The dismal record away to Arsenal has been broken and in some style, too. A clinical, superb strike by James Milner and a simplistic tap-in from Edin Dzeko secured the three points and maintain just about enough pressure on Manchester United at the top of the table.
Whilst there was drama and controversy throughout, there was also a demonstration in the opening 35 minutes of just what a threatening force City can be when everything clicks. In the opening exchanges, there were all the elements which make the Blues so irresistible on occasions. There was an intensity about our play, a bite in tackles, a quick tempo while in possession and a collective pressing which forced Arsenal into errors.
All that may be overlooked due to the pair of red cards dished out by Mike Dean, but City were so sharp in that initial spell that it allowed us to coast through the remainder of the game, looking comfortable enough without ever really being put under too much pressure. It was an efficient display, ruthless in the first half and although a touch lethargic after the break, we didn’t require anything extra.
James Milner was the real standout performer, his incontestable energy and workrate matched by an end product. His tireless running is a given, but his movement along the forward line enabled us to double up in key areas, creating chances for himself and others. His link-up play down the right with Pablo Zabaleta and David Silva was sublime, his touch and awareness first-class and he produced a classy, dismissive finish to open the scoring.
For all Milner’s endeavour and threat out wide, the main creative outlet, as he invariably is, was David Silva. With Arsenal down to ten men early on after Laurent Koscielny’s rugby-esque manhandling of Edin Dzeko, the Spaniard oozed class, his ability on the ball enabling us to control the tempo and stretch the home side’s backline. He gave a masterclass in the first half of how to operate against ten men, playing with intensity and looking to move the ball on quickly. Although we are used to his brilliance, it should not diminish just how good he is.
Of course, the main talking points following the game centred around Mike Dean’s decisions. The Koscielny sending-off was straightforward enough, but the red card given to Vincent Kompany was far more debatable. My initial reaction watching it was that it was a two-footed lunge and it is clear to see why the referee made his decision, but replays clearly show that when Kompany makes contact with the ball, one foot is on the ground and the other is tucked into his body. It is a strong, firm challenge but one that was not deserving of such punishment.
The rules, indeed, are centred on whether ‘excessive force’ was used or whether the tackle ‘endangers the safety of an opponent’. With both Kompany and Wilshere going in forcefully, a collision was inevitable but you would be hard pressed to argue that our captain used excessive force. City have appealed the decision but I don’t envisage it being overturned. There was enough evidence to suggest Mike Dean did not make a complete clanger and that is all the FA need to back the referee. It was the wrong decision but not wrong enough to make an appeal likely to succeed.
One frustrating aspect from yesterday’s game which fortunately didn’t affect the final result was Edin Dzeko’s missed penalty. Although it is always pleasing to see a striker show enough confidence to want to take a spotkick, with Carlos Tévez and James Milner on the pitch, the Bosnian should not have been the man to aim for goal. Tévez may not be the best penalty-taker, but he has scored from the spot this season, whilst Milner has taken in the past for both City and England. Just because Balotelli and Aguero were not on the pitch doesn’t mean it turns into a free-for-all.
But that is a minor quibble on what was otherwise a rewarding afternoon for the Blues. Arsenal can be a dangerous opponent, as we saw at the Etihad, but we started superbly and that set the tone. Fulham are the visitors at the weekend to Manchester and with United travelling to London to face Spurs, it is an excellent opportunity to narrow the gap at the top to four points.
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