Monday, October 25, 2010

GUTS, PASSION & A THREE-NIL HOME DEFEAT

Wide eyes, arms beginning to wave...it can only be...
Arsenal won at Eastlands yesterday and in doing so provoked some strangely triumphalist newspaper headlines in the morning red tops. Certainly a "rampant super show" as The Mail spluttered, is slightly over the top when all things are considered.

A 3-0 win at Eastlands represents a good result these days without a doubt, but it does little to portray City's admirable reaction to being deprived of a central defender after only 4 minutes of the game. "You will now play the best passing team in the land for 86 minutes with a man less. Go get the points, boys!"

As has quite rightly been written elsewhere, this match ceased to be a contest after Boyata's dismissal (a foul, certainly, a red card, possibly, Chamakh a little flimsy at staying on his feet, a developing theme, Clattenberg a frustrated cabaret artiste, almost certainly ) right at the beginning of a contest which, don't forget, had started with a scintillating period of City pressure and a back-heeled effort by David Silva, stopped by the very finger ends of a surprisingly agile Fabianski. The match at that stage had every sign of a rip-roaring afternoon of thrust and counter-thrust between two worthy opponents.

Then an early red card. Clattenburg is no stranger to odd decisions, both on and off the football pitch, and his manner when reffing leaves a little to be desired (wide eyes, slicked hair, bit-fond-of-myself strut, high volume go-aways accompanied by theatrical arm movements) and he seems very keen to join a long line of men in the middle who don't wish to go quietly about their business. Not often is there a match refereed by this guy that reaches the 15 minute mark and people are asking "who's reffing today?". Here, by broad consensus, Boyata's ungainly lunge from behind left him with an easy red card option, but still....

That the ever-present Fabregas felt it necessary to rush up waving pretend cards is still a slightly sad part of our game and should have been rewarded with a card of his own. His magnanimity afterwards, spluttering that he was a little surprised at being chosen as man of the match after telegraphing a distinctly average penalty to Joe Hart's left, did not tally with this kind of petulant nonsense.

Mancini revealed a willingness to tinker with the team's shape after this early set-back and kept tinkering until it felt right. Barry dropped back, then reemerged, Yaya Touré dropped back then left to be replaced by the hapless Bridge, who despite showing recent signs of improvement, took a huge leap backwards when setting up Song's second with a deft little touch into his path. Bang. 2-0 and the door swings shut in City's faces.

< Bridge, soft touch set up Song

What Wenger said in the steam and bubbles of the half time dressing room did the trick. Arsenal managed to control the 2nd period with less bother, fewer stray passes and were able to snuff out City's praiseworthy efforts with greater ease. However cruel the third goal was on City, and it may even have been ruled out as the ball appeared to cross the touchline in the build-up, the legs had long gone by then and the damage limitation exercise was running its wobbly course. Nevertheless, one or two interesting lessons will have been learned here:
  • Arsenal can put their foot in with the best of them these days
  • City's "mercenaries" appear to be building up a fervent fighting spirit
  • Might be best to play Boyata in some less crucial games before launching him at the big boys again
  • Nobody has that Kill The Game Stone Dead mentality this year but Chelsea
So City go off to lick their wounds in 4th place. The Blues remain in exalted company and travel to Molineux next with hopes still high.

As a farewell tribute to Big Mal, this was a game that would have had the City coach reaching for the champagne with a wry smile on his face. He would surely have appreciated the effort City put in to covering the wide open spaces stretched by a clever Arsenal side. "To win the game you need to score one more than the opposition" he would have said laconically and wandered off leaving a trail of cigar smoke behind him.
Big Mal: Win or lose, keep that smile in place

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