Santi Cazorla inspires Arsenal to stunning win over Man City
Champions well beaten at home as Gunners deliver near perfect display
Arsenal’s Olivier Giroud celebrates scoring his side’s second goal during the Premier match against Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium. Photograph: Peter Powell/EPA
Manchester City 0 Arsenal 2
The only possible complaint against Arsenal is that they do not do this more often. Arsène Wenger’s side have been a soft touch for longer than they will care to remember when it comes to facing the top sides and then they show up at the home of the champions and play in a way that made it seem almost bewildering their own title challenge has already turned to dust.
It has certainly been a long time since Arsenal have taken on a member of the elite and played with the greater sense of togetherness, the better workrate and the more effective tactics. They sieved six goals here last season and their record in Manchester has generally been appalling since the sun started to fade on Wenger, featuring only one point out of a possible 21 before this fixture and a goal difference of minus 21.
Yet they played here with the wit and gumption that has become rare among City’s opponents on this ground. Santi Cazorla’s performance could be set to music and, in the process, they blew a considerable hole in City’s aspirations of making it three titles out of four seasons.
Manuel Pellegrini’s team tend to produce this form of carelessness only when they hear the Champions League anthem. There was a dishevelled look about the beaten side, outrun and out-thought by a team that took the lead through Cazorla’s penalty, doubled it with Oliver Giroud’s header and defended with the nerve and conviction to leave the sense they were affronted by any suggestion this type of performance was beyond them.
Not too long ago, this kind of rearguard action from Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny would have felt inconceivable. Cazorla delivered a masterclass in midfield, with his mix of hard running and supreme football intelligence. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was another huge influence while Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez also helped to ensure that Arsenal completely overwhelmed their opponents in midfield.
City badly missed Yaya Touré, away at the Africa Cup of Nations, and have not won a league match since last April when he has been missing. The bad news for Pellegrini is that Touré will not be at Stamford Bridge either in two weeks’ time, when City take on a Chelsea side that has established a five-point lead at the top of the league.
What is very clear is that City will not get away with defending this shabbily against José Mourinho’s team. Martín Demichelis set the tone with two basic errors inside the opening 10 minutes to lose the ball in his own half. The way Pablo Zabaleta lost a 50-50 challenge with Aaron Ramsey in the build-up to the Cazorla penalty was unusual in the extreme and the defending for Giroud’s goal was even more generous. Fernando lost his man in the penalty area but neither of City’s centre backs were anywhere near when Cazorla chipped his free-kick into the six-yard area.
Arsenal, in stark contrast, chased after everything. They were quick to the ball, strong in the tackle and looked absolutely determined to remind everyone that this time last year they were top of the league. It has been a long time indeed since Wenger’s men have worked so impressively off the ball, crowding out David Silva for long spells and providing a near-impenetrable barrier in front of David Ospina’s goal.
It was not until the 36th minute that City managed a shot at goal and the people who keep these statistics were quickly out with the information that they had not waited so long in a league game since October 2012. Ospina barely had to get a scuff of mud on his kit throughout the entire match.
Francis Coquelin also warranted Wenger’s acclaim, demonstrating again that he is a more suitable fit for the defensive midfield role than Mikel Arteta. Coquelin is relatively new to the side but at one point he could be seen bellowing at his team-mates, demanding that not even a hint of complacency crept in and that kind of leadership was missing from the home side.
Vincent Kompany looked strangely vulnerable and City know it is a bad day when Zabaleta is losing tackles. James Milner was replaced at half-time and, with Silva being smothered, this was an occasion when City needed Jesús Navas to step up. Navas spends too long on the edges and the service to Sergio Agüero was poor.
Did Kompany’s sideways movement warrant a penalty bearing in mind the minimal contact on Nacho Monreal? Well, the City captain was silly to take the risk, leaning towards his opponent and away from the ball, and however much disguise he tried to apply the referee, Mike Dean, judged it well, as he did most things throughout the afternoon.
Monreal had played a give-and-go with Giroud and Kompany, at his best, would have anticipated the danger and trusted himself to snuff it out in a more orthodox way. He was fortunate, ultimately, that Dean did not include a yellow card because his booking later in the first half would then have been his final act.
Briefly, there were some encouraging signs early in the first half and when Frank Lampard was brought on just after the hour there was the potential narrative of another feat of escapology. Giroud’s header killed that stone dead and the ramifications for City could be considerable as they shape up to face the leaders.