Only time will tell just how significant this afternoon’s away victory at Eastlands is. Will these three points convince our players that they can compete with the big-spending sides? Will it give them confidence to consistently play well away from home? Will these three points be the difference between Premiership Champions and Premiership not-Champions? We’ll know at the end of this season. For now, we can enjoy the win, look ahead to upcoming fixtures and concentrate on overhauling Chelsea for top spot in the table, while holding off sides still nipping at our heels.
In his post-match comments, City manager Roberto Mancini stated that (Centre-back) Boyata’s fifth minute sending off – for bringing Chamakh down as the latter was through on goal – was the “decisive moment” in the match. No great insight there – anytime a team is down a man with virtually the entire match still to play, it is a significant handicap. Mancini’s assertion that his side would have won eleven versus eleven is less so. I – or Arsene – could just as easily claim that Arsenal would have won 6-0 with the numbers even; who is to tell us with any certainty that we would be wrong? Nobody knows how it would have turned out. Mancini can be pleased that his side battled hard the whole match while at a numerical disadvantage, but today it was not enough. Perhaps it will be different another time, against another side. This was Arsenal’s day, and we fully deserved the win.
I will agree with Mancini in that City started well and full of intent – Silva forcing an excellent save from Fabianski. But that storm quickly blew itself out when his side went down a man. Arshavin set Nasri up for our opening goal on 20 minutes, and when Kompany brought Cesc down in the area for a penalty, we had a chance to double the lead. Hart did well to save Cesc’s penalty and we went into the break only 1-0, some of us no doubt feeling we would pay for not making more of our advantage. Not to worry, as the second goal did arrive shortly after the hour with Song cleaning up a loose ball in the City area, and Bendtner rounding out the scoring after Nasri put him through two minutes from time.
So….A handsome win, one away at a side that is expected to be a fellow title challenger – when is that last time that happened? We should not go overboard and suggest that we are the finished article – we are not. We still have plenty of work to, and one thing that has already bitten us this season is getting too high after a big win. I refer to the league cup win at the Spuds – we beat them pretty thoroughly, only to follow it up with a sloppy, undisciplined “effort” four days later against West Brom. So this time, let us keep focused, keep our feet on the ground and look ahead to the next match, taking nothing for granted.
A quick word on Lukasz Fabianski: He continues to impress and had what I think was his best game for us, in a difficult atmosphere against a quality side. So much of the goal keeping position is confidence and he seems to have it now. When he is in this form, the position is no longer a weakness, he looks like a ‘new keeper’. Let us hope this continues, and that he is able to shake of the mistake(s) that will inevitably come – as they do for any goalkeeper, no matter who he is. If Fabianski can rebound from adversity – which he has failed to do in the past – then we will know we are set. His late save from Balotelli – when the match was already won – showed a determination not to allow a goal which has been lacking recently. On that note, let me also add a word of praise for the entire team for keeping a clean sheet: Those are not exactly our forte, and we had instances where we most certainly bent, but did not break. City created some good chances as expected but the team defended well and kept them off the score sheet. Part of this was standing up for ourselves – four yellows and plenty of fouls from Arsenal players – which showed we were not going to be pushed around. This is something we need to do against Chelsea, as well.
Not to neglect Alexandre Song Billong, who got another goal and had a very good all-around game. Nasri continued to impress, and has our best or second best (Wilshere the other) player over the past month. If Arsene wants to revisit the question of vice-captains, I would argue that Nasri’s outstanding form deserves consideration. Cesc continued to show just how important he is to our side, and not only as playmaker, but also showing a nasty streak that I think will be necessary in the weeks and months ahead. And finally, it was fantastic to see Bendtner get his first goal of this season – hopefully he is set for a sustained run in the side, we will definitely need him fit and in-form. I think the overall team performance corroborated Arsene’s post-match assertion that we are a more mature side. We need to build on this, not rest on our laurels and drop points to sides we shouldn’t. Or fold against Chelsea and Man United. We are only as good as our last match, and our players will do well to remember that.
A quick word on Man City: Some may not agree, and while I do not think that Mancini is necessarily the right man for this side, I expect them to be thereabouts at the end of the season, securing at least a Champions League slot. Playing with a man down for almost the entire match, they stayed with it, did not give up at any point, and caused Arsenal several nervous moments. As I stated earlier, I do not agree with Mancini that they would have won with eleven men, but I do feel they would have at least scored but for Fabianski’s exceptional form. A lot has been said about the expensive collection of players, mercenaries lacking spirit, but I saw plenty of spirit from City on display here. It is starting to look as though they have Chelsea’s number – as Chelsea has ours – and if this collection of players can beat the other Manchester side in the league this season, then they will be on their way.
In summary, a good away win against a very good side. As I am viewing this from the Arsenal perspective, I am very pleased with the overall performance and result. Last year – and against Mark Hughes’ Man City side – I do not think we would have gotten three goals, perhaps we would have struggled to get three points. But on this occasion we did, which suggests there is more substance, experience, and toughness to this Arsenal side than recently. The first trophy is often the most difficult to win, so hopefully we are on that path. Another difficult away fixture – Newcastle United in the League Cup – awaits us midweek. I would be very happy to finally win that trophy. Not only is it the only domestic trophy Arsene has not lifted, but I expect winning it to serve as springboard to greater future honors. Mind you, that will only happen if we keep focused, and provide the required effort, skill, and maturity in each match. Enjoy this win now, and be ready to do it again at St. James Park in a few more days.
Written by Oliver