Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City: Arteta Capitalizes on Typical Mancini Cowardice

I believe the song sung during the post-match celebrations at the Blind Pig sums up the afternoon's football beautifully:

You lost the league, in North London!
You lost the league in North London!
You lost the league, at the Emirates!
You lost the league in North London!

I mean, seriously? THAT is what the GDP of Spain gets you?

Sorry, I got rather ahead of myself there. Let's wheel this back to the beginning and talk about the starting lineup. Most of the usual suspects were there, but oddly there was a start for Yossi Benayoun out on the left. In retrospect, Arsene Wenger must have deployed him specifically to counter some assumed threat from the right wing. What Le Boss couldn't possibly have known, however, is that Roberto Mancini would bring his troops to the Emirates for the second year running with the intention of coming away with a 0-0 draw (you can refresh your memory of the January 2010 "contest" here - I still am proud of that Photoshop, for what it's worth).

How exactly that was going to help with their cross-town rivals having won earlier in the afternoon to increase the gap to 8 points, I have no idea. But, then again, I don't get paid a squijillion petro-dollars every season to try and corral a rogue's gallery of mercenary personalities into one semi-cohesive team somehow.

Oh, and while I'm on the subject, what kind of massive brass ones do you have to have to bleat to the press that you need 2-3 more players when you've already spent more money than any 7 Football Manager transfer budgets combined (perhaps more than I've ever spent in total in playing the game for 6-7 years) on your mercenary pack ever since you joined the club? Tell your story walking, boyo.

Right then, on to the match itself. City set out their stall to defend straightaway, and never wavered from it. The men in light blue barely touched the ball in the first ten minutes, but defended comfortably enough. However, misfortune struck for them when Yaya Toure came away second best from a collision with Alex Song. David Pizzaro - a player I admit to knowing the square root of fuck all about - came on in his place. Meanwhile, Robin van Persie went down in the penalty area from a Vincent Kompany challenge. It wasn't an absolute stonewall penalty, but I can imagine it being given if our opponents were, say, Wigan Athletic.

A few minutes later, Arsenal had their first preposterous miss of the afternoon. Mikel Arteta's gorgeous cross into the corridor of uncertainty was met by van Persie - only for the captain to watch it deflect off of Thomas Vermaelen's head and away to safety. There wasn't much the Verminator could do - it was just one of those things - but it was indicative of our struggles on the day.

Speaking of struggles, referee Martin Atkinson did not cover himself in glory with his performance in the middle. While Mario Balotelli finally did walk for a second yellow-card offense late in the match (foreshadowing!), he should have received a straight red for a reckless and vicious karate kick above the knee to Alex Song. We can only be thankful that Song didn't have his leg shattered, and in fact was able to play the rest of the way. Still, it was a horrific challenge and how he didn't even get a yellow for it, I'll never know. It's not like Atkinson was far away from it, and where was the linesman?

Even worse, he did it again a few minutes later to Bacary Sagna, who also was lucky to be able to keep playing. We're now on two deserved red cards for the mercurial Italian and counting...and still without so much as a yellow. Well done, Martin! Well done!

It would have been even more galling if Balotelli had been a little quicker and gotten on the end of the long through-pass sent through the Arsenal defense by Pizzaro. Luckily, Wojceich Szczesny alertly came out well beyond the penalty area to hack the ball clear. That was great goalkeeping.

Arsenal lost a bit of attacking verve in the last few minutes of the half, probably because Balotelli was waging a one-man Battle of Thermopylae out there. Given how incredibly lucky he was to still be on the pitch, and further given that Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko were on the bench, I have no earthly idea how Balotelli wasn't subbed off at halftime.

There were indeed no changes though, and oddly enough it was the visitors that had the first significant chance of the second half. The fact that it ended up being their only significant chance of the match says much about their manager's ambition on the day. Our good friend Samir Nasri sent a cross into the area, with Arsenal's defense in disarray for the only time in the match. Sergio Aguero got a head to it, and it looked like it may have been arcing just below the crossbar and in. But, that man Szczesny was there to save the day again, timing his jump to perfection and getting just enough fingertip on it to direct it over the crossbar.

While that was the last time City would threaten, the Gunners were busy preparing for Heartbreaking Miss # 2. Again, the captain was at the center of it, having received the ball in the area from one of Song's patented chip passes (20% of the time, it works every time). He connected with a solid header, and Joe Hart was beaten. Sadly, the woodwork was not, as it hit the foot of the post and went out.

