They have the money and they have the ambition but even Manchester City found the most grandiose plans undone by a mundane detail yesterday – a simple rush of blood from a teenager. For Dedryck Boyata, his sending off within five minutes will be a formative experience. City do not have the time for learners.
Boyata's fourth start in the Premier League was painfully brief and his red card meant that we were denied the chance to see the best of what would have been an intriguing collision between these two sides. But it is not referee Mark Clattenburg's job to keep the two sides equal, it is his job to apply the rules of the game and he was right with the decision to send off Boyata for denying Marouane Chamakh a goalscoring opportunity.
Clattenburg did not get every call right yesterday – and in the first half the tackles were coming in thick and fast – but faced with a tricky call on Boyata less than five minutes in he made a brave call. Roberto Mancini's complaint that Chamakh had knocked the ball on too far ahead for the chance to be regarded as a goalscoring opportunity was thin to say the least.
Mancini blamed the referee. He might wonder whether this game was the best platform for the 19-year-old Boyata when he had the England international Joleon Lescott on the bench who could have done the job alongside Vincent Kompany. Lescott had not enjoyed his best form at City but he could scarcely have made a more reckless tackle than Boyata did so early in a big game.
It was a pity because after Boyata's dismissal this game lost the edge that it should have had as a clash between two teams who will certainly have some say in the title race. Mancini claimed that with 11 players on the pitch his team would have won this match. Cesc Fabregas said: "Even if they had 15 and we were 11 would still have won." Which was brave from a man who had a penalty saved in the first half.
City were never able to show the best of themselves, especially with Carlos Tevez still struggling with injury and Mancini's team pulled out of shape by the loss of Boyata. It is impossible to make a judgement on them on the basis of this game but there is no point in them having a squad full of famous internationals if they conspire to reduce themselves to 10 on the pitch.
The decision to send off Boyata was right but Clattenburg did not get every call correct. There was a strong case for saying that Alex Song, who scored Arsenal's second goal, should not have lasted the first half either. He went in studs-up on David Silva on 14 minutes and should have been booked, which would have meant that the caution he received for a later foul on Silva would have been his second.
As for Nigel De Jong, the lesson of that Hatem Ben Arfa challenge does not seem to have got through to him. He had a decent game but it was blemished by two bad tackles on Fabregas. The first time he went through the back of the Arsenal man on 10 minutes and should have been booked. The second time he up-ended Fabregas as he ran towards the area in time added on at the end of the first half. You can tell that De Jong's recklessness plays on the minds of other players, too. Fabregas earned himself a booking for sweeping away the legs of the City midfielder on 27 minutes and the manner in which the Arsenal captain accepted it suggested he had been waiting for his chance to leave something on De Jong.
It was no surprise that Arsène Wenger admitted he told his players at half-time that they should not be drawn into earning themselves a red card. The first half had that feel about it. When Emmanuel Adebayor came on for Tevez with seven minutes of the second half played to a predictable reaction from the away fans it could have turned nasty. But by the hour City were just running out of steam.
Boyata had brought down Chamakh as he ran onto Fabregas' throughball within the first five minutes. It took Arsenal a further 15 minutes to break through. The goal was beautifully crafted: an exchange between Nasri and Andrei Arshavin which Gareth Barry failed to spot. Nasri got a yard on the Englishman and beat Joe Hart for his seventh goal in as many games.
There were no arguments either about the penalty Clattenburg awarded Arsenal on 39 minutes. Kompany, arguably City's most consistent performer so far this season, tripped Fabregas in the far corner of the box when there was absolutely no pressure to do so. Fabregas has not missed a penalty for Arsenal since Stoke City in December 2009 but he did not make it hard enough for Hart who saved to his left.
Clearly desperate to have some kind of effect, Adebayor just looked clumsy when he came on. It was all over by 66 minutes. A wayward touch from Wayne Bridge, a half-time substitute for Yaya Touré, inadvertently directed the ball into Song's path when it looked as if City had dealt with the potential trouble from a Fabregas ball into the box. Running on to the ball, Song clipped it neatly into the top corner.
At times Arsenal had tried, in their unique way, to pass the ball into the net and at one goal up they occasionally looked vulnerable. But at two goals up they were unbeatable. Nicklas Bendtner, running onto Nasri's throughball, finished sweetly with two minutes left. For a club in such a hurry this was just another lost opportunity for City.
Possession Man City 39% Arsenal 61%.
Shots on target Man City 6 Arsenal 9.
Referee M Clattenburg (County Durham). Att 47,393.
Man of the match Fabregas. Match rating 7/10.
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