Unsurprisingly, the majority of the media focus after Sunday's match has been on Manchester City's fading title challenge, and a certain Italian striker. However this being an Arsenal blog, it's time to redress the balance and give our team the credit they deserve for a fantastic win.
The victory wasn't without its difficulties, mainly of our own making with some interesting finishing in front of goal, however no-one could deny that we deserved to win and outplayed and outclassed our opponents. On paper, the match was between two teams with completely different philosophies on running a football club, with one attempting to buy the best players, and the other having a self-sustaining business model. There was also one team chasing the title, and the other 13 points behind them in a scrap for the top four. If you were an outside observer watching the game, you'd never have guessed correctly which club was which.
We looked like the team that were chasing the title because we actually were intent on attacking to try and win the game. It's been a while since we were involved in the title race right until the end of the season, but we know as Arsenal fans that in these sorts of games, you need to make a statement. City didn't do that. It was partly because we didn't allow them to. Arsenal put the QPR defeat behind them and played with the confidence that comes with winning seven games in a row. However, Manchester City again came to the Emirates and were mainly concerned with defending.
It was such a relief to see Mikel Arteta’s stunning long range effort fly past Joe Hart, because the visitors’ negative tactics were punished, and the team that actually looked like they wanted to attack, won. For a team that have spent so much money on attacking talent, and had to realistically win after Manchester United’s victory, it baffled me to see City be so defensive again. They did it last season at the Emirates and got away with a 0-0. I’m glad they didn’t this time.
Wojciech Szczesny was almost redundant for 90 minutes (apart from supposedly drinking a beer thrown on the pitch), whereas at the other end, whilst we didn’t create loads of chances, the ones we did make were fantastic opportunities.
Robin van Persie is in a goal drought by his extremely high standards this season, however he was genuinely unlucky to not find the net against Manchester City. His first half header was comfortably going in, but for Thomas Vermaelen. It’s hard to blame the Belgian as he was just making an eager run towards the back post and was definitely didn’t intend to get in the way of the shot. Van Persie then hit the post with another header in the second half. That was a more difficult chance than some pundits have made it out to be. It was another excellent pass by Song, and van Persie had to watch the ball float over his head, whilst losing the defender, and then have to generate power and accuracy with the header. To hit the post was unlucky.
The skipper then had a goal disallowed for offside. The linesman deserves credit for getting that decision right as it was a very tight call, however it’s frustrating to see Chelsea score two outrageously offside goals in the same weekend. After Robin hit the woodwork twice, we then doubled that tally as a team in one unbelievable scramble. Walcott’s low effort was tipped onto the post, Vermaelen then slipped and Benayoun somehow scuffed it wide via the outside of the post. There was a feeling that it was going to be one of those days where we play really well, but somehow manage to fluff our chances.
I've talked a lot on this blog this season about players taking responsibility, and making things happen themselves instead of looking to others to do it for them. Mikel Arteta typifies that new attitude of the majority of our squad. Even late in the game, he was willing to close City players down high up to the pitch, and doing this enabled him to win the ball for the winning goal. After his tackle on Pizarro opened up the space in front of him, it would have been easy for Arteta to dally on the ball and try and pass the ball out wide, instead his immediate thought was to go for goal. In his last two games at the Emirates, Arteta has produced two of the sweetest strikes imaginable. We've wanted him to shoot from distance more, and now he's proving why. People have been critical of Arteta for not scoring many goals, but he now has six in the Premier League from a deep midfield role. That's also more than David Silva and Samir Nasri have scored each for Manchester City in the league this season, making Arteta's goal return look more impressive.
Our collective midfield unit once again showed that what they might lack sometimes in skill, they're more than willing to make up for it by working hard and chasing the opposition down. The midfield trio of Song, Arteta and Rosicky probably weren't plan A when we sold Cesc Fabregas and Samir Nasri, but are they doing a good job for the team? Undoubtedly. They might just be temporary gap fillers until Ramsey and Wilshere are ready to start regularly either because of form or injury, but at the moment the current trio look to be cementing their place in the side for the long term. In terms of reputation, wages and transfer fees, our midfield should have been over-run, but as they have done repeatedly in the second half of the season, Song, Arteta and Rosicky didn't let that happen.
Aaron Ramsey has been a hot topic of debate for some Arsenal fans, and his introduction ahead of Oxlade-Chamberlain will have frustrated many. His miss at the end was also distinctly dodgy. However I still think people need to be patient with Ramsey. In recent weeks, he been played out of position, but has still been getting himself heavily involved. We'd be more frustrated if he was playing but not seeing the ball and not working hard to get it. His finishing does need a lot of work, but when that improves, I think he can be one of the best attacking midfielders in the league. It might take time, but he can do it.
A word for the defence. Whilst City weren't overly ambitious going forward, we still snuffed out any danger that came close to our area. Koscielny and Vermaelen's partnership continues to improve. The team had clearly worked on tightening things up after the slip at QPR.
It's hard to not mention Mario Balotelli when writing about this game. His three tackles on Bacary Sagna were bad enough, but the one on Song made me apoplectic with rage. We've had some bad luck with injuries in recent seasons, but we got a huge amount of good luck that Alex Song didn't have his leg broken. It was a disgraceful tackle, and we can only hope the FA will revisit the tackle and make sure those sort of challenges are eradicated from the game.
We deserved to win the match, and are in a good position heading into the final stretch of the season in terms of the top four. Third is definitely still within our reach, as is a higher points total than last season. The improvement hasn't been as big as we'd have wanted, but Arsene Wenger has overcome a lot this season to improve this team. Whilst we'd obviously prefer to be in Manchester City's position in the league, as an outsider looking in, our team is much more together and the ethos within the squad is better, and a lot of the credit for that has to go to Wenger and to who he brought into the club.
We have to follow this result up with a good performance at Wolves on Wednesday. Even though they look doomed, we only have to think back to the defeat at Loftus Road to know that away games at relegation battlers aren't easy. While others have been concerning themselves with the title, Arsene Wenger has quietly got Arsenal back up the table. If we continue on this rate of improvement, we might be back in the title spotlight next season.