Manchester City 1-0 Arsenal: Valiant Effort

(NOTE: The match report does not end with the player ratings and MOTM this week - please stay tuned for a bonus rant at the end.)

If nothing else, Arsenal have proven beyond all question that they are not the same ragtag outfit that shipped a cricket score the last time they visited the greater Manchester area. For long stretches, the men in red defended resolutely against a squad put together with the GDP of South America. It was a ferociously-contested dogfight that left the Arabian Petro-Dollar All-Stars no room to breathe until Professional Shithead Phil Dowd blew the final whistle.

Long story short: Even in defeat, I am proud of the Arsenal team today.

The team picked itself, continuing with the same personnel that narrowly defeated Everton last week. A bit cheekily, Roberto Mancini picked both Kolo Toure and Samir Nasri - despite his side frankly having better and more in-form options at both positions. Other than that, it was largely the usual suspects for them as well, though a suspension to Gael Clichy and an injury to Aleksandr Kolarov meant that Pablo Zabaleta would deputize at left-back. He's definitely a solid player (and would start on many teams), but previous to the match I had figured that Theo Walcott could potentially capitalize on his lack of pace.

The opening exchanges were cagey at best, with neither side wanting to make the first mistake. City had a little more of the ball, but Arsenal prevented them from any serious chances. Likewise, City's forwards and front midfielders pressed so effectively, the Gunners were forced into backpasses to Wojceich Szczesny on a multitude of occasions.

As solid as Arsenal had looked early on, City could easily have taken the lead after 10 minutes. Zabaleta's ball over the Arsenal backline was ran onto by Sergio Aguero, but the Argentine blazed miles over the bar. A minute later, Mario Balotelli was the one to play him in, but he hesitated too long and allowed Per Mertesacker to get back to clear. They weren't done though, and Silva was next to get free. This time, Szczesny easily smothered the weak shot.

That wasn't a great spell from the Arsenal, but they rode out the pressure and started to fire back. In fact, Joe Hart was very lucky not to concede on Arsenal's next foray up the field. Gervinho found himself in space after running onto Alex Song's brilliant through-ball. It was a bit of a tough angle, but Hart looked to dive a little early and there was some room there. Hart ended up doing well to get a hand down, the rebound hit his leg and happened to go out of play. I've seen ones like that where it ends up dribbling through - I think even Hart would tell you that he was relieved that it didn't go in.

Directly off the corner, Hart had to be sharp and made a much tougher save. The Gunners took it short, and cut it back to Aaron Ramsey on the edge of the penalty area. The Welshman fired a shot through the forest of bodies in between him and the goal. Somehow, the young English keeper saw it early enough to get down and make a fantastic diving save. Still, this passage of play was a strong statement of intent from the Gunners after having been overrun a bit in the previous few minutes.

That said, City were not about to let up either, and the mercurial Balotelli probably should have given them the lead not too long after. Another high ball over the Arsenal backline was brilliantly controlled by the Italian, whose back was to goal. In one sudden movement, he turned and stabbed an effort towards goal. Szczesny read the danger perfectly though, and swooped out of his net to block. One eventually runs out of superlatives for the man - he is already one of the best in the league.

No two teams could keep up that frenetic a pace for an entire 45 minutes, but despite the relative lull, both sides would have one more chance before the interval. A long RVP shot led to some confusion in the City area, and it came to Ramsey in the 6-yard box. Unfortunately, the ball got tangled up in his feet, which gave the defense time to recover and clear it away. Up the other end, Silva and Aguero tormented the Arsenal central defense with some quick passes, but the latter's shot across the face of goal was again read correctly by Szczesny and saved with a minimum of fuss.

That took us to halftime, and there were rumors that Djourou had picked up a knock of some kind. There were no changes as the teams came out for the second stanza, but clearly Djourou's attempt to run it off was unsuccessful. Within a few minutes of the restart, we were greeted with the horrifying sight of the Swiss being replaced by young Ignasi Miquel.

Nil-nil away to Manchester City and their legions of world-class players. No pressure, kid.

Ostensibly, Miquel moved to LB, Vermaelen into the center and Koscielny out right. It looked like there was some confusion with those assignments though, and that was the mistake that cost us a point.

