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Match Report: Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City (Arsenal Fan's Perspective)

Monday 9th April 2012
Mikel Arteta's late strike all but ended Manchester City's title bid on a pulsating afternoon at Emirates Stadium.

With Manchester United having won earlier in the day a win was essential for City, who have dropped like the proverbial stone in recent weeks. Arsenal were hardly going to roll over for them, with the Gunners chasing third place and automatic qualification for the Champions League on the back of an impressive run of seven wins in eight games.

Yossi Benayoun got a rare start for Arsenal on the left in an otherwise unchanged side. For City, Sergio Agüero returned up front, supported by Samir Nasri who received a hot reception from his former employers.

The first incident came on 10 minutes as Alex Song and Yaya Touré collided in a seemingly innocuous challenge. To the unsympathetic home crowd this seemed another case of time wasting and play-acting but eyebrows were raised as Touré continued to hobble and was eventually replaced by David Pizarro 10 minutes later.

It proved to be a fatal blow for City. The Ivorian has been colossal for them all season and the lack of his commanding presence meant the visitors were completely overrun by Arsenal's well balanced midfield of the combative Song, the dynamic Tomas Rosicky and the excellent Arteta.

Arsenal had a half-hearted penalty appeal turned down before Touré's departure as Vincent Kompany rather clumsily brought down Robin Van Persie, who looked to attack Rosicky's clipped cross. From the resulting corner, Van Persie headed Laurent Koscielny's flick-on goalwards only to be denied, incredibly, by his own teammate Thomas Vermaelen.

On 20 minutes came a highly controversial moment. Mario Balotelli's touch on the left was too heavy and Alex Song was quick to intercept. The Italian's attempt to win the ball back was late, lazy, clumsy and extremely dangerous as his studs caught Song at knee-height. The tackle was disgusting but what was more so was Martin Atkinson's inability to see the incident. Balotelli was fortunate to stay on the pitch, Song more so to have his leg in one piece.

Five minutes later, City had their first chance of the game. Gareth Barry's corner found Balotelli in space but he couldn't generate enough power and Kieran Gibbs was able to block. Balotelli, unable to stay out of the spotlight, then went in with another high challenge this time on Bacary Sagna. It wasn't nearly as bad as the previous incident but, one would imagine, worthy of a yellow card. Not to Mr Atkinson.

The Italian was again involved as he chased Pizarro's long, raking pass only to be denied by Wojciech Szczesny who had charged out of his goal and cleared impeccably. Balotelli finally received a booking on 40 minutes. The sting had been taken out of the game somewhat and the antics of the enigmatic Balotelli were threatening to steal the headlines for the wrong reasons yet again.

Arsenal dominated the second period although City had the first opportunity of the half. Nasri clipped a ball into the box, Agüero and Pablo Zabaleta got in each other's way and consequently the connection didn't have enough conviction to beat Szczesny, who was able to tip the ball over.

Benayoun fired a tame effort straight at Joe Hart before Van Persie saw his header hit the post after one of Alex Song's trademark lofted through balls. The pressure was beginning to mount.

The hosts had the ball in the net on 70 minutes but the linesman correctly flagged for offside, something of a rarity in a weekend of awful officiating. Song slipped in Van Persie, who cut inside and bent a lovely strike into the corner but the Dutchman, unusually, had failed to time his run.

The chances kept on coming for Arsenal as Joe Hart tipped Theo Walcott's effort onto the post after Sagna had found him with a low cross. As the ball rebounded off the upright an old-school goalmouth scramble ensued. Vermaelen slipped with the goal gaping and sliced his shot across the face, which Benayoun also failed to convert. The ball trickled out for a goal kick via the opposite post and it was a massive let-off for Manchester City.

The goal the home side richly deserved finally arrived on 87 minutes. The imperious Arteta did well to dispossess Pizarro and then strode forward with purpose and lashed a terrific strike inside the near post. The Emirates erupted and the travelling fans were mocked as the home supporters celebrated with an ironic Poznan.

Balotelli received a belated red card late on for another poor challenge on Sagna. A furious Roberto Mancini ushered him off the pitch and later admitted he would “probably” not play for the club again.

Arsenal almost found a second deep into stoppage time as Aaron Ramsey screwed a golden chance horribly wide after an incisive breakaway, with both Van Persie and fellow substitute Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain both waiting for easy tap-ins. It wasn't to matter as the full-time whistle shortly followed.

The result was probably celebrated as wildly in the red half of Manchester as it was in North London. This was a massive three points for Arsenal in their hunt to see off Tottenham and Chelsea and claim third place. For City it was a sickening blow epitomised by the madness of Balotelli. They've undoubtedly had a good season, but they're still a long way off the level they aspire to be.

Man of the Match: Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard controlled the game with his exquisite range of passing, tenacity and sheer desire to win. It was fitting that it was his wonder strike that sealed the match.
Tom Pyman
Tom is a journalism student at the University of Sheffield and, more importantly, a passionate Arsenal fan. Too many players have come and gone to adopt a favourite but if he had to name one, it'd be difficult to look past Thierry Henry. Or Dennis Bergkamp. Or Freddie Ljungberg. Maybe not Park Chu-Young. He used to regularly attend home games but living three hours away has now made getting to the Emirates every other week a bit tricky. Follow Tom on Twitter @gooner_tom

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