FOR once the numbers just did not add up for Manchester City and their resources were found wanting.
Reduced to 10 men after just four minutes, they were dispatched with the kind of ruthlessness that has not been associated with Arsenal for a long, long time.
Cesc Fabregas claimed that if City had 15 men – how many holding midfielders would have played then? – Arsenal’s only thought would have been for a victory but even he would have to admit that breaking teams down in such situations has not always been the strong point of Arsene Wenger’s side.
City supporters were furious with Mark Clattenburg’s decision to send off Dedryck Boyata but the referee had little choice but to dismiss the rookie Belgian for his trip on Marouane Chamakh.
Samir Nasri made the breakthrough midway through the first half and Fabregas even had a penalty saved by Joe Hart before half time only for Alex Song and Nicklas Bendtner to add two more goals after the break.
As well as showing an incisive streak, it was also a first clean sheet in 16 games since January and a first victory in 10 matches against Chelsea, United or City and Arsene Wenger was right to be proud of his team’s growing maturity.
With a bottle and coins being thrown on to the pitch – presumably not from City’s chairman Khaldoon al-Mubarak – this was a sobering result for the hosts although their performance showed not little spirit and we will never know what they would have been capable of if they had kept 11 men on the field.
For all the wild challenges that were flying in, it would have been all too typical for yet another Arsenal player to join Boyata.
Roberto Mancini’s decision to start with Boyata – he could not really explain it afterwards – immediately looked like a major error when the Belgian tripped Chamakh on the edge of the area.
Say what you like about Joleon Lescott but he would have been unlikely to have found himself so badly caught out by the Fabregas pass.
City dropped Yaya Toure into defence but should have trailed when Johan Djourou headed over.
However the Gunners took the lead before the mid-point of the first half.
The first act of a bad day, Vincent Kompany hacked wildly at Gael Clichy’s cross and the masterful Nasri swapped passes with Andrey Arshavin, with Gareth Barry failing to track the run, and the Frenchman finished comfortably inside the near post for his seventh in seven matches.
With Wenger describing the atmosphere as “a bit electric” crunching tackle after wild lunge flew in.
From Nigel de Jong on Fabregas, to Barry on Fabregas to Fabregas on De Jong to Song on David Silva.
Micah Richards should have pulled City level when he raced on to James Milner’s pass but cut inside Djourou on to his weaker left foot and shot well wide.
Five minutes before the break, Arsenal should have killed the game off when Kompany needlessly chopped Fabregas down just inside the area but the Spaniard failed to beat Joe Hart with the resulting penalty – the Gunners’ third miss of the season.
At the interval, Mancini took Toure off for Wayne Bridge in yet another reshuffle.
City lost Carlos Tevez to what looked like a thigh injury shortly after the break but his replacement Emmanuel Adebayor could not reproduce the heroics that marked his appearance in the hosts’ 4-2 win over his former club last season.
His one real chance was a header over the bar at the far post after Kompany had flicked on Silva’s corner but soon Arsenal doubled their lead.
Fabregas attempted to thread a pass through to Chamakh and Bridge’s block fell for Song, who drilled into the top corner of the net to pull Arsenal well clear.
Mancini’s next move was to bring on Mario Balotelli after two months of inactivity with a knee problem but the Italian did nothing on his first Premier League appearance, barely looking able to run, his only real contribution was a bizarre attempt to dribble out of his own area.
And Arsenal added further gloss with a couple of minutes remaining when Nasri just kept the ball in play on the right and slipped through for substitute Bendtner to give the victory a comfortable feel.
On goal difference City are worse off than under Mark Hughes at the same time last season but have shown they will be there or thereabouts.
For Arsenal that is no longer enough and Wenger will hope this is a key step towards finally getting his hands on some silverware.
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