City came up the field, and the pass came out to Balotelli in absolute acres on the left-hand side. Koscielny was in the center of the penalty area, giving the striker the run of the sideline. Belatedly, Song came over to cover but got beaten by Balotelli as he cut inside. His shot was saved well by Szczesny, but the rebound came out to the middle. Silva took one stab at it and missed, but it served to take Szczesny out of the play as he dove to try and save it. Silva then beat Vermaelen, and with Miquel absolutely nowhere (just standing around, actually), was able to turn it into the empty net.

City had the lead then, but I did not feel like the game was over at that point. That said, it was a little frustrating that with Djourou apparently in danger of not being able to continue, that everyone involved on the backline did not know exactly what they needed to do in case of Djourou being withdrawn. Honestly? I blame Arsene for that - he had the entire halftime interval to make absolutely sure that the eventuality was covered, and clearly it didn't happen.

With that gripe out of the way, Arsenal's response was fantastic. A minute after the goal, the men in red stormed up the field and forced a decent save out of Hart via Walcott's long-range drive. Another minute after that, RVP found the net with a gorgeous chip over the on-rushing Hart, but it was pegged back as the Dutchman was marginally offside (incidentally, correct as per the letter of the law...but I don't see what the advantage is when the guy's frigging hand was about the only thing that wasn't level - there's a rule that badly needs re-writing by grown-ups).

Unlike the City teams of the recent past though, they did not bunker and try to sit on the lead. After RVP's goal got overturned, the Sky Blues spurned two chances to double the lead. First, Aguero got himself open and fizzed a low shot just the wrong side of the far post. Soon after, Silva's through-ball found Nasri with all the space he could ever want on the right side of the penalty area. Needless to say, the coward wouldn't attempt a shot himself...but he also had Balotelli on the back post, screaming for an easy tap-in. It should have been a goal that killed the game off, but Nasri badly overhit his pass. For once, I could sympathize with Balotelli's death glare at a teammate.

That was just about the only contribution to the match from The Incredible Disappearing Samir Nasri, by the way. His Man of the Match award was clearly a troll move from a side that for some reason has a bug up their collective ass about us (Why Always Us?). He frankly sucked, and once again showed that last season's early good form aside, he was not nearly as big a loss as the whole world said he was going to be.

The pace of the match picked back up, and once again the two sides cut-and-thrusted, with chances coming for both sides. RVP had a fairly tame shot saved by Hart, while up the other end, Zabaleta hit the post with a long-range screamer.

With opportunities coming thick and fast for both clubs, this was still anyone's game. Well, until The Most Mystifying Substitution in the History of all Football, that is. While Walcott had a somewhat quiet game, why on earth he was withdrawn in favor of Andrei Arshavin, I have no idea. Arshavin is clearly a talented player on his day and in the right situation, but with his form and confidence so bad, it was just not the right move to bring him on when we're chasing the game away to a side like Manchester City.

Needless to say, Arsenal had a glorious chance directly afterwards that was squandered by the Russian. From a corner, the ball eventually came to Arshavin out on the left. He had teammates queuing up in the center of the area crying out for a good delivery, but what he came up with was a tame, under-hit dribbler that was easily cleared out by the first man.

If ever anyone needed to be sold in the January window, it's this man. I give Arsene a lot of credit for finally realizing who the deadwood is and getting them out of the club, but the two bits of flotsam left on the roster are of course the guys who were brought on to try and save the game.

One of the game's main talking points came in the 77th minute. Whisper it, but although he had a horrendous game otherwise, Dowd got this one right. Off of a header by TV5, the ball whipped into the area and hit Micah Richards on the arm. Naturally, everyone and their mother screeched for a handball, but it wasn't one if we're being honest with ourselves. It has to be intentional and the guy's arm has to be in an unnatural position. If his arm is at his side and there's no real way he can get it out of the way, then it's not a penalty. End of.

By this point, City had not had a serious attack in a while, so the Boss abandoned caution with his final substitution. Mertesacker was withdrawn for Marouane Chamakh - Song dropped into defense, and we went to a 4-4-2. The change was a good one, but it's a shame that the striker we brought on did not scare the City backline in the slightest. You can't help but feel that competent replacements for Arshavin and Chamakh would see this team easily into 4th with momentum heading into next season...but will Wenger actually go through with it?

Anyway, Arshavin had one half-chance go well the wrong side of the near post as full-time loomed. It would have been tough for anyone, but I never felt like he would be able to put it away. Fighting to the last, though, Arsenal had the best of the chances in the four minutes of injury time.

