The pre-match hype was all about squad rotation. Who of those gracing the benches of these deep squads was going to make their rare first team appearance tonight? For Manchester City, players like Nigel de Jong, Kolo Toure, and Adam Johnson were looking for a rare place in the side. For Arsenal, the troop of youngsters biting at the chomp included Emmanuel Frimpong, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Francis Coquelin. The Carling Cup has turned into a match for squad depth and first teamers’ rest.
The return of Samir Nasri to the Emirates Stadium in a blue jersey added some drama to the buildup. He left Arsenal amid bad feelings of the inability of the side to compete for major trophies. He left for more money as well. He was expected to be booed heavily throughout the match.
The match began with some nice play by Arsenal who controlled the early moments of the game, however, Manchester City had the first chance of the match from a powerful shot from distance by Adam Johnson that flew just over the bar. Arsenal responded immediately with some nice interplay that ended with a dangerous cross by Maroune Chamakh. Park was on the end of it but City goalie, Costel Pantilimon, made an outstanding save with his outstretched left arm.
Samir Nasri was rightly jeered throughout the game. At one moment in the first half, there was a “Stand up if you hate Nasri” chant. Nearly 90% of the crowd stood up to display their disappointment in the Frenchman.
Manchester City began to dominate the possession after 20 minutes or so but rarely created many chances. Fabianski had a few sketchy moments from crosses but Man City was unable to pounce. Dzeko nearly broke through in the 17th minute but was just offside after he made a cutting run through Arsenal’s four center backs.
In the 27th minute, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a great run finishing with a good shot destined for the upper right corner until Pantilimon made another fine save. Then Roberto Mancini was forced to make a substitution of Kolarov, and he brought on Sergio Agguero to add some forward presence. The forced move was to pay dividends down the road.
Arsenal began to restore possession towards the end of the first half but neither side could create many chances. Chamakh had a few good runs past defenders but could never make the final surge or pass to get on goal. The first half ended rather dully as it seemed the players were content to regroup in the dressing room.
Dzeko opened up the second half with a good shot that missed wide right in the 47th, and then Oxlade Chamberlain tried to make his mark on the match by wreaking havoc on the right side forcing a corner, making a cross, and taking a shot all within a span of 30 seconds.
A few moments later Adam Johnson made a brilliant pass through Arsenal’s defense to Sergio Aguero who made too large a touch and was dispossessed. Aguero then made a further mess when he attempted a long range shot that sailed well over the bar.
Chamakh was showing signs of sickness as he sputtered and coughed throughout the second half but he remained on the field until the death. Gervinho was brought on for Park instead in the 68th minute. He had a good effort in the 73rd but the shot was well off target and he could have played Oxlade- Chamberlain in on goal down the right seam.
Arsenal then had a few good counter attack moves which forced corners but they couldn’t make the breakthrough. Dzeko came close for city in the 79th with a close range header that missed wide right and overall had a decent evening.
Hargreaves was substituted for Ivorian youngster Razak and Thomas Vermaelen was brought on for Miguel. Johan Djourou and Gervinho made some nice interplay during a counter attack that resulted in an Arsenal corner.
However, the Gunners pushed too many forward for the opportunity and were caught short at the back when City countered with some great passing that resulted in a Sergio Aguero goal which was a well placed shot in the bottom corner in the 83rd.
Aguero and Koscielny then got rather heated with each other and had an exchange of shoving for a few moments but tempers were calmed before anything rambunctious took place. Arsene Wenger threw in the towel by bringing on Andrey Arshavin for Oxlade-Chamberlain. It was a silly move as the youngster was providing the best of Arsenal’s chances and Arshavin was rather useless in the final moments.
Arsenal pushed men forward in the dying minutes of the match. Chamakh nearly connected on a decent cross by Gervinho, but Manchester City held on and claimed the victory. A pretty well balanced match ended in disappointment for the young Gunners as they couldn’t make a breakthrough. My man of the match award goes to the giant, Costel Pantilimon, whose great saves in the first half prevented Arsenal from scoring and encouraging the young Gunners. This is the first time Arsenal has tasted defeat in some weeks now and will only raise further questions about their lack of trophies in recent years.