Barclays Premier League
Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City



Mikel Arteta (pictured above) runs away to celebrate with the Arsenal fans after striking what could be a crucial blow to City's title chances



By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor from the Emirates Stadium 


A dramatic Mikel Arteta strike for Arsenal potentially hammered the final nail in Manchester City's title challenging coffin as Mario Balotelli saw red in an absorbing contest.

The Spaniard fired a cracking late shot beyond Joe Hart's reach into the bottom corner with three minutes remaining to give the Gunners a vital three points for many reasons and a cushion in third place ahead of rivals Spurs- who drew 0-0 at Sunderland yesterday. The headlines tomorrow will belong to City's maverick Mario Balotelli, lucky to still be on the pitch after a first-half challenge on Alex Song, who was dismissed for receiving a second yellow card in the 90th minute as United have an eight-point lead at the top of the Premier League following a pivotal day of action in the title chase.

Arsenal made only one change to the team which lost 2-1 at Queens Park Rangers last Saturday, ending a run of seven straight Premier League wins, as Arsene Wenger went with the intelligence and touch of Yossi Benayoun on the left hand side instead of Welshman Aaron Ramsey who moved to the bench. It was the same line-up which had turned it around so magnificently in a 5-2 victory over Tottenham earlier this season.

Manchester City- who had drawn their last two matches including a 1-1 draw at Stoke in the previous away trip- made six alterations to the side which fought back to gain a 3-3 draw with Sunderland a week ago with former Arsenal men Samir Nasri and Gael Clichy among those recalled to the starting line-up. Joleon Lescott and Pablo Zabaleta also came back into defence while Gareth Barry was also back in the side. The main team news for the visitors saw the return of Sergio Aguero in attack after a "stupid injury" as described by manager Roberto Mancini.

The game started at whirlwind pace with referee Martin Atkinson brandishing a yellow card in just the second minute to Manchester City's Yaya Toure for grabbing at the shirt of Tomas Rosicky when the Czech Republic international looked to run away from him.

The fast and furious opening to the match continued with Arsenal making inroads down the right hand side with Bacary Sagna- making his 200th Arsenal appearance- and Theo Walcott looking lively early on with Samir Nasri and Mario Balotelli reluctant to track back with the pair as they marauded forward at their own will. David Silva- ruled out with an ankle injury- was an obvious miss for the visitors with his creativity as passes went astray with the little possession they had while they looked far from calm and collective.



It was the first time that Manchester City had failed to win in three consecutive Premier League games under boss Roberto Mancini.


There was some slick and precise passing from the Gunners' assured midfield trio of Rosicky, Song and Arteta catching the likes of Gareth Barry and James Milner unawares. While they confidently spread the play on more than one occasion coming down both flanks and moving through the midfield. Their settled back four proved more than a match for City's expensively mantled front two of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli.

Arsenal then asked a question of Mr Atkinson when the otherwise impressive Vincent Kompany allowed home skipper Robin Van Persie goalside when the ball was clipped into his general decision by Tomas Rosicky and looked to shove him to the ground although a corner was the decision. From it Van Persie's goalbound header smacked against the back of his own player Vermaelen unfortunately from an Arsenal point of view. City's uncomfortable start took a turn for the worse when Yaya Toure, who had been struggling with injury and had been booked, was clearly in some discomfort and the Ivorian was replaced by loanee David Pizarro after 17 minutes.

Balotelli then got away with a shockingly high-lunging tackle scraping down the side of Alex Song blindside of the referee infront of an unhappy Arsene Wenger. First half chances were at a premium with City showing attacking promise for the first time in the game on 25 minutes when a well-drilled Milner corner curled in and out towards Balotelli who stabbed a leg at it but the ball was cleared away by Laurent Koscielny.

City- who defeated Arsenal 1-0 in the side's other meetings this season in the Carling Cup in November and in the Premier League during December- weathered the storm from the home side and showed defensive resolve and stability throughout with Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott- playing together in defence for the first time in five games- important figures and excellent performers. The latter was involved inside the penalty area with a bit of handbags going on between him and Koscielny which Martin Atkinson took to be six of one and half a dozen of another.

The Italian forward Balotelli's name was taken shortly before half-time for a totting up procedure of offences after mistiming his tackle on Sagna on the edge of the penalty area.



Arsenal have now been victorious in each of their last five Premier League home matches while only Liverpool and Manchester United have been successful in winning at the Emirates Stadium this season.


The second period started with a slower tempo although the visitors started with more poise and pace about them with a distinct improvement in the first twenty minutes after the interval in their overall performance. The home side pressed well but couldn't stop Aguero- who scored the winning goal when the two sides met here in the Carling Cup quarter-final earlier in the season- from heading Nasri's deflected clipped cross towards goal despite being pushed off balance by Vermaelen but Szczesny helped it over the crossbar. Aguero popped a misdirected header off to Zabaleta inside the box who had space infront of him but he took too long and Benayoun purposefully slid in.

The Gunners came back into the match and started to boss midfield again with two extraordinary chances going for a burton. First Van Persie, who has gone three games without a goal for the first time this season, looked to have scored his 26th Premier League goal of the season when he crept off Kompany and made clean contact with Song's floated ball in but his header came back off the base of the post. It was the game's best chance by a country mile. City- whose title chances were hanging by a thread- escaped again extraordinarily when Rosicky's pullback found Walcott who cut across the ball with Hart touching it onto the far post while neither Vermaelen or Benayoun were unable to force the rebound home with the former Liverpool midfielder's tame effort deflected behind off Lescott.

