We left it late, but a richly deserved three points. Thoughts as follows:
* There was a degree of consternation when the line-ups were announced, but it’s hard to know who else Arsene could’ve played. Gervinho was apparently injured, and Ramsey could hardly start after the vitriol he received last week. It was the same XI which started (and won) the game against Spurs, and I think, yet again, Arsene got his team and tactics correct.
* We started the game well, piled on the pressure, and dominated possession. But we didn’t score. Indeed, we didn’t even really create that many chances. While I doubt Man City wanted to concede so much possession, time and space to us, we didn’t really do a lot with it in the first-half. In particular, our penchant for throwing useless crosses into the box was infuriating. We could have done with a little more guile in general when it came to our final ball – if we’d had that, we could have taken the lead much, much earlier.
* When RvP headed the ball towards goal, beat the keeper, and yet was blocked by the head of Thomas Vermaelen, I thought it was going to be one of those days. That impression was only hardened by Robin heading the ball against the post in the second half, and the frankly ridiculous chain of events that saw Walcott have a shot saved, TV mis-kick when faced with an open goal, and then Benayoun dribble the ball onto the post. On another day, all three of those would have easily gone in, and we would have gotten the scoreline we deserved.
* Another reason why we should have won by a larger margin is that we should have been playing against ten men from about the tenth minute. Balotelli’s studs up challenge on Song was a straight red. In any case, I simply don’t understand why Balotelli was playing. Despite his two goals, he lost the plot last week against Sunderland, and seemed hell-bent on self-destruction in this match from virtually the first minute. Basically, City carried a dangerous passenger for 80 or so minutes. Absurd management from a manager who increasingly appears out of his depth.
* One of the reasons why Balotelli was such a passenger was the monster performances of both Vermaelen and Koscielny. Koscielny may well be my new favourite player. He is pure business when it comes to defending. No histrionics – just gets the job done. After his QPR nightmare last week, it was also good to see TV have a much better game, even if he will be kicking himself for preventing and missing two golden Arsenal chances.
* Nasri – who cares? I mean, really, who fucking cares? In his three years at the club, he had about six months worth of top-level performances. For the rest of the time, he was an average passenger. I couldn’t understand why Mancini thought that Nasri would be so critical to City’s title challenge, and, indeed, he hasn’t been. As far as I’m concerned we got rid of an overrated player for a ton of cash. If anything, we should thank him for being such a greedy bastard.
* Mikel Arteta – not just our best signing of the season, but surely one of the shrewdest transfers to take place in Europe last summer. He has been Mr Consistency, worked hard, and kept us ticking over. The antithesis of Nasri, but also, in many respects, a better option than Fabregas, who dominated too much of our playmaking by the end of his time at the club. Arteta has had a superb season, and won over doubters, like myself, that he would only be a mediocre replacement for Cesc. His goal today was brilliant.
* I thought another of our signings also did well when he came on – Santos. With City seemingly, and bizarrely, intent on staying in their own half for the last thirty minutes, we could afford to bring on Santos, who showed some lovely touches and movement during his time on the pitch. I’m really glad we have him. His ‘shoosh’ sign to Balotelli was pure gold.
* I know this is a subject that has been raised many times, but what the hell is Stuart Robson’s problem? Is he not, technically, an Arsenal employee? The vitriol that spewed forth from his mouth about almost every Arsenal player, and even fans at several points, was incredible, frankly. I wish Fox Soccer would give us a bit more Gary Neville, because he has been excellent and impartial every time I’ve heard him.
* This season has been an interesting example of how money doesn’t inherently buy success in football. Liverpool are trundling away in mid-table after blowing almost £100 million on the likes of Carroll, Downing, Adam and Henderson (just think about that for a moment); Man City have just blown the title after spending ridiculous sums on only slightly better players (is Dzeko really that much better than Carroll, for example?). Performing well in the league is a long, arduous task, and you need to build a squad of players who will fight each week for every point, and who will also fight for each other. After three league games this season, we looked all over the place. But Arsene has bought wisely (well, apart from Park) and knitted a great bunch of players together. Similar, Ferguson has spent less than Mancini, but has built a better team. Mancini can’t seem to motivate his players, and some of his tactical decision making has been baffling.
For us, the only question now is can we build on this result and entrench ourselves in third place. It’s highly annoying that Chelsea benefitted from ridiculous decisions yesterday, because otherwise we would be cruising towards the Champions League. As it is, we’re still only five points clear of fifth place, and we have some tough fixtures coming up. I think the team now has momentum, and we should now be the favourites for third, let alone fourth, even with our/spurs/chelsea’s fixtures. But there’s a long way to go, and we cannot get complacent. The team and manager have done so much to restore the relationship between them and the fans since September – let’s not blow it now.