Let me make this perfectly clear at the very start. Please do not thank Arsenal, we did not do it because we wanted Manchester United to win the Premier League. We are The Arsenal and we always play to win. This was for us, the club, the fans and the players. That Manchester City were the losers was just a name in the script.
Last night was a glorious victory. In some ways, it’s a measure of how far we’ve come this season. This is a City side that went to Old Trafford and dished out a 6-1 thrashing and scored one less at our tiny neighbours. Granted, they have dipped in form and looked a shadow of that side at the first half of the season, they are still a very good side. And we put them in their back into their shadow with our performance.
To say we did a job over them would be an understatement. We stamped our authority all over them last night. From ball possession to shots on goal to fouls against to corner kicks, we dominated the contest. An expensively assembled squad being put in their places by an Arsene Wenger side built on youth, potential and few last minute experience buys. The television showed the banner “You can’t buy class” several times and it was true.
Wenger surprised us all by starting with Yossi Benayoun on the left of the attacking trident. While strange, this was not the first time it happened. Benayoun’s experience was also called upon in the match against Sp*rs at home when our turnaround was supposed to have started. The Israeli repaid the manager’s faith by putting in a tireless performance up until he was substituted. While he provided sparse output going forward, his defensive work was outstanding. The last minute challenge coming in from nowhere to deny Pablo Zabaleta from crossing/shooting was the pick of the bunch.
Meanwhile Roberto Mancini had to do without David Silva and had to watch Yaya Toure limp off after just 17 minutes. That’s half of their midfield and the better half at that. It’s no wonder that we won the midfield battle. It’s not a given and we can only win those battles by actually putting in an effort. That is what Alex Song, Mikel Arteta and Tomas Rosicky did. They all put in a real shift. No one shirked their duties.
Song was lucky to stay on the field for the entire game. Not because he was in trouble of being sent off but because he was lucky to have his right leg still in one piece. Mario Balotelli had a right what at knee high but did not get sent off. In fact, the referee didn’t even blew for a foul. Quite how Martin Atkinson and his officials missed that is unbelievable. That Balotelli managed to survive until the 89th minute before getting sent off was in itself a miracle. Continues high challenges on Bacary Sagna was ultimately punished. Questions arises on why Mancini allowed Balotelli to be left on the pitch when it was clear to everyone that he was an accident waiting to happen. That’s just bad management.
We had chances to take the lead. In the first half, Arteta’s corner was headed in by Robin Van Persie but somehow Thomas Vermaelen got in the way. Then we cut them open in the middle of the second half. Sagna’s cross was met by Theo Walcott but Joe Hart managed to get his palm to block it. But it fell right onto the path of Vermaelen who scuffed his shot. That followed by a Benayoun rebound that was blocked and hit the post. Incredible sequence of events that had Pat Rice celebrating three times.
By the 87th minute, all that didn’t matter. Arteta won the ball in midfield and drove forward with plenty of space in front of him. The crowd bayed for him to shoot and the Spaniard obliged. A cracker that swerved just at the right moment to ensure that Hart’s dive was to no avail. Cue pandemonium at the stadium and the Arsenal fans mocking the travelling supporters by doing the ‘Poznan’. That bit was brilliant. Arteta deserved to be the match winner. He was tigerish in his challenges and was quick to snap at the heels of any City midfielders with the ball. His positioning and reading of the game was once again at a very high level.
A 1 nil win is never complete without a tribute to the defence. Wojciech Szczesny had to push a ball over the bar but that was just to ensure that it didn’t hit the bar and bounce back into the playing area. Otherwise, the Pole did not have a single shot to save. That’s a big credit to the players in front of him. The midfielders did their part but the back four was superb. It would be unfair to give credit to one or two names, I thought all of them did very well. It’s shame that Laurent Koscielny picked up a yellow card because he will now miss the next two games.
We’re back up on third spot now. Only 10 points separates us from the team we conquered yesterday but I think that’s a stretch too far. It’s about consolidating where we are right now. If we continually dish out the type of performance that we saw yesterday, we would not finish any lower than 3rd. A performance that ticks all the right boxes. Heart, passion, desire and determination.
Class is forever.