Verdict: City 4 Arsenal 2
Goals: Richards/Aluminia 20, Bellamy 74, Adebayor 80, Wright-Phillips 84 for City. Van Persie 62, Rosicky 88 for Arsenal.
Prior to the game, Emmanuel Adebayor said he never really understood why the Arsenal fans booed him.Ã‚Â Well, I think it’s safe to say they’ll have a few reasons after the dust has settled on this match.
City lined up as predicted with De Jong coming in alongside Barry to bolster the defensive midfield and Adebayor played as a lone striker. Despite the sense in this approach, initially it didn’t appear to be working very well as Arsenal dominated possession and City struggled to do anything meaningful with the ball.
Then City scored. Sagna blocked Bellamy and Barry floated over the resulting free-kick. Richards won a header and the ball looped over towards the opposite post. A scrambling Almunia may have touched the ball onto the post before it rebounded back off him and into the net.
It was the third game in succession that we’ve scored from a set piece.Ã‚Â Surely this is some kind of record in the modern era.
The goal lifted City and for the remainder of the first half we were breaking up Arsenal’s passing more easily. Wright-Phillips and Bellamy provided vital endeavour on the flanks, but lacked the finesse of Robinho in providing an end product. Ireland suffered similarly when failing to shoot or pass after a surge into the Arsenal area. There was the fear that this failure to make the most of a good spell could come back to haunt us.
Arsenal dominated the start of the second half without creating much, so Wenger brought on Rosicky. It made a big difference as possession was turned into openings. Van Persie duly scored and went off on what wasn’t to be the last provocative goal celebration of the afternoon.
At this point Arsenal were looking the more likely winners, but when Ireland went off (seemingly with a knock), Hughes made the bold decision to introduce Petrov. Given the pressure we were under he may have been tempted to bring on Zabaleta and shore up the midfield.
To make room for Petrov on the left, Bellamy moved up alongside Adebayor and immediately found himself in the penalty area to score the crucial second goal. It was a huge goal that released the pervading fear that the game was running away from us.
City were now overloading Arsenal on the left and Adebayor went on the kind of run not seen since the heyday of Kinkladze, setting up Wright-Phillips for a tap in which he duly missed.
Thankfully, the England winger made up for it shortly afterwards with an excellent cross for Adebayor to score his goal, and set off on a hilarious streak down the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans. They were not impressed. Watching FA Chief Executive and Arsenal fan, Ian Watmore was also not impressed.
Even after that City were not done. Bellamy showed fabulous commitment in dispossessing Clichy, before charging upfield. As he approached the penalty area, he played a perfect through ball to Wright-Phillips, who took a touch before lifting the ball over the onrushing Almunia. The composure of the finish was something I’d love to see more of from Shaun. Sometimes he needs to have greater belief in his finishing and show more control. He has the ability.
Three goals down, Arsenal were done for, but it says everything for their quality, that it never fully felt that way. Rosicky added a second and Van Persie hit the post before Mark Clattenburg finally blew for full-time.
“It was a big test against a side used to playing with high expectations and that is used to winning. I sensed as the guys arrived at lunchtime that there was a real sense of anticipation. It was about getting the job done and that it what we did. Both sides contributed to a high quality match.”
“That attacking part of the game is something that I am trying to work on. People say that I am strong defensively but that I am perhaps not so strong in the other direction.Ã‚Â I am still only young and I think I am starting to deliver in that department and feel my game is developing all the time.”
The result for City was huge, vindicating Hughes and making a statement that we can challenge the ‘top four’. Whether this is fully the case remains to be seen. Arsenal have Arshavin and Walcott to add to the team we saw today, which looked very good at times. After we beat them last season, they went on a twenty match unbeaten run, and I can see them beating most teams again this season. Last season we beat them by 3 goals and finished 10th. This season we won by 2 goals, but will undoubtedly finish higher. Just how high remains thrillingly unclear.