Balotelli tried the spectacular when Clichy headed Barry's free-kick back across the face of goal but he made no contact whatsoever missing the ball completely in City's only real sighting of Szczesny's goal in the second 45 minutes. At the other end, Van Persie mistimed his run and was caught offside thus seeing his goal disallowed. City's struggles away from home- which had seen them win just two of their previous nine league matches on the road- looked liable to carry on with the pressure immensely building as Arsenal kranked up the tension against Mancini's men who were mostly camped in their own half of the field.

There were a cascade of boos around the ground when Samir Nasri's number was held up with Aleksandar Kolarov on to replace the Frenchman, who spent three years at Arsenal before leaving for £25 million last August, with Mancini wary of the threat that the combination of Sagna and Walcott down the right flank was posing.

The Gunners had never lost at home to Manchester City in the Premier League era and they knew they had what it takes to breach the league's best defensive record late on with the opponents needing all three points as opposed to one and Wenger's men got the elusive goal they deserved. Arteta scoring a blooter from twenty-five yards out on his right foot after carrying the ball forward following his dispossession of a hesitant Barry in the centre circle. A goal worthy of winning any match looked to have done just that in the 87th minute something which was acknowledged by the home fans around the Emirates who mimicked the famous City Poznan celebration.

That wasn't that as far as action was concerned in the game as the idiotic Balotelli clumsily went in late on Sagna- who was sent off himself along with Zabaleta in the corresponding 0-0 fixture last season here- and was shown his second yellow card and the fourth red of his City career. The Italian was also sent off by referee Atkinson late in November in the 1-1 draw at Anfield.

There was a lot riding on the match for both sides with Manchester City needing to immediately reduce the gap at the top of the table that Manchester United had extended to eight points with a 2-0 win over QPR earlier in the day. While Arsenal, following Newcastle's win over Swansea on Friday and Chelsea's controversial late victory over Wigan, knew that teams were hot on their collar with Tottenham wanting third place back off them as well. City still have tricky away matches against Norwich, Wolves and Newcastle United to come as well as the massive Manchester derby versus United at the end of the month.



Sunday 8th April 2012

Barclays Premier League

Emirates Stadium


Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City                         KO 4pm               (HT 0-0)

Arteta 87


Arsenal:  13 Szczesny- 8/10, 3 Sagna- 8.5/10, 5 Vermaelen- 7.5/10, 6 Koscielny- 7.5/10, 28 Gibbs- 7/10 (Andre Santos 56- 4.5/10), 7 Rosicky- 8/10, 17 Song- 8/10, 8 Arteta- 9/10, 14 Walcott- 8/10 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 85- 2/10), 10 Van Persie (C)- 7.5/10, 30 Benayoun- 7/10 (Ramsey 78- 2.5/10).

Subs not used:  21 Fabianski, 20 Djourou, 25 Jenkinson, 29 Chamakh

Booked:      Andre Santos (59), Koscielny (67)


Manchester City:  25 Hart- 6.5/10, 5 Zabaleta- 7/10, 4 Kompany (C)- 7.5/10, 6 Lescott- 7.5/10, 22 Clichy- 6.5/10, 7 Milner- 7/10, 18 Barry- 6.5/10, 42 Yaya Toure- 2/10 (Pizarro 17- 4.5/10), 19 Nasri- 6.5/10 (Kolarov 79- 2/10), 16 Aguero- 6/10 (Tevez 83- 1.5/10), 45 Balotelli- 5.5/10.

Subs not used:  30 Pantilimon, 2 Richards, 34 De Jong, 10 Dzeko 

Booked:      Yaya Toure (2), Balotelli (38), Milner (56), Zabaleta (90+4)

Sent-off:    Balotelli (90)


My Man of the Match:      Mikel Arteta (Arsenal)- Rating 9/10

My Poorest Performer of the Match:      Mario Balotelli (Manchester City)- Rating 5.5/10



Referee: Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire)- 8.5/10
Attendance: 60,096



Match Facts

Arsenal- 62%               Manchester City- 38%

Shots: Arsenal- 12                  Manchester City- 7

Shots on target: Arsenal- 7               Manchester City- 2

Shots off target: Arsenal- 5               Manchester City- 5

Corners: Arsenal- 7                  Manchester City- 6

Fouls: Arsenal- 13                  Manchester City- 14

Offside: Arsenal- 4                   Manchester City- 5

Assists: Arsenal- None                Manchester City- None



Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger

"I am really pleased with the victory, we have been consistent over the last two months and the performance today reflects what we have produced in the last ten games. We have shown an enormous amount of quality, spirit and determination and although the goal came quite late I still felt we deserved to win the match. I am pleased we gave them very little and got the balance right between attacking and throwing men forward but shoring things up at the back against top class strikers. We were dominant early on and I was a little cautious about the scoreline as you always will think when playing against opposition like City. The confidence is very high and we are very committed to doing our best between now and the end of the season. The tackle from (Mario) Balotelli was a red card in the first half but it was difficult to see from the referee's angle but the one at the end was also a bad tackle on Bacary Sagna and the referee was right to send him off for that."

Click here for the full interview with Gunners boss Arsene Wenger after the match



Manchester City manager Roberto Mancini

"I don't believe that the title race is over yet- in football is not over until is mathematically finished and we will continue to go about it that way. If we can still go top then we will try. I still think we can do it and believe we have what it takes still- we have had a fantastic season. After today we need to finish the season well. From the bench, I didn't see the first tackle that Mario (Balotelli) made but I have seen it now and I think it may have deserved a red card. I'm very sorry for him and have no words for his behaviour. We all love him, he is a fantastic player but he needs to change otherwise he could lose all of his talent in the future. It is difficult to win the title from here but we have to hope that United will drop some points somewhere."

Click here for the full interview with City boss Roberto Mancini after the match

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