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Dominant Gunners unable to break City


Pablo Zabaleta and Theo Walcott battle for possession during the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photo: Getty Images

Pablo Zabaleta and Theo Walcott battle for possession during the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photo: Getty Images

Pablo Zabaleta and Theo Walcott battle for possession during the stalemate at the Emirates Stadium last night. Photo: Getty Images

The honours and dishonours were shared here last night. Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta were dismissed in the final minute, the pair taking this head-to-head between two Premier League rivals far too figuratively.

It was a disappointing end to a decent game, although Manchester City will depart the happier. Arsenal were aggrieved, their fans assailing the visitors with chants of "boring, boring City'' for cautious, counter-attacking tactics and occasional bouts of time-wasting.

Arsenal's captain Cesc Fabregas even engaged in a minute-long critique of City's approach with their manager Roberto Mancini, who looked in no mood for a debate.

City's resistance was embodied by Joe Hart, who made important saves from Robin van Persie in particular. There were plenty of other good displays, at full-back from Micah Richards and in the centre from Vincent Kompany and Kolo Toure. When Van Persie and Fabregas did find a yard of space, the post denied Arsenal.

Alex Song anchored for the hosts, allowing Jack Wilshere to push on, linking with the trident of Theo Walcott, Fabregas and Samir Nasri that operated behind Van Persie. Wilshere created a chance in the first minute, sliding a ball to the far-post that Van Persie narrowly failed to connect with. When Wilshere next ventured forth, he unleashed a shot that Hart saved.

Van Persie went even closer, drilling in a 15-yarder that Kompany was so convinced was hurtling wide that he almost waved it through, breathing a sigh of relief when it crashed against the post and bounced clear.

Arsenal were stretching City, always looking to open up space, always looking to send a red shirt through. Largely on the defensive, City broke out occasionally from their five-man midfield that was often cut off from the lone front-running Carlos Tevez.

When Johan Djourou lost possession, Yaya Toure motored forward, slipping the ball right to James Milner, whose shot flew wide.


As Arsenal controlled the first half, Mancini became increasingly enervated in the technical area, waving his retreating players forward. The Italian had deputed Jo to deal with Walcott's surges, and the Brazilian was constantly tracking back but rarely doing much, and eventually replaced by Adam Johnson midway through the second half.

Walcott was loving this chance to shine, running away from Jo and looking to wriggle past Zabaleta. From one short free-kick, Van Persie tapped the ball to Wilshere, who whipped it to Walcott on the edge of the area. The England winger effortlessly turned Zabaleta but could not find the target.

City rallied, Gareth Barry lifting over a free-kick, looking to exploit Arsenal's problems at set-pieces this season. Sagna missed the ball and Tevez failed to reach a team-mate with his cross.

Back came Arsenal, Nasri rolling the ball into the path of Fabregas, whose 20-yarder cannoned off the same spot on the same post as Van Persie's.

City stooped to certain illegal ways of stopping Arsenal, Barry catching Fabregas and then Nigel de Jong threatening to make Wilshere the first teenager in space. Arsenal came back, shifting quickly through the gears. Walcott, twisting and turning, sent in a cross that clipped Kompany's hand but referee Mike Jones was unmoved.

Yaya Toure began making some surging runs from midfield before the half finished with a wonderful piece of trickery from Tevez. Juggling the ball up, City's captain elegantly flicked it down the line to Zabaleta but again Arsenal managed to close the door.

At the break, the Emirates announcer broadcast a proposal by an Arsenal supporter to his girlfriend, who had the cameras instantly on. When she agreed, fans briefly advised her (or him) that "you don't know what you're doing".

Arsenal celebrated another love affair shortly after when old favourite Patrick Vieira warmed up. Such was the absorbing nature of the contest that Vieira, Nicklas Bendtner and Andrey Arshavin broke off from their stretching to watch.

Jo's departure after 65 minutes brought the welcome sight of Johnson, who was immediately involved, testing Arsenal 'keeper Lukasz Fabianski.

Wenger responded, sending on Arshavin for Walcott. Arsenal fans became increasingly aggravated by City's time-wasting, although when Milner fell awkwardly on his back after a challenge by Gael Clichy, the England international was genuinely troubled.

A good contest was scarred in the final minute when Sagna pushed his forehead at Zabaleta and Jones sent both off. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent