FA Premier League
Saturday 14 December 2013, 12.45 KO
City: Pantilimon, Zabaleta, Kompany (c), Demichelis, Clichy, Fernandinho, Toure, Silva (Milner 71), Nasri (Garcia 90), Aguero (Navas 49), Negredo
Unused: Hart, Lescott, Kolarov, Dzeko
Goals: Aguero (14), Negredo (39), Fernandinho (50, 88), Silva (66), Toure (pen 90+5)
Booked: Silva, Kompany
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the Match: Fernandinho
Where to begin with this one? Goals, defensive lapses, attacking flair, injuries, contentious penalty decisions, chances galore, two stoppage time goals… There’s not enough bandwidth on the internet to be able to go into too much detail, I fear.
It started with City on the front foot. A series of corners looked threatening, but the Blues didn’t manage to test Szczesny even if the visitors were pinned into their own half. The Gunners could have opened the scoring through Wilshere – against the run of play – on 12 minutes, but his effort was scuffed wide.
Instead, it was one of the home side’s in-form forwards who netted first. A corner from the right flank was flicked to the back post by Demichelis, where Aguero adjusted his body to volley past Szczesny from about eight yards out. It wasn’t quite a bicycle kick, but it was a stunning finish.
The Blues should have doubled their lead shortly after, following some great skill from the captain. Kompany won the ball in midfield and had to twist and turn to keep it around two challenges, before he slid it through to send Negredo one-on-one with Szczesny. The striker, though, skewed his right-footed shot well wide.
On the half hour, though, the visitors pulled level – against the run of play and teaching City to take their chances. Toure was caught in possession on the halfway line to Ramsey, who carried it and picked out Ozil on the left. He squared for Walcott to shoot and Pantilimon was unsighted by Deminchelis, leaving the ball to bobble into the far corner of the net.
It took eight minutes for the Blues to be back in front – and Toure was redeemed for his mistake. He played a sublime ball wide to Zabaleta, whose first touch gave him time to cross into the centre. Negredo was arriving the wrong side of Koscielny to slot it underneath the goalkeeper. The defender was injured in challenging and that was the end of his game.
The second half showed no signs of slowing the tempo: It started when Kompany found himself as the furthest man forward and took it upon himself to take on the Arsenal team. He tried to pick out Negredo as he worked it to the left flank, but his pass was short.
There was then a blow for the home side as Aguero was forced to leave the play injured. On came Navas and City doubled their advantage through an unlikely source. Fernandinho raced onto a loose ball in midfield and bent an effort around Szczesny and into the bottom corner. It was a beauty to open his account.
But it was at this point where the visitors stepped up to the next level and began to blitz the City goal. First Giroud should have equalised, but somehow missed the target on a low cross at the back post, skewing his effort high and wide, before the French striker headed wide when he was unmarked in the middle.
There was a shout for a penalty for the visitors on the hour mark, as the ball deflected off Zabaleta’s chest and onto his arm, but there was nothing doing from the referee. The Arsenal players were furious.
The Gunners reduced the arrears shortly after. The winger picked the ball up on the edge of the box and bent it both over and around Pantilimon, who was left flapping at thin air, as the shot hit the net. It came as the visitors were having their best spell and, at 3-2, they would have fancied their chances.
That is until Silva restored the hosts’ two goal lead a mere four minutes later. Navas wriggled free on the right flank and played a low, driven cross into the middle, where his compatriot was arrived to glide it home, over Szczesny.
With just over 20 minutes to play, Pantilimon preserved that two goal cushion with a cracking save from a Wilshere shot from range. The midfielder belted it towards the top corner, but the Romanian was up quickly to touch it over the bar.
Navas came close to increasing City’s lead after stealing the ball back from Monreal and playing a neat one-two with Nasri to set himself through on goal. He rounded Szczesny, but the angle was too wide and his shot only hit the side netting. Toure then blazed wide after one of his trademark runs, before the Ivorian rose highest at a corner, but could only head over the bar.
Fernandinho’s second City goal came two minutes before stoppage time. He won the ball back in the centre of midfield, before setting Nasri through. The Brazilian continued his run into the box and got the ball back from the Frenchman, before skipping the challenge and dinking it over Szczesny, who had gone to ground. It was cool and calm, and it flicked the post as it crossed the line.
As stoppage time was coming to a close, the visitors pulled another goal back – though now only a consolation. Mertesacker was left unmarked inside the six-yard box and he nodded straight past Pantilimon from a cross from the right. It could have been 5-3 earlier, with Bendtner nodding in from an offside position – it was ruled out, but City didn’t heed the warning.
The final say of the day, though, went to Toure. With many fans expecting the final whistle to come, Milner was slotted through on the left and, as he skipped past Szczesny, the goalkeeper brought him down. Toure stepped up and sent the Polish shot-stopper the wrong way, giving the Blues a three goal lead with seconds left on the clock.
City close the gap on the league leaders and provide possibly the best game of the season so far.