Formality for City as they saunter to first away win over Gunners since 1970s

Mon, Jan 14, 2013, 00:00

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 2:This had been billed as a stern test of Manchester City’s resolve, a daunting occasion at a club where they had not won a league game since the mid-1970s to be played out with Manchester United’s lead at the top of the table stretched into double figures.

In the end, with the contest warped from virtually its opening exchange, a victory that might normally have impressed as a statement of intent actually felt little more than a formality.

Arsenal were effectively beaten at a saunter, City’s few pangs of anxiety reserved for the last quarter-hour after Vincent Kompany had been sent off by Mike Dean and the numbers evened up.

By then City had been playing for 65 minutes against depleted opponents with a lead long established and only sporadically threatened. Hints of sloppiness crept in, Arsenal’s refusal to be overrun admirable, but this was never the thunderous examination of the champions’ credentials it might have been. Not that Roberto Mancini would care one jot.

The City manager could depart relieved that United have not disappeared from view, and content his own charges mustered a response to their rivals’ victory at Old Trafford earlier in the day.

He could be heartened, too, by early efficiency, City’s upbeat tone established in the first few skirmishes and their authority imposed just beyond the half-hour.

Arsene Wenger acknowledged as much, pointing to his own team being “timid” and unable to impose their “personality” on the game from the outset, a judgment he might have made in the first nine minutes when they boasted a full complement. Thereafter they tumbled out of contention with the locals directing their ire at the referee for all that their team’s wounds, not for the first time, were actually self-inflicted.

How else could Laurent Koscielny’s panicked response at finding himself the wrong side of Edin Dzeko in the six-yard box from Gareth Barry’s looped header be explained?

The Frenchman had summoned something akin to a rugby tackle on the Bosnian as he prepared to connect with the loose ball, wrapping both arms round the striker’s midriff and dropping him to the turf.

“I was surprised,” Wenger said. “But I refuse to watch it again because how would that help now?”

Reviewing the incident might prove educational for Koscielny. Shirt-pulling may not always be punished but this grapple was spotted by Dean, the only argument over whether the offence should prompt red centring on if the goal opportunity was clear-cut. It felt hard to argue it was not, even if Dzeko contrived to fluff his lines at the resultant penalty.

Arsenal trail United by 21 points but, more pertinently, Tottenham Hotspur in fourth by six with a game in hand. They welcome Swansea City for an FA Cup replay on Wednesday wondering if progress in that competition represents their sole route to silverware. – Guardian Service

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