Manchester City 0-3 Arsenal
For much of the week just gone I’ve been muttering – sometimes, but not always to myself – that yesterday’s match was pivotal.
Pivotal because, firstly, we’d not beaten either of the Manchesters or Chelsea for something like ten matches, which is a pretty substantial mental block for a team that has title ambitions. Secondly, simple maths tells us that had we lost, we’d have been eight points behind the leaders, leaving us a huge mountain to climb. And thirdly, for me it was a rather simple question: Is this team actually good enough to make that next step from third/fourth to winning trophies? I’ve long had my doubts, and I don’t suppose I am the only one.
Well, we passed with flying colours. And this morning, sitting in my remote northern coastal outpost, I am basking not only in sunshine but also rekindled excitement about the season ahead.
OK, I accept that sounds a bit absurd, given we were already romping our Champions League group and larking about at the top end of the league table, but I really do think yesterday’s win is a milestone – or should that be millstone – overcome.
For a while now not been bullied on the pitch – something we have been justifiably accused of in the past. What we have at times still lacked though is ruthlessness and maturity, and I think we showed more of both those attributes yesterday, particularly in the second half.
Sure, we were helped by the early red card, but it was as clear a red as you’ll ever see – despite Mancini’s protestations. What I feared could then become an attritional battle to get past a blue defensive wall in fact developed into an open, really enjoyable game. Nasri’s one-two with Arshavin was a lovely piece of football and a superb finish – Nasri scoring his seventh goal of the season.
According to today’s Times, Nasri has never scored more than seven goals in a season either for Marseilles or for Arsenal, so for him to hit that at the tail end of October tells you all you need to know about the season he’s having. He should have been man of the match (Cesc: “I missed a penalty – how can I be man of the match?”)
City, to their credit, fought hard and Arsenal racked up the yellows during the remainder of the first half fighting them off. It should have been two, mind you, Fabregas’s penalty well saved by Hart. To have already had 12 penalties in games involving Arsenal is extraordinary. Why is this? Chamakh has earned a fair few of our nine, but not all. Speed of thought and movement? Coincidence?
Fortunately, the yellowed players calmed down in the second, or else we’d have been looking at ten-man parity. When Song scored our second – a rasper – the match was as good as over and it was left to the returning Bendtner to seal it. Three goals scored, clean sheet: Bargain.
Also deserving of credit is MM* Fabianski. His display was pretty much flawless and included two or three very good reflex saves. It’s true that there’s a long way to go before we can unfurl the goalkeeping bunting, but he’s doing everything right at the moment and if there’s going to be any movement in that department in January, it won’t be him doing the moving. Long may it carry on.
With Walcott, Rosicky, Bendtner, Gibbs, Eboue and Koscielny on the bench, Wilshere back in the compound and van Persie edging towards fitness, we have options too. The squad is looking primed.
There’s no doubt there’ll be more learning curves and teething problems to come – but we’re improving and we’re in a good place.