Verdict: Manchester City 0 Arsenal 3
Rarely has such early promise given way to dismay so quickly. The sending off of Boyata after a mere four minutes left City too long to play with 10 men as we crashed to Arsenal.
This was no reward for a sterling effort. De Jong, Silva and Tevez all took the fight to Arsenal, particularly during the first half, as we managed an impressive nine goal attempts with six on target.
Roberto Mancini continued to move his players about, constantly directing them from the touchline. We must have been doing something right as even David Pleat was praising us in his Guardian column, which is worth a read.
However it’s hard to escape the conclusion that Mancini made his crucial mistake in the team selection. Prior to the game it seemed likely that the manager would go with the defenders who took on Blackpool.
The only question here was whether to include Micah Richards at right-back as he has looked stronger defensively than Boateng. Instead we saw Boyata retained to play a second game in four days, and Boateng deployed in his weakest defensive position at left-back.
Lescott, who had done little wrong in the last two games, could only watch from the bench as Boyata made the gamechanging challenge that saw him off after four minutes. To rub it in for Joleon, our other central defender went on to concede a needless penalty!
It’s worth remembering that Mancini has shown faith in Boyata before and the youngster has never let us down. Mancini made his excuses afterwards, saying he was resting Lescott, but that didn’t wash.
Joleon is hardly the kind of player to tire so easily. The fact is it’s hard to recall a quality, experienced defender making that kind of mistake so early in the game. Better to let the striker go and give the goalkeeper a chance of preventing the goal.
“He will learn from the experience I am sure and he is going to be some player. He has all the attributes to make him a top defender.
“It is never nice to lose especially when you have put so much effort and work into a match but our confidence has not been hit by the defeat.”
Following the sending off Mancini initially moved Yaya into central defence where, admittedly, he has played before. This still left us with two defenders (Boateng and Yaya) playing out of their best positions.
Moving Boateng to centre-back made sense. Moving Barry to left-back when we had Bridge on the bench didn’t. Lescott is also a better left-back than Barry. Mancini should have sacrificed Barry or Yaya immediately rather than waiting till half-time.
By then the damage was done as Nasri exploited Barry’s lack of pace to play a sharp one-two and score the opening goal.
Aside from the mistakes in personnel, Mancini’s tactics were admirable. The midfield trio of de Jong, Yaya/Barry and Milner held their own despite being outnumbered.
The movement and passing of David Silva was a threat and gave the required support to Tevez. In the opening 45 minutes we were a surprisingly good match for Arsenal.
We created more chances than we did in the victories against either Chelsea or Liverpool. In games against the top sides the important thing is to take those chances when they come along. Aside from Boyata’s challenge, that was our failing here.
In the opening minutes Tevez got in behind the Arsenal defence and crossed for Silva to flick goalwards. A better connection or different type of shot would have seen us take the lead, and send the match on a different trajectory.
Even after going behind we continued to create chances with Micah Richards failing to take the best of them when clean through. Cutting inside and curling a shot just wide was a decent attempt but not quite good enough.
In the second half Tevez limped off to be replaced by Thursday’s hat-trick hero, Adebayor. The Togolese worked hard, but doesn’t drop deep and help the midfield in the way Tevez does.
Arsenal had it easier and, following the second goal, the likes of Silva and de Jong started to tire. Bringing on Balotelli for his Premier League debut gave us two up front, but no-one to supply them. Hardly the situation in which the Italian would have envisaged making his debut.
Arsenal were given control of the midfield. Bringing Vieira on for a shattered Silva would have allowed us to remain competitive in the middle of the pitch.
After the match Arsenal took the points though not all the plaudits. They looked vulnerable in defence and not as sharp in midfield as in previous years. Chelsea looked a more formidable unit on their visit to Eastlands despite losing.
Mancini was right to praise his players afterwards. With Silva finding his form and Balotelli finally on the pitch, there’s plenty of reason to believe we could finish the season on a par with the Gunners.