Six yellow cards, two red cards, one missed penalty and, for Man City fans, still seven points. The gap between City and neighbours Man Utd which had opened up to ten points by the time the teams were kicking off at the Emirates was subsequently reduced to seven points again by the full time whistle. A game which never really settled down in the opening period until an early red card decided the flow of the game.
Wenger was forced into one change from the side which had drawn away at Southampton the previous week. The injured Arteata was replaced by Diaby who was making his first appearance in three months.
For Man City, Mancini was forced into three changes. Aguero will be out for a few weeks at least with his hamstring injury whilst Both Kolo and Yaya Toure are away on international duty. Samir Nasri was suspended for the visit to his former club.
Nastasic, Garcia and Tevez were the replacements to the side which had seen off Stoke in their last outing.
Both sides utilised a 4-2-3-1 formation at the outset with broadly similar interpretations on the use of the attacking trident. Each side had one winger who would stay wide (Oxlade Chamberlain and Milner) and one winger who would move more centrally (Podolski and Silva).
Whilst it appeared that Man City were settling better, the pivotal moment in the game arrived after just eight minutes.
Koscielny Red Card
The dismissal of the French defender altered the game greatly with Arsenal forced to play with 10 men for around 82 minutes.
Seconds prior to his dismissal, a David Silva shot was deflected for a corner which was subsequently cleared but with Arsenal pulling everyone back to defend, there was not sufficient pressure on the ball to prevent it being returned into the penalty area albeit with the aid of a deflection. Garcia won the header back towards goal and Koscielny was caught on the wrong side of Dzeko. There could be no real blame apportioned towards Koscielny at this stage. other than perhaps he should have pushed out quicker to try and play offside. With Dzeko moving towards the ball, the Frenchman inexplicably put both arms around his opponent and pulled him to the ground resulting in a penalty and red card. For those who have suggested it was not a red card offence, the question must be asked of why Koscielny pulled Dzeko down if the Bosnian is not going to reach the ball?
Dzeko missed the resulting penalty and briefly allowed Arsenal to believe that a result could be secured but the striker would shortly make amends.
Only Vieira, Keown and Adams have been sent off more often for Arsenal in the Premier League than Koscielny now. An unwanted statistic which could become worse if his inability to avoid making such errors in key games is not attended to.
Arsenal sacrificed Oxlade Chamberlain for Mertesacker and reverted to a 4-4-1 formation with Podolski and Cazorla on the wings and Walcott as the lone frontman. Given the circumstances, it was inevitable that it would take time for Arsenal to settle, caught between the midfield four collapsing back on top of the defence or staying too high and allowing space to develop between the lines. Either way, there was space for Man City to construct attacks and enabled David Silva to influence the game as it progressed.
Man City Goals & The Arsenal Left
Both goals from Man City originated on the Arsenal left as did the cross which led to the penalty award and the red card for Koscielny. Either with or without their full complement of payers on the pitch, there is an issue for Arsenal to contend with regarding Podolski tracking back to assist Gibbs. Too often the German neglects this aspect of his game and leaves his full back exposed.
Whilst Arsenal may complain about the free kick which led to the opening goal (even though they should not as Mike Dean correctly recalled play as no advantage had occurred), what they should consider is how the team switched off defensively and conceded such a poor goal.
Too many players had their back turned or failed to track back into position. There were two passes prior to Tevez threading a pass through to the unmarked Milner. Nobody took charge of the situation for the Gunners and basic elements pf their defensive play were missing.
With the reliance upon Cazorla and Podolski to undertake defensive duties on the flanks, further opportunities were likely. Slack play by Podolski led to the second goal. Overrunning the ball as he moved from defence, he conceded possession on the touchline. Kieran Gibbs had an opportunity to halt the attack and regain possession but Zabaleta won the 50/50 challenge on the touchline and released Milner. Tevez met his low cross forcing Szczesny into a save with Dzeko converting the rebound. Dzeko now has four league goals in his last three appearances.
With a two goal lead, Man City dropped the tempo slightly as half time approached and Arsenal began to offer more of an attacking dimension to their game without really threatening Hart in the City goal.
Second Half – Narrow
Arsenal began the second half brightly, trying to take control of the game with their shape altered into a 4-3-2. Podolski was much higher to support Walcott leaving a central midfield trio of Cazorla, Diaby and Wilshere. As Arsenal sought a way back into the game, it became increasingly stretched with play very central. Space was available on the wings ahead of both sets of full backs as both sides adopted narrow formations.
With Arsenal pushing for a goal, it led to Man City enjoying more space on the counter attack and there were two opportunities spurned which could have increased their lead. At this point in time, with a two goal lead, Man City should have exercised greater game control and killed the tempo of the game. There were too many transitions. It encouraged Arsenal to continue to attack and led to some half chances emerging but few substantial chances of note.
The dismissal of Kompany for serious foul play, a red card since rescinded, offered Arsenal renewed hope but with tiring limbs they were unable to offer anything in attack and Man City held on for the three points.
The Spaniard completed 75 of his 91 attempted passes, more than anyone else on the pitch.
It was the movement of Silva which created the most problems for Arsenal. Although notionally deployed on the left wing, where he would have played as an inverted winger cutting diagonally inward, the removal of Oxlade Chamberlain meant that Silva was free to roam in the knowledge that it left a straight battle between a more defensively mindful Sagna and Gael Clichy, a player who is better attacking. Silva moved centrally from his left sided berth and dictated the flow of the game.
Silva was integral to Man City keeping a high tempo to their passing. Against 10 men, there can be a tendency to ease up slightly, believing the goal will come and allow the intensity of your play to drop. Man City maintained a high level with Silva at the heart of their sharp passing.
A valuable three points for Man City at a historically difficult venue for them maintains the gap at 7 points. The key issue will be whether lightning strikes twice and Man Utd again squander a lead over their rivals? In the meantime, all City can do is keep winning.
For Wenger and Arsenal, it’s all about the positives that can be taken from the game. The performance of Wilshere, the return from injury of Diaby but beyond that it becomes more difficult. Arsenal conceded possession too cheaply with sloppy passing even allowing for being a man light. With both Spurs and Everton maintaining form, an extremely tight and tense race for fourth place is developing with the likelihood that it will last until the final stages of the season.