Arsenal 0 Manchester City 2
Roberto Mancini has pledged to launch an appeal after his captain Vincent Kompany was sent off in a controversial victory for Manchester City at Arsenal that also saw the home side’s Laurent Koscielny shown a red card after just 10 minutes.
But the real story of the match should be the way City underlined their determination to defend their title with a highly professional performance.
Having seen leaders Manchester United go 10 points clear by beating Liverpool earlier in the day there was real pressure on Mancini’s players at a ground where they lost last season and where Arsenal have been showing signs of a revival. But their response, even taking into account the fact Arsenal were down to 10 men so early, was one of real quality.
The bare facts are that referee Mike Dean handed City a huge boost by sending off Koscielny for a rugby tackle in the six-yard box before goals from James Milner and Edin Dzeko won the match for the champions — whose only disappointment came when Kompany also saw red for a two-footed challenge on Jack Wilshere late in the second half.
If the card is allowed to stand then the City captain faces a three-match suspension, just at a time when key midfielder Yaya Toure is also away at the African Cup of Nations; a prospect Mancini refused to even consider.
“It was absolutely not a red card,” he said. “He took the ball. I don’t know how it’s possible he got a red card. It was no foul, no red card. We are going to appeal. It’s impossible, he sent him off for nothing. We’ll do an appeal and we’ll win.”
The good news for Mancini is that his team’s performance gave him few other reasons for concern. Dzeko played one of his best games in a City shirt as he was chosen up front, while Milner and Gareth Barry worked tirelessly in midfield to make up for the absence of Toure as City stamped their authority on the afternoon even before the officials made life a little easier.
The game’s crucial moment came when Koscielny bizarrely wrapped both arms around Dzeko six yards from goal — and referee Dean not only awarded a penalty but also sent the defender off.
Arsenal players argued furiously over the decision; but manager Wenger refused to do likewise in his post-match press conference, preferring instead to highlight the nervous way his team had started the match. For once the Frenchman, who also said of Kompany’s dismissal “it looked like both went for the ball”, was in the mood to be candid — and his assessment certainly rang true.
As it happens, Dzeko missed the penalty awarded for Koscielny’s foul — Wojciech Szczesny saved it with his feet and then watched as the ball struck a post and rolled back to him. But Arsenal’s luck ended there.
A quickly-taken free-kick saw Silva and then Tevez combine to set up Milner’s opening goal after 21 minutes; finished superbly with a flashing, fiercely-struck effort that beat Szczesny all ends up.
The second goal, which effectively finished the match as a spectacle, came after 32 minutes; this time Zabaleta out-tackling Gibbs on the right before Tevez stretched to make Milner’s cross — and Dzeko tapped home after Szczesny saved the Argentine’s effort.
By now City were playing the match at walking pace; and it could have been 3-0 before half time if Wilshere had not headed off the line to deny Javier Garcia.
After the break Arsenal were at least revived — Walcott had an effort cleared off the line and substitute Giroud missed a sitter — but City were comfortable winners even after Kompany lunged into an ill-advised tackle on the excellent Wilshere and was harshly sent off.
The result leaves Manchester United still seven points clear of their derby rivals; but with Mancini predicting another close battle in the title race.
“United are a strong team and in this moment they are playing very well. But the season is long. It’s important for us to be there,” he said.
“We know we are behind. I don’t think we deserve to stay seven points behind United but we are there. We need to play well then we can do other things. We need to be strong if we want to be there in the end.”
Judging by this performance it’s hard to imagine a scenario in which City do not last the distance and at least push United all the way; but for Arsenal there is the sobering thought of another fight just to finish in the top four.
They are now six points adrift of North London rivals Tottenham and 21 away from the leaders; so perhaps Wenger, for once, was right not to concentrate on the controversy of losing a man so early and to think deeper about the problems facing his frustratingly inconsistent team.
“It’s not really important; we have to live with the decision,” he said when asked about Koscielny’s red card. “We let them dictate the game from the start and we paid very early for it. We didn’t start with enough confidence or authority; and after that when you play 80 minutes with 10 v 11 it’s not easy — and I think on both of the goals we couldn’t have done better. After that the team showed great desire but we are a bit too nervous to play in a serene way right now.”
ARSENAL: Szczesny 7, Sagna 7, Koscielny 4, Vermaelen 5, Gibbs 6, Diaby 6 (Ramsey 59; 6), Wilshere 8, Cazorla 6, Oxlade-Chamberlain 6 (Mertesacker 12; 6), Podolski 5 (Giroud 57; 6), Walcott 6.
Subs: Mannone, Andre Santos, Coquelin, Jenkinson.
MAN CITY: Hart 6, Zabaleta 7, Kompany 6, Nastasic 6, Clichy 6, Javi Garcia 6, Barry 7, Milner 8, Silva 7 (Kolarov 90), Tevez 7 (Lescott 77; 6), Dzeko 8 (Balotelli 88).
Referee: Mike Dean.
© Irish Examiner Ltd. All rights reserved