Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Flamini, Wilshere, Ozil, Giroud, Walcott, Ramsey
Subs: Fabianski, Vermaelen, Arteta, Rosicky, Cazorla, Gnabry, Bendtner
Arsenal succumbed to a second defeat in three days as Manchester City won 6-3 at the Etihad to reduce the Gunners lead at the top of the table to three points. In a thrilling end-to-end game Sergio Aguero gave the home side an early lead before Theo Walcott tapped home an equaliser on the half hour mark. Alvaro Negredo restored City’s advantage before the break, which was further extended in the second half by Fernandinho’s curled effort. Walcott grabbed his second as the table toppers kept battling but David Silva restored the two-goal advantage. Fernandinho dinked his second, Mertesacker grabbed a consolation before Yaya Toure wrapped things up five minutes into injury-time with a penalty.
City came out of the traps quickly earning three corners in quick succession before the four minute mark and while we coped with the set pieces we didn’t help ourselves in the centre of the park where we repeatedly squandered possession.
Having weathered the early storm we came out to play as the game reached the ten minute mark. Indeed, we had a real chance to take the lead. Walcott sneaking round the back of Gael Clichy clipped a ball at the second opportunity to the back post where Jack Wilshere set himself only to completely mishit his effort. The ball bobbled across the six-yard box, but the chance was gone.
We paid the price. Within three minutes Sergio Aguero gave City the lead. A corner was headed on at the near post by Demichelis and the Argentine, who didn’t have to do much to escape marker Koscielny, crashed home a superb volley into the top corner.
City continued to be dangerous. An impressive drive and pass by Kompany fed Negredo who struck low but wide. Silva then nearly found his Spanish compatriot with another ball on the break as gaps appeared all over the park. At the other end Sagna nearly found Walcott with a decent cross before Toure fizzed an effort over Szczesny’s bar.
On the 30 minutes we equalised. Aaron Ramsey brilliantly bullied Toure off the ball in the middle of the park, charged forward and found Ozil on the left side of the box. The German looked up saw an onrushing Theo Walcott bursting into the penalty area and the England winger bobbled the ball home. It looked at first like it had taken a big deflection, mostly because Pantilimon didn’t move, but actually Demichelis’ head barely brushed the scuffed shot.
Having worked hard to get back on level terms we conceded again within eight minutes.
Negredo, who’d kept us on the back foot all game and had already missed one effort, finally got himself on the score sheet. A constant threat he tapped home from close range after Zabaleta’s slide rule pass across the six-yard box. The goal was the result of a slick City build-up but quite why Toure was given so much space in the build-up was criminal.
Our misery was compounded when Koscielny dropped to the floor in agony as City celebrated. The French defender buried his face in the turf clutching his knee and required a stretcher as he was replaced by Vermaelen. The looks on the faces of the Arsenal medical team suggested it was bad.
The self-destruction continued five minutes into the second half. Ozil passed the ball diagonally across the box to Flamini who slipped, Fernandinho picked up the dregs outside the box and swiftly and clinically curled a shot into the top corner to make 3-1.
We nearly hit back instantly when a wonderful ball over the City defence by Wilshere was met by Giroud on the stretch at the back post only for the Frenchman’s effort to fly over. A minute later the striker again got free in the box but when a pass to Walcott looked on he fell over his feet and kicked the ball out for a goal kick. Giroud kept knocking on the door and really should have reduced the deficit from a fine Sagna cross with a header that flew past the post. It was a spirited response from us.
Zabaleta then handled in the area cutting out a through ball which was heading for Walcott. It was a definite penalty but referee Martin Atkinson waved away the angry protestations of the Arsenal players.
Just past the hour mark we deservedly grabbed one back. Theo Walcott curling a delicious effort into the top corner after a dinked ball from Ramsey found him free in the box. It was Henry-esque from the returning winger to make it 3-2.
Out of the blue though City again hit back. Substitute Jesus Navas skipped past Monreal, Silva glided between Mertesacker and Vermaelen and the Spaniard first time guided the ball high past Szczesny to restore the home side’s two-goal lead.
To our credit we refused to give up. Pantilimon produced a stunning save from a Wilshere pile-driver before Wenger went for broke taking off Flamini and sending on Gnabry. With 15 minutes remaining Giroud then surprisingly made way for Bendtner. By this point we looked shattered and Yaya Toure time and again found space to race through the centre of the park.
City had copious chances to extend their lead as we struggled to match the home side’s tempo and it was little surprise that Fernandinho grabbed a fifth. The Brazilian wriggled around in the box before dinking over Szczesny.
Bendtner had a perfectly good goal chalked off for offside and Walcott nearly grabbed a consolatory hattrick from a free-kick before Mertesacker headed in from close range to make it 5-3. It was too little too late.
Just when you thought it was all over, Szczesny conceded a penalty and Yaya Toure tapped home to complete the rout. The scoreline suggests a hammering and in a way it was, but for large portions of the game we really gave as good as we got.
We knew it was going to be a tough week and things really haven’t gone to plan. We’re still top though and with nine days to rest tired legs we need to be ready to fire on all cylinders when Chelsea visit the Emirates on the 23 December.