Carling Cup verdict: Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1
Goal: Aguero 83 for City.
City claimed a place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup thanks to a brilliant breakaway goal scored by Sergio Aguero. Both sides may have sent out rotated sides, but winning at Arsenal for the first time in 34 years is another psychological boost for City.
Only Samir Nasri of the starting eleven at Liverpool began this match, though Aguero did play the majority after coming on for Kolarov after 31 minutes. There was a slight surprise in seeing the right-footed Zabaleta playing at left-back. The Argentine had a fine game, using all his defensive nous to prevent the dangerous Oxlade-Chamberlain causing significant damage.
On the other flank Nedum Onuoha came in from the cold to put in a solid performance. Someone is going to get a bargain in his January sale.
The pairing of Savic and Kolo may have been vulnerable against high balls from a more direct team. Arsenal on the other hand were ideal opponents and both had their best games of the season. The composure of Savic was a key part in City enjoying the majority of possession.
In front of the defence it was interesting to see the pairing of de Jong and Hargreaves. Along with Kolarov in midfield this had echoes of Mancini’s previous trips to the Emirates where we parked the proverbial bus.
The protection provided by de Jong and Hargreaves gave an excellent shield which the Gunners were unable to break down. With the number of games starting to diminish City’s free flowing attacking play, having the alternative of this barrier could be useful in grinding out results over the busy December and New Year period.
For this reason it was good to see Hargreaves getting 80 minutes under his belt, and de Jong looking influential again. Only when Hargreaves tired did Arsenal push us back, and Razak’s fresh legs were needed to get us over the finish line.
With this more cautious midfield, City were unable to exert concerted pressure on the Arsenal backline. Nasri and Johnson only flickered, while Aguero looked like he’d been expecting the night off.
This was in marked contrast to the hunger of Dzeko. While the Bosnian made little impact in the penalty area, his work outside it was admirable and led to the goal.
City put in a Napoli style performance, sitting deeper than of late then looking to spring into any space Arsenal might leave. It worked.
Apart from the chance for Park, Pantilimon was well protected and it’s worth noting this was only City’s second clean sheet in the last ten matches. With difficult games against Bayern, Chelsea and Arsenal coming up, Mancini may look again to this more conservative approach.
For all the talk of City’s team being bought and Arsenal playing the kids, it should be pointed out that the Gunners only fielded two players who were with the club before they were 16 (Frimpong and Djourou) while City had one (Onuoha).
Good young players are often scouted and bought these days. It’s a practice long established under Wenger and an area City are looking to improve upon. Oxlade-Chamberlain, Coquelin and Miquel all looked good. Hopefully Suarez and Rekik will do the same for City.
The poor showing in the NextGen series shows how much catching up City have to do. Mancini could do with more top quality young players if the squad pick up injuries and to ease the fixture congestion.
Talking of which, a two-legged Carling Cup semi-final might appear to be the last thing our league campaign needs. However the first leg takes place prior to the weekend of the FA Cup third round, and the second leg prior to the fourth round.
If Mancini can continue to fully rotate his side, then the domestic cup competitions shouldn’t detract from the league campaign. Winning at Arsenal with only one player who started at the weekend shows just how far the squad has come.