Barclay’s English Premiership
Saturday 22 November 2008, 15:00 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Dunne (c), Richards, Garrido, Kompany, Ireland, Wright-Phillips, Vassell (Elano 70), Robinho (Hamann 82), Benjani (Sturridge 88)
Unused: Schmeichel, Onuoha, Ben-Haim, Evans
Goals: Ireland (45), Robinho (56), Sturridge (pen 90+1)
City Man of the Match: Stephen Ireland
With the recent games and performances witnessed by the City faithful, I don’t think there will have been many in the ground who expected the show they saw today. It was the first Saturday match at 3pm for City this season, due to TV and European commitments, and on a cold November afternoon, the players gave the fans something to cheer about.
City started brightly and could have opened the scoring in the second minute, when a mistake in front of the Arsenal goal allowed Ireland to stab the ball on to Vassell, but the former England international delayed the ball and squared for Zabaleta, who blazed wide.
The game took a turn for the worse after that, though, with nothing of note actually happening until the 16th minute, when a quick free kick led to a Robinho shot, but Almunia saved comfortably.
On 33 minutes, van Persie was clipped in the ribs by Richards and got himself a free kick about 30 yards out. With the Dutchman off for treatment, Samir Nasri took the kick. Hart saved, but didn’t manage to get the ball behind and Bendtner backheeled for Song, but his shot was well wide.
Just as the stoppage time was announced, Benjani should have put City in front, when he was unmarked from a Wright-Phillips cross, but the Zimbabwean’s header fell just over the bar, with Almunia scrambling.
It didn’t matter, though, because City had the lead a minute later. With the fans readying themselves for the break, Benjani knocked the ball to Ireland, who took on the Arsenal defence. He worked his way into the area and Silvestre and Clichy got in each other’s way to present the ball back to the Irishman. And the academy graduate was in no mood to let them off the hook, slotting the ball past Almunia into the top left corner.
Arsenal came out for the second half desperate for an equaliser and they started with great tempo. Diaby fired wide, before Bendtner was thwarted brilliantly by Richard Dunne and van Persie swung a free kick just wide of Harts right hand post.
But City were able to withstand the pressure and got themselves a second goal in the process. On 56 minutes, Wright-Phillips won the ball halfway into his own half and broke quickly down the middle, riding two challenges. He then slid a perfectly weighted pass for Robinho to latch onto, and, with the Arsenal keeper rushing off his line, the Brazilian expertly lifted the ball over Almunia and into the net.
Arsenal could have hit back on the hour, when substitute Ramsey found Bendtner through on goal, but the big Dane was denied by a good Hart save with his legs.
The game opened up and it seemed to be to City’s advantage, as the home side began to carve out chance after chance. First, Kompany found Robinho’s head with a delightful pass, but the Brazilian headed wide.
Then, Robinho had the ball in the net for the second time, but it was ruled out for offide. Replays showed that City’s record signing looked onside, but the flag went up, much to Almunia’s relief after he had dropped the ball at Robinho’s feet.
Elano then made an appearance for Darius Vassell, much to the home crowd’s delight and it was his clever corner with 20 minutes to go that found Stephen Ireland in the box. The Irishman took a touch and fired a volley towards goal, but it was blocked to Robinho, whose cross came to nothing. The City fans wanted a penalty for the use of Denilson’s arm in blocking the ball, but it would have been a harsh decision.
Robinho could have made it 3-0 with just over 10 minutes to go, when he found himself one-on-one with Almunia, but he took a heavy touch in going around the Arsenal keeper and his left footed shot was blocked on the line. It was a costly miss, as the Brazilian fell awkwardly in shooting and couldn’t continue, being replaced by Dietmar Hamann.
Van Persie had the ball in City’s net with a minute to go, but it was ruled out for ungentlemanly conduct. Joe Hart had thrown the ball up to kick it and the Dutchman touched it away from City’s keeper and slotted the ball home, despite the referee’s whistle stopping play.
But City weren’t done yet. Substitute Danny Sturridge ran onto a long pass into the Arsenal box and, after getting it under control, he wound his way along the by-line before being brought down by Djourou. The referee pointed to the spot.
The academy graduate stepped up to take the kick, despite upsetting the club’s regularly penalty taker, Elano, in the process, and he sent Almunia the wrong way. Despite the finish, many in the ground felt he should have allowed Elano to take the penalty, but it should just go down as the exuberance of youth and we’d hope there were no grudges held.
After the game, Arsene Wenger said he felt the result flattered City. But it didn’t. It was three points for City, three goals for City and it could, quite easily, have been more. Arsenal had a lot of possession, but they did nothing with it. City will want the momentum to continue for the trip to Schalke in midweek.