Man City 0 Arsenal 2: Four talking points as Coquelin shines
Four talking points as Arsenal beat Manchester City at The Etihad
Gunners firing on the big stage once again
This was Arsenal’s first win against one of their big rivals in 16 games – and you could see why. One should be wary of speaking too soon, but there seemed to be a steel and balance to Arsenal not evident in many other big games, where they have gone heavily on the attack and, as Arsene Wenger and Aaron Ramsey admitted, left themselves “open”. Francis Coquelin was superb in holding midfield – a performance which belied his tender years (23). It was not just his discipline and tenacity which impressed – but the way he had the confidence to boss his far more experience teammates around. And it worked, because all four in front of him – Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Santi Cazorla, Ramsey and Alexis Sanchez – were brilliant in their defensive duties, in fact probably more so than in attack; something which you can’t often say about Arsenal. They deliberately packed the middle of the park, so City had to go wide, and full-backs Hector Bellerlin and Nacho Monreal both produced some of their best performances in an Arsenal shirt to stifle the (albeit limited) threat out wide of Jesus Navas and James Milner in the first half, and the slightly better Stevan Jovetic, on for Milner, in the second.
…While City shoot blanks
While Arsenal were brilliant, City were unusually blunt in attack. Arsenal did defend very strongly and often had ten men behind the ball, but this hasn’t prevented City from scoring on many occasions before. It wasn’t just that they didn’t score, but that they failed to even really test David Ospina – the closest they came being a low cross from Navas which Laurent Koscielny got just enough on to take away from Sergio Aguero. The Argentine lacked a bit of sharpness but the main problems lay further back. David Silva andMilner (subbed at half-time) were very quiet in the first half and Navas, denied space to exploit his pace, showed poor delivery. Behind them, where Fernandinho and Fernando were in defensive midfield, Yaya Toure – on African Cup of Nations duty – was very notable by his absence. The Ivorian helps City not just in his obvious strength and goalscoring, but also in the way his buccaneering runs take away opposing players and create space for Silva to work his magic. Also, Vincent Kompany looked a bit rusty and off-the-pace and Martin Demichelis was wasteful on the ball.
Men of the match
The man of the match could have gone to four (or more) other Arsenal players – Coquelin, Ramsey, Bellerin and Olivier Giroud, say – but it was, probably justly, given to Santi Cazorla. The Spaniard’s fine penalty beat Hart even though the keeper went the right way, and he worked very hard throughout, even in defence, which is not always the case. His performance was summed up by a run late on where he beat four men in his own half to relieve pressure, despite the ref having the whistle in his mouth ready to blow for a foul on him on at least two occasions; skill and steel.
Fair play to the ref
Referees rarely get much credit, so it’s worth praising Mike Dean for his performance, here. The award of the first penalty was one that would not usually be given, but because it would have been a foul anywhere else but in the box, he made a brave – and ultimately correct – decision to give it. And, in what was a fairly physical match, he struck a good balance between letting the game flow and issuing punishments. Although, Arsenal fans may protest that he should have gone back after an advantage to give a second yellow to Kompany for a late, heavy challenge on Sanchez.