Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Arsenal 1 Manchester City 0

This game presented Arsenal a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how they could respond to the previous week's disappointing defeat to QPR and they did it in an impeccable fashion. Arsenal kept their concentration and urgency almost through the entire game. This match didn't turn out to be a goal fest as RVP expected (in the Arsenal matchday programme, he wrote it might end up 5-5!), but it was a quick and intense game. Overall, it was a very good match from the Gooners' point of view. In a way, I was a little bit disappointed as a football fan, as Manchester City's attack was toothless. It could have been a more competitive and better game, but all credit should go to the Arsenal players, who kept the possession well with complete determination and commitment and didn't let City play their football.

All stats showed that it was Arsenal's comprehensive victory, despite what the scoreline might suggest. We had a 64.3% overall possession, 5 shots on target vís-a-vís City's none and an 81.6% passing success rate (slightly lower than Arsenal's average) against City's 74.9%. If all the chances that we had had been converted, it could have been a goal fest as RVP predicted, albeit lopsided.

Luck looked like a more likely spoiler for us rather than Man City's attacking players, when RVP and Theo hit the woodwork and Vermaelen inadvertently cleared RVP's goalbound header off the line. No such luck as Manchester United and Chelsea enjoyed earlier this weekend came our way. Man U, Chelsea, and Arsenal all had offside goals, including Chelsea's both goals against Wigan, but ironically enough, the closest of all was disallowed, while the blatant ones stood. However, this resilient Arsenal had already gone to win the games from similar situations quite a few times. And they kept going until the final whistle was blown. Even after they scored the precious goal, they didn't take foot off the gas.

City's dashed title hopes and Balotelli's behaviour dominated the headlines, but here we focus on Arsenal's performance. We totally outplayed an expensively assembled City side in all departments. Especially our midfield excelled. The ultimate goal came from Arteta's solo effort, but all the players worked hard and produced an inspired performance as a team, which made a difference from a Manchester City side on that day.

There was just one change in the starting XI from the side that faced QPR. Benayoun came in for Ramsey. Although I disagree with the aggressive criticism targeted by many fans at Ramsey, I thought Benayoun should have been considered as a starter against QPR in Ramsey's place as he has often played on the left flank (certainly more often than Ramsey) and can be relied on defensively. After his gutsy performance against Tottenham, he deserved another start.

When Arsenal had finally found the net through Arteta's exquisite strike, Las Mimosas bar, our usual venue, erupted in cheers, followed by "1-0 to the Arsenal" and other Arsenal songs. It was just like being at the Emirates. We were looking for the figures of our members on the TV screen, who were actually at the Emirates on that day. They must have thoroughly enjoyed their opportunity to watch one of Arsenal's greatest performances this season first hand.

We have the last mid-week fixture of the season on Wednesday, facing a struggling Wolves side. With 6 games remaining and our sights firmly set on third place (i.e., an automatic Champions League qualification spot) and finishing above Tottenham, we cannot afford to repeat such a below-par performance as seen against QPR. We look forward to another excellent display on Wednesday night.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 7
Some poor distribution, but his decision was spot-on when he dashed out of his area to kicked the ball out of Balotelli's path. Made a fine save of Aguero's close-range effort. With Man City registering no shot on target, he had a relatively quiet afternoon in comparison with Joe Hart at the other end of the pitch.

Sagna: 8
Defended bravely despite two nasty challenges by Balotteli.

Koscielny: 8
Solid. Along with Vermaelen, he kept Balotelli and Aguero quiet throughout the game. The 10th yellow card of the season he picked up this afternoon means he will be suspended over the next two games against Wolves and Wigan, which is most inconvenient for us. We would probably have to do with Djourou for those two games. The only consolation is that Koscielny will be available for the big London derby in two weeks' time.

Vermaelen: 8
Solid. Didn't put a foot wrong defensively in this game. Missed a great chance to score.

Gibbs: 7
His crosses were disappointing on this day. Replaced by Santos in the 56th minute.

Rosicky: 8
Maintained his excellent form.

Arteta: 9
"One of Arsene Wenger's August panic buys" showed his class through his sublime shot, which followed a deft interception and a wonderful run.

Song: 8
Carried on after Balotell's dreadful challenge and battled hard as usual. His lofted pass which is becoming his trademark this season, found unmarked RVP, whose header unfortunately hit the base of the post.

Walcott: 6
Had a quiet game.

Benayoun: 8
Missed a few glorious chances, but got involved in most of attacking moves. Made an important block in the box as well.

van Persie: 8
Unlucky not to score. His effort was denied by the woodwork for the seventh time this season. Stats show that he is the second unluckiest player to hit the woodwork most often after Suarez in the Premier League this season.


Santos: 7
56th-minute substitute for Gibbs. Did his job, but it was a bit disappointing that he wasn't as effective going forward as expected. Made little difference to Gibbs, hence the same rating as Gibbs'.

Ramsey: 6
Replaced Benayoun in the 78th minute. Some compare him with Chelsea's Sturridge in terms of selfishness in front of goal, but it's unwarranted. So far Ramsey's decisions whether to pass or have a shot haven't been wrong. If any, he is guilty of not having a shot like the other Arsenal players. His problem is composure in front of goal and clinical finishing, which he is fully aware of. That said, in this game, he may have made a mistake to take a shot himself, when RVP was screaming for the ball in the middle of the box. Did he know that RVP could have been the fourth player to score 17 different Prem clubs in a season if he had scored against Man City? (This can be still achieved if RVP scores against Wolves) On the other hand, he could have justified his decision if his finish had been more clinical. However, people tend to forget that he is only a 21 years-old whose progress was severely hampered by a horrific injury and yet to have a full season as an Arsenal first-teamer. There is no doubt about his talent and potential, if you look at his goals before the injury and his movement this season. He wasn't made Wales captain before Gareth Bale for no reason. It is too soon to say that we should sell him.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Came on the pitch in the 86th minute for Walcott. Too little time to make an impact.

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