Aguero pounces with classy touch to dump out Gunners
Manchester City 1
For 84 minutes, Arsene Wenger's defiant insistence that Arsenal could still compete with the seemingly unlimited resources of Manchester City was utterly vindicated.
Only one team had looked likely to win for most of the game, but, as is so often the case in football, the match was turned by a moment of exceptional quality. Adam Johnson, who had been struggling to impose himself, produced a wonderful pass to dissect the Arsenal defence and Sergio Aguero finished with the assurance that £38m generally buys.
It was enough to secure Manchester City's place in the semi-finals of the Carling Cup and a first win at Arsenal for some 37 years. With Roberto Mancini having spent much of Monday raging at the "incredible" demands of the fixture schedule and even threatening to field a team of 15-year-olds, it also ensured that Manchester City averted the one result last night that he probably most feared: extra-time.
While Mancini's apparent disenchantment with the Carling Cup was reflected in a generally lethargic performance, Arsenal really did look a team -- as Wenger had predicted -- with unfinished business in this competition.
Youthful, enterprising and mostly defensively resilient, they lacked only the finishing touch. Or more accurately, Robin van Persie, who had been rested and watched on ultimately dejected from the stands.
With so many options in either squad, the publication of the teamsheets was greeted with particular anticipation. It was predictable that there should be so many changes from the weekend -- 10 on each side -- yet what stood out was the one Manchester City name who also started Sunday's 1-1 Premier League draw against Liverpool. Yes, even after his controversial £23m summer departure from Arsenal, Nasri willingly put himself forward for the part of Emirates pantomime villain.
The outpouring of acrimony was preceded by a respectful and genuinely touching period of silence and applause in memory of Gary Speed.
City's superior experience was notable in the opening minutes as Owen Hargreaves and Nigel de Jong established a domineering midfield base against the energetic, but sometimes naive Arsenal pairing of Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin.
The first chance fell to Adam Johnson, who easily shifted the ball inside Ignasi Miquel at left-back and delivered a dipping shot that skimmed across the top of the goal.
Arsenal, unusually, had begun in a 4-4-2 formation that allowed both Marouane Chamakh and Ju-Young Park their chance to establish themselves as understudy to the rested Robin van Persie. The service was sometimes sporadic, but City did look vulnerable whenever Arsenal ventured into their half.
Coquelin, in particular, showed a willingness to break forward in support of the strikers and delivered an inviting low pass along the six-yard box. It completely evaded the defence, but Park's shot back across Costel Pantilimon, City's Romanian international goalkeeper, was brilliantly saved.
Soon afterwards, Pantilimon produced further acrobatics to deny a sweet 25-yard strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlan that had appeared destined for the top corner.
Mancini responded decisively to Arsenal's sudden pressure.
Aleksandar Kolorav, whose impact as a third attacking midfielder behind Edin Dzeko had been negligible, was told that his evening would be ending after just 32 minutes and on came Sergio Aguero.
Both Frimpong and Coquelin were clever enough to repeatedly work the ball down Arsenal's right flank where Oxlade-Chamberlain clearly had the beating of Zabaleta.
That was evident early in the second-half as he turned Zabaleta inside out before again testing Pantilimon with a powerful long-range shot.
With Hargreaves and De Jong tiring, it was City who were now being restricted to only the occasion venture forward. Edin Dzeko hooked a volley wide but, in the main, Arsenal's defence was surprisingly solid.
Gervinho, as ever, brought pace and promising build-up play to Arsenal, but they lacked finishing finesse and it was Aguero, on an otherwise quiet night, who produced the decisive moment. (© Daily Telegraph, London)