This match was billed as a potential title decider, and whilst the general consensus is that it may be too early to nominate potential Champions – the loser of this game would no doubt suffer in the league standings and be given a mental blow.
Arsenal lined up as expected, with the in-form Özil and Giroud forming the crux of the attack, with Campbell and Walcott supplementing them.
City opted for a variation of an orthodox 4-4-2, with the fit again Sergio Aguero as the spearhead with Spanish playmaker David Silva just behind him. Yaya Toure, Kevin De Bruynr, Fabian Delph and Fernandinho made up the midfield.
This lineup meant that a fair amount of defensive responsibility was placed on the flagrant Toure. The Ivorian normally relies on his central partner Fernandinho to clean up behind him so he is free to wreak havoc up top – but the Brazilian was posted to marking duties in an attempt to stifle the mercurial Özil.
For the first thirty or so minutes, it was mission accomplished in terms of City’s aims. They bossed possession and had limited Arsenal to exactly zero attempts on goal.
The game took on the appearance of two seasoned swordsmen, aware of each other’s expertise so caution meant the razor sharp swish of their respective blades were at a premium.
It appeared that Arsenal had adopted the tactics which worked so efficiently in defeating Pelegrini’s men last season – standing off, inviting Ciry to attack and leave gaps.
The first thirty as mentioned above were completely uneventful and City were slowly starting to get into the game.
Then, Özil changed the game.
The German had been on the ball quite a lot but had been unable to change events, until a great touch allowed him enough space to lay a simple ball to Theo Walcott, who was cutting in from the right. The ball was so well placed that the England man didn’t have to break stride, before curling a sumptuous effort from outside the box past a helpless Joe Hart.
It was a beautiful effort and it sucked the spirit out of Manchester City. For the next ten minutes, the game began to get a little niggly, but the Citizens were posing no threat. The clock was ticking down to half time and their power players had failed to exert influence on the game. The half time interval would be needed for Aguero to clamber out from Koscielny and Mertesacker’s pockets, but before the referee Andre Marriner could blow the whistle, Arsenal and Mesut Özil changed the game again.
Özil had again languidly found space and used it perfectly – a slide-rule pass that was impeccably paced for the lurking Olivier Giroud to score his fifteenth goal of an excellent season.
Half time happened and the Gunners had played a great first half. City slunk off to lick their wounds and the home fans were seeing a lesson doled out to their title rivals.
The second half started as a polar opposite to the first, with Arsenal taking the game to a declining City side. Joel Campbell and Aaron Ramsey had chances to add to the score but a combination of Joe Hart and profligate finishing saw them wasted. The Welshman was bossing the centre of the park and his connection with Özil and Giroud was on show. Theo Walcott was scaring Pelegrini’s defence and the Gunners back line was comfortably dealing with what City could muster. So much so that the anonymous Sergio Aguero was taken off early to be replaced by Wilfried Bony.
Fellow sub Raheem Sterling – who came on at half time for Fabian Delph as Pelegrini shuffled his pack – was struggling for any purchase, and City were clueless in the face of such a flawless performance by Arsene Wenger’s men.
Joel Campbell came off for Kieran Gibbs and David Silva was taken off for Jesus Navas as the second half wore on and City were slowly heading for a third defeat in their last five games.
Arsene Wenger has played his hand wonderfully and they were holding the team from Manchester at arms length whilst also looking to be the most likely to score next.
The peerless Mesut Özil was given a deserved rest as Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain took to the field and after registering his fourteenth and fifteenth assists this season thus far – could look upon his work as a job well done. The fans certainly thought so too.
Yaya Toure was starting to get desperate and his histrionics in a 50/50 with a towering Mertesacker in particular smacked of desperation – especially as the German was nowhere near him as he threw himself to the ground.
He then redeemed himself and also denied Petr Cech a record breaking clean sheet. No danger was present as City passed the ball around until Toure arrowed an effort into the net.
2-1 and City suddenly gasped into life.
They then had chances to equalise as Arsenal sat back but Cech was equal to them when they were on target. Bony could not capitalise and give City the most unlikely of draws.
Theo Walcott with three minutes to go was taken off for Calum Chambers which meant that Arsene Wenger was looking for his side to shut up shop.
All hands to the pump as balls were pumped into box and a mystifying four minutes of extra time gifted City a lifeline.
Arsenal pressed and harried and frustrated a now desperate City side. It was enough.
Arsenal’s tactical approach paid dividends and handed City their fifth defeat this season.
A fully deserved win and Arsenal are lurking dangerously behind surprise leaders Leicester City. All players bested their City counterparts and Arsene Wenger will be confident that this win can propel his side towards glory in May.