Home » EPL, Latest, League Cup » Match Report: Arsenal 0 Man City 1

For 83 minutes, Arsene Wenger’s defiant insistence that Arsenal could still compete with the seemingly unlimited resources of Manchester City was utterly vindicated.

Only one team had looked likely to win for most of the game but, as is so often the case in football, the match was turned by a moment of exceptional quality. Adam Johnson produced a wonderful pass to dissect the Arsenal defence and Sergio Agüero finished with the assurance that £38million generally buys.

It was enough to secure Manchester City’s place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and a first win at Arsenal for some 37 years.

While Roberto Mancini’s apparent disenchantment with the Carling Cup was reflected in a generally lethargic performance, Arsenal really did look a team — as Wenger had predicted — with unfinished business in this competition. Youthful, enterprising and mostly defensively resilient, they lacked only the finishing touch. Or more accurately, Robin van Persie, who had been rested and watched on from the stands.

With so many options in either squad, the publication of the teamsheets was greeted with particular anticipation. It was predictable that there should be so many changes from the weekend — 10 on each side — yet what stood out was the one Manchester City name who also started Sunday’s 1-1 Premier League draw against Liverpool. Yes, even after his controversial £23million summer departure from Arsenal, Nasri willingly put himself forward for the part of Emirates pantomime villain.

The outpouring of acrimony was preceded by a respectful and genuinely touching period of silence and applause in memory of Gary Speed. Yet the focus for most inside the Emirates was soon Nasri, who was loudly jeered on his every touch of the ball and vocally accused of only leaving “for the money”.

He did not appear inhibited and would surely have been encouraged by the rare sight in the Arsenal defence of his France international team-mate Sébastien Squillaci.

City’s superior experience was notable in the opening minutes as Owen Hargreaves and Nigel de Jong established a domineering midfield base against the energetic but sometimes naive Arsenal pairing of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin.

The first chance fell to Johnson, who easily shifted the ball inside Ignasi Miquel at left-back and delivered a dipping shot that skimmed across the top of the goal.

Arsenal, unusually, had begun in a 4-4-2 formation that allowed both Marouane Chamakh and Ju-Young Park their chance to establish themselves as understudy to Van Persie. The service was sometimes sporadic but City did look vulnerable whenever Arsenal ventured into their half.

Coquelin, in particular, showed a willingness to break forward in support of the strikers and delivered an inviting low pass along the six-yard box. It completely evaded the defence but Park’s shot back across Costel Pantilimon, City’s Romanian international goalkeeper, was brilliantly saved.

Soon afterwards, Pantilimon produced further acrobatics to deny a sweet 25-yard strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan that had appeared destined for the top corner. Oxlade-Chamberlain retains an outside chance of forcing his way into Fabio Capello’s Euro 2012 squad and continued to make the most of his latest audition, producing a wonderful moment of skill to deceive Pablo Zabaleta and force a corner.

Mancini responded decisively to Arsenal’s sudden pressure. Aleksandar Kolorav, whose impact as a third attacking midfielder behind Edin Dzeko had been negligible, was told that his evening would be ending after just 32 minutes and on came Agüero.

The ability to bring on a £38million substitute is some luxury and left Manchester City fielding an attacking quartet that had cost Sheikh Mansour some £100million. It also left Kolorav looking thoroughly dejected and perplexed, particularly as Nasri initially appeared to be coming off.

The arrival of Agüero has no immediate impact as Arsenal maintained their foothold. Frimpong had been urged on Twitter by Piers Morgan to make himself known to Nasri, but was actually a model of restraint and growing in influence.

Both Frimpong and Coquelin were clever enough to repeatedly work the ball down Arsenal’s right flank, where Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly had the beating of Zabaleta. Comparisons with Theo Walcott are natural but where Oxlade-Chamberlain really scores is with his delivery and ball control. That was evident early in the second half as he turned Zabaleta inside out before again testing Pantilimon with a powerful long-range shot.

With Hargreaves and De Jong tiring, it was City who were now being restricted to only the occasion venture forward. Dzeko hooked a volley wide but, in the main, Arsenal’s defence was surprisingly solid. Laurent Koscielny, in particular, was organising a back line that actually consisted of four natural centre backs with considerable authority.

Indeed, the one department for Arsenal that would not click was up front. Aside from his first-half chance, Park had been comfortably contained by Kolo Touré and was eventually sacrificed for Gervinho.

Chamakh had fared little better, but was at least effective with his back to goal at bringing others into the game.

Gervinho, as ever, brought pace and promising build-up play to Arsenal’s team but it was Agüero, on an otherwise quiet night, who produced the decisive moment.

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