Arsenal’s late winner deals title blow to Manchester City
Premier League: Arsenal 1 Manchester City 0
Mikel Arteta’s late winner all but handed the Premier League title to Manchester United and gave Arsenal a huge boost in their aims for a top-four finish.
Manchester City had frustrated the Gunners for much of the game which saw Arsenal miss a number of clear chances, but the Spaniard’s ferocious 25-yard drive settled the game with three minutes to go.
It was a deserved winner for Arsene Wenger’s side, but left his opposite number, Roberto Mancini, facing an uncertain future as City slipped eight points adrift of United at the top of the table.
The title is surely now beyond them with just six games to play, but that was not Arsenal’s concern. The Gunners leaped back above Spurs into third place, two points ahead of their great rivals and five ahead of Chelsea and Newcasatle in fifth and sixth.
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With a midweek trip to Wolves to come, Arsenal are now in pole position to hold on to third place, although after a nervy afternoon here you get the feeling there may be more twists to come yet.
In truth Wenger’s side should have settled this game before Arteta’s sumptuous effort, missing some very presentable chances in both halves.
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Mario Balotelli’s late red card may take away some of the headlines, but Arsenal were better than City in most departments on the day, only for the finishing touch to elude them.
Robin van Persie has now not scored for four games, and he will wonder how he didn’t get his 27th league goal of the season in this game.
In the end though, Arteta’s goal won it and the former Everton man can not have scored many better, arrowing a shot into the far corner to break City’s hearts.
Earlier on, it was Yaya Toure, who dominated the opening exchanges. First the big Ivorian hauled back Tomas Rosicky and was booked inside three minutes, and then he was himself clattered into by Alex Song and needed lengthy treatment for a knock to his knee.
It soon became clear the midfielder could not continue, and he was replaced by the diminutive Chilean David Pizarro.
That may have disrupted City’s rhythm, but the visitors were already on the back foot by then. Arsenal had already seen a reasonable penalty shout turned down after Van Persie was bundled over in the box, and should have led on 16 minutes when the Dutchman’s header from an Arteta corner was ready to burst the net until it hit Thomas Vermaelen on the goal-line and bounced up on to the crossbar and away to safety.
City’s luck seemed to be in, and they then could have been reduced to 10 men after Mario Balotelli needlessly studded the shins of Song, an offence which was presumably unseen by the referee Martin Atkinson, who did not even award a free-kick to Arsenal.
When Vincent Kompany’s bodycheck on Van Persie on the edge of the City penalty area went unpunished moments later, Arsenal fans erupted in indignation, but the truth was that the Gunners had allowed a City side who were asleep for the opening 25 minutes to emerge from that period still on level terms.
Finally City woke from their slumber and started to at least resemble a side who needed a win to realistically stay in the title race, conjuring a chance for Balotelli from a corner and then only Wojciech Szczesny’s rapid dash from his line foiling Sergio Aguero.
Balotelli was having a quite ludicrous first half, and was finally booked for lunging in on Bacary Sagna and then lucky to escape a second caution for a handball before ending the half writhing in agony on his own on the outfield. Curious stuff.
Even more curious was the fact that Roberto Mancini persisted with him after the break, although the form and fitness of his likely replacements, Edin Dzeko and Carlos Tevez, may have had something to do with that.
Arsenal had their own problems to contend with. Van Persie was being closely monitored by Kompany and Joleon Lescott, and out wide Theo Walcott and Benayoun were struggling to make headway.
They could not expect City to be such obliging opponents again, and so it soon proved, with Nasri, Gareth Barry and Milner gradually exerting influence in midfield and Arsenal legs beginning to tire.
Wenger replaced Kieran Gibbs with Andre Santos – a little mystifyingly unless the young English left-back was injured – and the Brazilian was immediately booked for hauling down Balotelli in full flight.
Arsenal had created nothing in the second half but then almost broke the deadlock just past the hour-mark, Van Persie escaping the attentions of Lescott and Kompany only to head Song’s cross against the foot of a post.
Ten minutes later and Van Persie did have the ball in the net, courtesy of another Song pass, but was judged marginally – and correctly – offside to the dismay of the briefly celebrating Emirates.
Arsenal raised the tempo now, knowing just how crucial three points was towards their top-four ambitions. But how they didn’t score on 75 minutes was beyond most people in the stadium.
First Walcott’s shot hit the post, then Vermaelen could only scuff the ball goalwards. Joe Hart clawed it out and then Rosicky miscued from a yard out and the ball somehow stayed out of the net.
City had ridden their luck to such an extent that you started to wonder if the late sucker punch was not its way, especially once Tevez had entered the fray in place of his fellow-countryman Aguero.
But just when Arsenal’s energy seemed all but run dry, a goal came. Arteta broke free from midfield and as the City defence backed off, the Spaniard unleashed a fierce drive that beat Hart low inside his left-hand post.
Cue pandemonium – and the Poznan – at the Emirates. But there was still three minutes plus injury time to play out, and still time for Balotelli to complete his pantomime villain afternoon by being shown a second yellow card, and a red, for another foul on Sagna.
He should have gone about 70 minutes earlier for his assault on Song, but Arsenal weren’t going to let that trouble them as they celebrated a hard-earned and potentially vital three points.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Andre Santos, 57), Arteta, Song, Walcott 9Oxlade-Chamberlain, 85) Rosicky, Benayoun (Ramsey, 79), Van Persie.
Subs not used: Fabianski, Djourou, Jenkinson, Chamakh.
Booked: Santos, Koscielny.
Goal: Arteta, 87.
Man City: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Lescott, Clichy, Y Toure (Pizarro, 17), Barry, Milner, Aguero (Tevez, 83), Nasri (Dzeko, 79), Balotelli.
Subs not used: Pantilimon, Richards, Kolarov, Tevez, De Jong.
Booked: Y Toure, Balotelli, Milner. Sent off: Balotelli.
Referee: M Atkinson.