when the poor defending from City allowed them, not least Olivier Giroud’s headed goal in the second half. What happened to the champions? Aside from a shellacking that they gave the away side’s penalty area at the start of the second half, Manuel Pellegrini’s team went limply to their defeat. They did not muster a shot all first half and the return of Vincent Kompany to the centre of defence improved matters not a bit.

It all has the effect of Chelsea sailing further into the distance at the top of the Premier League after their 5-0 savaging of Swansea City on Saturday. Five points clear with 16 to play, one can imagine Jose Mourinho finding himself baffled at the wherewithal of Arsenal to pull off a victory like this.

There were no dodging the issues by Pellegrini: “It’s no good to have excuses. We didn’t play well with the ball and conceded two goals from set-pieces.” City’s visit to Stamford Bridge on 31 January looms ever larger.

giroud-goal.jpg
Olivier Giroud heads Arsenal 2-0 in front

As for Wenger, he once again he selected David Ospina in goal ahead of Wojciech Szczesny and his team played as if beating the champions away from home was perfectly natural. He said later that he would continue in his quest to sign a centre-back this month, despite the return of players from injuries and the upturn in form. “It is not easy,” he joked on his search for a new centre-half, “if you have any ideas you can text me or the club.”

For Wenger’s team, the gap to Manchester United in fourth is just a point and they move up to fifth place, above Tottenham. It was on the cards from the beginning: the home team made not a single attack of note in the first half, despite the return of Sergio Aguero for his first start in eight weeks. They could not get around Arsenal down the flanks and they managed little or nothing passing through them.

It was not what the Etihad home support were accustomed to when Arsenal are in town and the mood of frustration was impossible to ignore at times. The problem for City was that their opposition were not behaving anything like they might have expected: they were well-organised, aggressive in the tackle and sharp to close their opposition down all over the pitch.

There was an excellent performance from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny, the former executing one turn and change of pace in the first half that relieved the pressure in an instant and drew a warm murmour of approval from the away end. At left-back Nacho Monreal, who remained in the team ahead of Kieran Gibbs, was excellent and it was he who won the penalty against Kompany midway through the first half.

There was a good passing sequence in the lead up to the incident, Monreal finally exchanging passes with Giroud and then brushing past Kompany who was flat-footed and looking direct at his opponent as he went past. The contact was minimal, to say the least, but then it does not have to be the proverbial wrestler’s clothesline to warrant a foul. A close call, but referee Dean thought it was enough and pointed to the penalty spot.

City will have felt aggrieved at their treatment by Dean in the first half with the majority of the marginal decisions going against them. Cazorla took the penalty and scored confidently. Arsenal’s sole other chance had been a near post header from Giroud from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross. There had been nothing of note created by City, who raised their game at the end of the half but failed to get the ball into the feet of either of their big guns, Aguero and David Silva,

City threw the lot at Arsenal after the break and went close through Aguero and Jesus Navas. On the hour, Monreal just got a touch on a Jesus Navas cross to take it away from the substitute Stevan Jovetic. Pellegrini threw on Frank Lampard but on 66 minutes Giroud pulled away from Fernando and headed in Cazorla’s free-kick without even having to jump. On came Edin Dzeko too but it was too late. Arsenal had made it look easy.

Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy; Fernandinho (Lampard, 63), Fernando; Navas (Dzeko, 76), Silva, Milner (Jovetic, ht); Aguero.

Substitutes not used: Caballero (gk), Sagna, Kolarov, Mangala.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Ospina; Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal; Ramsey (Flamini, 84), Coquelin, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky, 66), Giroud, Sanchez (Gibbs, 84).

Substitutes not used: Szczesny (gk), Ozil, Walcott, Chambers.

Booked: Manchester City Kompany, Fernandinho, Aguero Arsenal Koscielny, Ramsey, Bellerin

Referee: M Dean

Rating: 7

Man of the match: Cazorla

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