Staring XI: Ospina, Bellerin, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Ramsey, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla, Alexis, Giroud
Subs: Szczesny, Gibbs, Chambers, Flamini, Rosicky, Ozil, Walcott
Arsenal produced their best performance of the season as they beat reigning champions Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad.
A Santi Cazorla penalty put the Gunners ahead on 24 minutes before Olivier Giroud doubled the lead with his head in the second half to seal three fully deserved points.
Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that beat Stoke last weekend with Hector Bellerin replacing the injured Mathieu Debuchy and the fit again Aaron Ramsey coming in for Tomas Rosicky. David Ospina retained his place between the sticks leaving Wojciech Szczesny to join the likes of Mesut Ozil, Theo Walcott and Kieran Gibbs on the bench.
Discipline isn’t a word often associated with Arsenal’s away days in Manchester, but that’s exactly what we showed in an excellent opening 30 minutes.
A second minute caution for Laurent Koscielny aside, the Gunners were very calm and composed in a compact 4-1-4-1 formation that throttled the creativity of David Silva and subsequently the threat of Sergio Aguero. Francis Coquelin, sitting in front of the back four, was particularly impressive making a number of important interceptions and tackles that broke up the home side’s possession.
Arsene Wenger’s men weren’t overly adventurous going forward although both Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Alexis Sanchez enjoyed the occasional scampering dribble.
On 17 minutes Arsenal fashioned their first clear opening. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain stole the ball on the right wing, darted to the touchline and crossed for Giroud whose diving header at the near post was deflected for a corner by Vincent Kompany.
Midway through the first half our patience finally paid off. Monreal and Giroud combined on the edge of the box and when the Spaniard burst into the box he was clumsily clipped by Kompany. Referee Mike Dean had no choice but to point to the spot. Santi Cazorla stepped up and calmly beat Joe Hart with an effort to the left of the England keeper. (1-0)
We looked tempted to chase a second in the minutes after taking the lead, but importantly found a way to stymy our usual gung-ho attitude. Part of that was because our passing game wasn’t great; too often the ball just seemed to bounce off the shins of messrs Sanchez, Chamberlain and Giroud. Cazorla was tip top though. The little Spaniard really is a magician when he’s on his game.
City had much more of the ball, but rarely did they get behind our defence. Watching them pass, pass, pass and go nowhere was akin to a million and one performances we’ve put in at the Emirates against stubborn opponents. It was almost fun to watch. David Ospina didn’t have a save to make as we made it to half-time with our lead intact.
City brought on Stevan Jovetic in place of James Milner at the break pushing David Silva out wide in an obvious attempt to get him on the ball.
Aguero signalled the start of an onslaught cutting in off the right and firing a shot goalwards with his left foot. It needed a save and Ospina delivered. Five minutes later the Colombian parried a Jesus Navas stinger. Then Fernandinho fired over from close range.
The game was far more open. At the other end Sanchez skipped away from Pablo Zabaleta only to mess up his shot. Ramsey did the same not long after. So often it looked like we might create a clear opening only for the final ball to go awry.
Just after the hour mark City brought on Frank Lampard for Fernandinho. Arsene Wenger responded by putting on Tomas Rosicky for Chamberlain.
Almost immediately we doubled our lead. Jovetic hauled Sanchez down as the Chilean broke at pace and from the resulting set piece Olivier Giroud nodded in Santi Cazorla’s lofted cross from close range. The Frenchman threw himself to the turf as he celebrated in front of the travelling Gooners with gusto. (2-0)
A mix up between Ospina and Monreal nearly saw the Spaniard hack the ball into his own net as City came back again. The ball looped over the bar before the two held an inquest. In truth, clear-cut chances for the home side were few and far between. A Jovetic shot that clipped the outside of the post was the closest Pellegrini’s men came to reducing the deficit.
As the game entered the final ten minutes Wenger decided to batten down the hatches. Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey were withdrawn, Mathieu Flamini and Kieran Gibbs came on and we shifted to a five-man backline with Monreal pushed into the middle alongside Koscielny and Mertesacker.
Flamini had an amazing chance to help Giroud to a third in the final minute but his pass across the box was snatched away by Kompany. It wasn’t to matter in the end as we saw out the remaining four minutes of stoppage time to bag a priceless victory.
In the Sky Sports studio Thierry Henry summed it up perfectly. “Amazing!”
A quick word on Santi Cazorla…what a player, what a man. An absolute beast of a performance from the little Spaniard.