First, a training-ground special from a free kick saw it played backwards for the onrushing TV5, who hammered an effort on goal. Sadly, it was right at Hart, who duly palmed it over. From the ensuing corner, it came out to Gervinho with options in the middle, but he proved unable to beat the first man with a cross despite having two bites at the cherry. Awful stuff from the Ivorian there.

It was left to TV5 - one of the real heart-and-soul members of the side - to attempt the equalizer once again. He hit another long-range thunderbolt in the last minute of added time, and for a tenth of a second, it looked like it would find the upper 90. Hart would have needed a rocket up his ass to save it, but sadly it flashed just over the angle of post and crossbar, leaving the points in the bag for City.

Yes, the result is not what we wanted...and we are well and truly out of any discussion for the title race. Still, considering the nightmarish start to the season and the hole that it put us in, we are in a far better position than we could have envisioned back then. We're only 16 games in, and just three points behind a sputtering Chelsea. Our nearest and dearest are five points ahead, but only a delusional nitwit would think that they won't drop points along the way...they are overachieving and everyone knows it.

Make no mistake, there is still a lot to play for. The FA Cup is coming up, and if we get past Milan in the Champions' League, who knows what can happen? Today's result was a bit of a downer, but no one has come away from Eastlands with a win for a year...and very few have come as close as we just did. So, chins up, Gooners. Our next five league fixtures are Villa away, Wolves at home, QPR at home, Fulham away, and Swansea away. What's important now is for the team to put this disappointment to one side, and do the business in five games that should produce a bare minimum of 11 points.

Over to you, Gunners.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 8, Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 7 (Chamakh N/A), Djourou 7 (Miquel 5), Gervinho 7, Song 8, Arteta 7, Ramsey 7, Walcott 6 (Arshavin 4), van Persie 6

Man of the Match: Alex Song, for his tenacious play in the middle of the park.

BONUS RANT: Apparently, early on in the match, the City supporters were singing "van Persie is ours". OK, look, I get it. Money is in the game for good now, and it's not going away. And, I get that as Arsenal supporters, we have traditionally had an advantage over the Sunderlands and Wigans of the world. All of this can be taken as a given.

But, seriously, have you lot seriously already forgotten where you came from?

Well, I should clarify here. Of course, you're going to have a significant percentage of their fanbase that has only known City as a big club. For those more casual supporters, I honestly don't begrudge them their ignorance. To them, football is just another luxury item for them to consume and be seen doing it, so having them sing songs about RVP is water off of a duck's back. They just don't know, and I wouldn't care much if they did.

It's the ones who have been around since the old days that truly amaze me, though. Hey lads, remember when you were the first winner of a European trophy to be relegated to your league's third tier back in 1999 or 2000 or whenever it was? I do. I remember when "Manchester City" was as synonymous with "joke football club" as Newcastle was with "comedy defending" and Liverpool was with "ugly dudes in bubble perms and hilarious pornstar moustaches".

The kicker? You do, too. I know it, and you know it.

For, for DECADES, you lot were Manchester United's inbred cousins. If you had had anyone that another team could possibly have wanted, they would have been signed away quicker than you can say "Shaun Goater and Paul Dickov used to be our strike partnership". Since you seem to have faulty long-term memories, let me remind you of the shite that used to suit up in sky blue.

So, now, here you are with your nouveau riche oil money, and it's like the last 50 years never happened. The problem is, the last 50 years DID happen. You're still a club with no history and no tradition of winning. At fucking BEST, you're going to be like the galactico-era Real Madrid: Shit-tons of money spent, once in a while winning something on sheer talent alone but always folding the second anyone significantly fights back. Yes, you had a tough Champions' League group, but you'd have gotten through it if your team was anywhere near as good as you think they are.

I mean, as strong of a start to the season as you've had, your old rivals are just two points behind. Hear those footsteps yet?

Call it sour grapes if you want, but I have a feeling that if RVP does leave us at the end of the season (and for me the only way he leaves is if we have the kind of season that would leave me not blaming him at all for departing), he's not going to go to you lot...he'll go somewhere like Madrid or Milan or Barcelona that, while not Arsenal and therefore get no love from me, are not completely a pack of mercenaries and have some semblance of a winning tradition that you can't matter how much money your sheikh sugar daddies throw at it.

Or, to put it much more succinctly...die in a fire.