There were a few worrying moments. With yellow cards flying around like confetti in the first half, there was a fear that the referee might try to even the numbers up following the early sending off. Thankfully, Arsene Wenger’s men retained their discipline and kept everyone on the pitch.
When Cesc Fabregas missed his penalty late in the first half there was a nagging doubt that what happened at Sunderland would happen again at City. However, when Alex Song added to Samir Nasri’s first half strike, the match was over as a contest and Nicklas Bendtner’s cool finish with a couple of minutes to go was the icing on the cake.
As far as notable performances are concerned, Samir Nasri appears to be in the form of his life at the moment. His whole demeanour exudes confidence and the goals are starting to flow. Since recovering from the injury he suffered earlier in the season the Frenchman definitely looks like he has taken a step up and the challenge for him will be to maintain his current form until May.
Credit also has to go to Lucasz Fabianski. The much-maligned Pole turned in his best-ever Premier League performance, producing several crucial saves during the afternoon. However, it wasn’t just those that were impressive.
Over the past couple of years on this page, it has often been noted that Fabianski’s key strength is in making instinctive, reflex saves. The problems seem to begin when he actually has time to think about things. His decision-making is often suspect, his positioning can be poor and his dominance of the area is sometimes lacking. Yesterday though, everything he did, he did well and, added to the saves he made, it was a highly competent and professional performance.
Fabianski is going to have to turn in many more performances like yesterday’s to truly convince his doubters that he is the long-term man for the job, but it was a good day at the office for the Pole and he needs to build on the renewed confidence he has found in his recent displays.
Though Nasri and Fabianski have been singled out for praise, the display at Eastlands was very much a solid all-round team performance. In post-match interviews the manager and various players have talked about it being a turning point and a confidence booster and, hopefully, it was. It needs to be too. It was the first clean sheet away from home in the Premier League since January. Certainly, the Gunners need to show the sort of ruthlessness they produced yesterday far more often, particularly on the road, if they are genuinely going to be in the shake-up come May.
Yesterday’s win puts Arsene Wenger’s team in second place, five points behind Chelsea. With so much football still to be played, that is not a deficit that should be daunting anyone at the moment.
It is interesting that the fixtures computer has loaded Arsenal’s schedule with most of their high-profile away games in the first half of the season. Already, they have been to Liverpool, Chelsea and Manchester City and next month the trip to Macnchester United will be added to that list. Getting these games out of the way early could be a significant advantage as the season wears on - assuming the team can remain within striking distance at the top of the table.
As things stand, the last five matches away from home this season will be at West Brom, Blackpool, Bolton, Stoke and Fulham. That is not to say that any of those games will be easy but playing those sides is preferable to going to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford for potential “six-pointers”. Still, whilst that is maybe a note-worthy observation, we ought not to be getting too far ahead of ourselves and the focus must be on the next game only.
On Wednesday evening, Arsenal travel to Newcastle for a tricky Carling Cup tie with the Geordies. Arsene Wenger has appeared to change his approach towards the tournament this season and is likely to field a reasonably strong team at St James’ Park. With several big clubs already knocked out, the Gunners ought to be going all out to try to win this piece of silverware for the first time since 1993.
The level of difficulty the trip to the North East presents largely depends on which Newcastle United decides to show up. Hopefully it will be the one that lost at home to Blackpool in the Premier League earlier in the season rather than the one that disposed of Chelsea in the last round of this competition.