Match report on Arsenal's 1-1 draw at Manchester City
MANCHESTER CITY 1, ARSENAL 1
WITH so much attacking talent on display, it was somewhat ironic that it took goals from two central defenders, both wearing the No. 6 shirt, to illuminate this Titanic battle at the Etihad on Sunday.
Joleon Lescott's towering first half header gave defending Champions City a lead they barely deserved, but Laurent Koscienly earned Arsene Wenger's new-look side a point with a thumping late equaliser.
Both sides began the day unbeaten in the Barclays Premier League, although they had suffered contrasting results in the Champions League in midweek. While City were throwing away a lead to lose in Madrid, Arsenal were coming from behind to win in Montpellier.
And it was the Gunners who set the early tempo, playing a neat, passing game reminiscent of the great Wenger sides of the past.
They should been in front inside twenty minutes when a lovely move carved open the City defence. Abu Diaby, looking like a young Patrick Vieira, found Santi Cazorla in the centre circle. He in turn fed the ball on to Aaron Ramsey, making his first start of the season, who spotted the run of Gervinho inside full back Gael Clichy.
The Ivorian, with three goals in the last week, had only Joe Hart to beat, but his first touch was heavy and the chance was gone.
Lukas Podolski then missed an even better opportunity as Arsenal continued to dominate. Carl Jenkinson robbed Lescott out on the right before pulling the ball back to the German international 12 yards out. Having scored in his previous matches for the club, you would have expected a better finish from him then the wild drive he produced.
Yet for all their dominance, Arsenal found themselves behind at the break. Kieran Gibbs gave away a needless corner and David Silva's inch-perfect delivery was met with a towering header by Lescott.
Coming as it did in the final stages of the first half, it had more than a passing resemblance to the goal from Vincent Kompany against Manchester United in April that had all but sealed the title for City.
But despite their surprise advantage, City manager Roberto Mancini made a change at the break, replacing debutante Scott Sinclair with Jack Rodwell and changing the shape of his team to counteract the threat of Cazorla.
And it worked as Arsenal were far less effective as an attacking force in the second period. Yet they showed a resilience so often lacking to draw level with less than ten minutes remaining.
A fierce drive from the outstanding Cazorla was pushed over the top by Hart, but when City failed to clear the corner from the Spaniard, the ball dropped to Koscielny to smash into the top corner from eight yards.
The French defender almost turned from hero to zero in a matter of moments, however, as his mistake almost gifted City a winner. After Mannone had performed heroics to keep out Kompany's overhead acrobatics, Koscielny presented the ball straight to Sergio Aguero six yards out. But the little Argentinian somehow dragged his shot wide of the far post.
Arsenal had an even better chance to win it in stoppage time, and again it fell to Gervinho. He created space for a shot on the edge of the City area with skill and speed, but with just Hart to beat he lashed his effort into Row Z and it finished 1-1.
"I am pleased because a point was the minimum we deserved today," said Wenger.
"I am pleased also with the quality of our performance and our spirit. I am also a bit frustrated because I feel there was room to do more. We had early chances and very late chances.
"But overall I hope this will reinforce our belief and confidence and reassure us about our potential in this league."
City boss Mancini was less happy.
"I think we need to improve our defending at set-pieces because this has been a problem for us this season," he said.
"We can do better and we need to work on this area. We are finding it hard not to concede at the moment and we are probably two points worse off than we should be so far this season.
"I'm frustrated and the players are frustrated but we will get things right, I'm sure.
"We didn't play very well today and we were getting a little overrun in the first half."
After a break from league action this midweek with the start of their Capital One Cup campaign, both sides return with tough games next weekend. Arsenal are at home to leaders Chelsea while City travel to London to face a resurgent Fulham.
MANCHESTER CITY - Hart 7, Zabaleta 6, Lescott 6, Kompany 7, Clichy 6, Toure 7, Garcia 5, Sinclair 5 (Rodwell 46 5), Silva 6, Dzeko 5 (Tevez 68 5), Aguero 5 (Balotelli 85 5).
Subs unused - Pantilimon, Kolarov, Nastasic, Barry.
ARSENAL- Mannone 6, Jenkinson 7, Mertesaker 7, Koscienly 7, Gibbs 6, Arteta 7, CAZORLA 8, Diaby 7 (Giroud 71 6), Ramsey 7, Gervinho 6 (Coquelin 90), Podolski 7 (Walcott 72 6).
Subs unused - Martinez, Djourou, Santos, Oxlade-Chamberlain.
REFEREE; M. Dean 8