It did seem like another frustrating 0-0 was on the cards, that's for sure. The effect was multiplied by Heartbreaking Incident # 3 (yes, I keep changing the label...because shut up, that's why). That man RVP was unsurprisingly at the epicenter once again, as he received another long pass and coolly finished past a stranded Hart. Sadly, he was flagged for offside. Fair play to the linesman, by the way...the replay showed that he got it 100% right. RVP was offside by a whisker.

The home side had their tails up now, and swarmed their opponents with much of the same drive and purpose shown in the first half. Astonishing Miss # 4 was unquestionably the most frustrating of the lot. A low drive from Theo Walcott (his only contribution on the day) was brilliantly saved by Hart. The rebound came out to Vermaelen with nothing but empty net to stare at. Somehow, he sliced his shot so badly that it came out to a stunned Benayoun on the back post. He too could have tapped it home, but he got himself crossed up and could only shovel it against the woodwork.

I would have bet all four of my limbs on a 0-0 at this point.

This was the part of the match where I had my now-customary internal rage session directed towards Wenger's substitutions. With the offense unable to find that final coup de grace and with an opponent unwilling to fight back, why it took until the 80th minute to make our second sub (Andre Santos had come on for the injured Kieran Gibbs earlier in the second half) is a mystery to me. Even worse, why it was Aaron Ramsey shunted off to the wing, I'll never know.

Meanwhile, Brave Sir Mancini hauled off the anonymous Nasri and put on...not Tevez, not Dzeko...Aleksandr Kolorov. A fullback. You coward. As the final five minutes loomed, both managers made changes that should have been made 15 or 20 minutes previously - Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain came on for Walcott, and Tevez finally made it on in place of Aguero.

You know, it's funny. I mentioned to my roommate upon coming home that it was 85 minutes of Bad Old Arsenal - over-elaboration in the area, shocking misses when it was easier to score, over-ambitious passes that went nowhere, on and on and on. How great is it that our goal came from a midfielder pressing his man, winning the ball, and then having a go from distance?

That really was all there was to it. James Milner got caught in possession by Arteta, who then rampaged straight ahead. Despite the fact that City had 372 men in light blue shirts in attendance, no one thought to close the Spaniard down. Joleon Lescott was the worst offender, being close enough to the play to pressure the shot. Instead, he stood and watched as Arteta curled a beauty of a long-range shot past the despairing dive of Hart and into the near corner.

Get in, as the kids would say.

It was over as a contest from there, but that doesn't man the match was without further incident. Professional Chucklehead extraordinaire Balotelli managed to get himself sent off in the 90th for yet another tackle that perhaps could have been red on its own (it'd be harsh, but it wasn't miles away, either).

City did win a free kick in a decent position in the last minute of injury time...but tellingly, it was Arsenal who should have scored off of it. Kolorov bashed a witless shot into the wall, and the Gunners countered at pace like the great teams of recent memory used to. Ramsey surged down the left in acres of space and had damn near every single member of the team with him in the penalty area. It's not that he was completely wrong for shooting - he was in a decent spot himself - but his shot was so poor as to defy belief. I said to the guy in front of me that he had too much time to think about it. Had a defender been in attendance, it may have gone in after all.

Anyway, we've essentially handed the title to Manchester United...and given the choices available, I'm comfortable with that. Whatever I think about them in general, they at least have found success without spending ridiculous amounts of money in comparison to everyone else in the league. I may wish a P38 W0 L38 season on Alex Ferguson, but if we're being fair he's arguably the best club manager of all time and the fact that he got this shower of a United team past the finishing line is perhaps one of his greatest-ever achievements. I hate United with a passion, but I find them less odious than their nouveau riche neighbors. Now, hopefully we kick on from here, buy some talent in the off-season and take it away from them next term.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Szczesny 7, Gibbs 7 (Santos 7), Vermaelen 7, Koscielny 7, Sagna 7, Benayoun 7 (Ramsey N/A), Song 7, Arteta 7, Rosicky 7, Walcott 6 (Oxlade-Chamberlain N/A), van Persie 7

Man of the Match: Who else? He's the best-looking Spaniard I know: Mikel Arteta.