A Very Super Sunday For Manchester
The Manchester clubs stole a march on North London once again as they claimed doubles over Tottenham and Arsenal with wins on a very Super Sunday for Manchester. In an exciting second half at the Etihad, City took the spoils with Mario Balotelli's late penalty despite controversy whether or not he should've been on the pitch. Their rivals, United took a trip down to the Emirates Stadium and grounded out a win in familiar fashion thanks to a Danny Welbeck winner.
The first half was a very cagey affair between the two sides who didn't deliver what was promised of them pre-match. Balotelli was benched whilst the likes of Kolarov and the Toure brothers all missed out, the latter two due to their participation in the Africa Cup of Nations. Only one save to make in the first half was from Aguero where Freidel thwarted him easily.
Just when it seemed like City were running away with the tie, a lofted ball had Stefan Savic scrambling at the back and his poor header found Jermain Defoe running at Joe Hart and a cushioned chest down set the English international on his way round his opposition goalkeeper and a simple tap-in just a minute after Lescott's doubler.
Tottenham now had their tails up and were in search of an equaliser at the Etihad Stadium. Gareth Bale, take a bow son. The Welsh winger hit the ball first time and his curled effort beat England's number one goalkeeper all ends up and Tottenham had pegged City back. Jermain Defoe will be smarting after missing an absolute sitter in the final minutes which could've changed the entirety of the match.
The crazy nine minutes had the match well and truly rigged up and it was Tottenham's for the taking. Mario Balotelli came onto the pitch following Bale's goal and there was no respite in terms of headline for the temperamental young Italian striker. He was booked for a late challenge on Benoit Assou-Ekotto and the main incident in question was the possibility of a stamp on Scott Parker.
Balotelli's foot was out of control and stamped on his hand purely by accident, following through with his leg on the side of Parker's face before twisting and looking to purposely hurt the Tottenham midfielder with a vicious stamp. If Balotelli continues to carry out these actions his club or the FA need to take some action.
Yes, he is a top notch footballer and a real delight to watch for his showmanship and entertainment but the sour side of his game is the reason people brand him as a dirty player. Even Joleon Lescott was lucky to stay on the pitch with what seemed like a deliberate elbow on Younes Kaboul, in view of everybody to see, but to no punishment. The question that everyone will be taking from the game is that whether or not Balotelli should've been on the pitch to be fouled by Ledley King and then dust himself down and calmly place the ball in virtually the last kick of the game.
As City achieved their 16th straight home league win, United were able to peg them back as the gap between the two Manchester clubs and the other eighteen clubs has slightly crept open as Tottenham didn't prove any title credentials. Whilst Spurs will be favourite for a top three finish, Arsenal don't look as though they would be able to catch their North London rivals after a crucial home loss against Manchester United, or possibly even fourth.
United soon got into the game, pressing Arsenal further into their own half and forcing corners out of the Gunners as Giggs proved their outlet with crosses, trying to catch Szczesny by surprise only for the Pole to thwart him. Walcott and Chamberlain linked up on occasion as Thierry Henry was missing for the Gunners but they weren't creating the chances that United were, as Evra and Nani combined only for the Polish goalie to thwart United once more on his front post.
United's pressing soon paid off close to the half-time break with Ryan Giggs again whipping in a cross for Antonio Valencia to dash into the box, heading in from close range to break the deadlock. In a team-talk changing goal, Arsenal looked to come out the better of the two teams, Smalling's slip nearly proving crucial as Rosicky capitalized only for him to feed in an off-colour Robin van Persie to put a close range shot wide when it seemed easier to miss.
Aaron Ramsey soon went close, receiving the ball from Chamberlain and he jinked past Giggs before firing over the bar. All of a sudden the momentum was with Arsenal, Rosicky claiming handball from Evra's block but the moment nearly came out of a Laurent Koscielny swash-buckling run, which popped out for Chamberlain to have a go at, only for the young Englishman to fire wide.
In spite of all of this Arsenal pressure, against the run of play Welbeck beat Per Mertesacker for pace, and off balance, Welbeck put the ball past the goalie only for the German defender to sweep the ball off the line. The game was soon turning into an end-to-end tie with United not resting on their laurels and Koscielny's tackle on Rafael and a few passes later, Van Persie found the net with a first half effort, striking in off the post to equalise with just twenty minutes remaining.
Andrey Arshavin was then subbed on for Chamberlain who played terrific for the home side, possibly the man of the match and the decision was greeted with jeers, directed at the manager. Even Van Persie expressed his dismay at the decision and it might have proven to cost the home side on this occasion.
It was Valencia who managed to shove Arshavin off the ball, gliding pass the Russian and it was his key pass which found Danny Welbeck to fire in from close range, driving home an effort with nine minutes of the match remaining, to give United the lead and seemingly the win.
Tottenham will feel hugely aggrieved and the Arsenal fans will feel incensed that their man of the match was taken off, to be replaced by Arshavin who was simply brushed off for their winner. The gap between Manchester and North London, instead of demons being exorcised, has only widened in another glorious weekend for Manchester football.