Manchester City 1-1 Arsenal: Feels Like a Win

This is one of those results that has plenty of ancillary storylines and incidents, but is best summed up by one statement - Arsenal went into the home of the defending champions and came away with a share of the spoils.

There were several personnel changes enforced onto Arsene Wenger, with Thomas Vermaelen proving unavailable through injury, while Wojceich Szczesny's ankle-knock meant that Vito Mannone continued in goal. Lukas Podolski got a first start as the center-forward, with Gervinho and Aaron Ramsey flanking him, and Abou Diaby and Mikael Arteta stationed in the middle.

Both sides started tentatively, a sense of the occasion not lost on either side. Arsenal were the first to seize momentum though, as the men in red had a shockingly-high percentage of the ball in the first ten minutes. The Manchester City defense, marshaled as expertly as ever by Vincent Kompany, prevented the Gunners from creating any serious chances.

Kieran Gibbs might have done so though with a bit more ambition. Arteta, not for the first time on the day, played a wonderful ball over the top of the City backline. Gibbs ran onto it, and while he had an acute angle, he also had all the time and space he could want to have a go. Instead, he played a completely witless ball across the area with no other red shirts in a 10-mile radius. At this point, much of the "walk the ball into the net" instincts have been overcome, but on this evidence there's still a bit of work to do.

City began to find their feet enough to counter, and only a minute later Mannone was called into action for the first time. The dangerous Sergio Aguero had a pop from distance, but it was always a comfortable save for the Italian stopper.

The home side's increasing adventurism naturally left some space for Arsenal to exploit, which they did two minutes after Aguero's chance. Ramsey skinned our old friend Gael Clichy and played a magnificently-weighted diagonal ball for Gervinho to run onto. The pass left the City defense in tatters, and the Ivorian was clean through on Joe Hart. Well, he should have been, anyway. The thing with Gervinho is that once he has the ball at his feet, he can do some amazing things with it - his mazy dribble against Montpellier the most recent example. Unfortunately, getting it to him can be a problem at times, as he has the first touch of a tranquilized plow horse. This time, his first touch was so heavy, Hart had an easy take as he came off his line.

Sadly, this would be indicative of Gervinho's play on the afternoon. He worked hard and got into some good positions, but goddamn, he was abysmal on the balance of things.

That does lead me to another point, though. From first man to last, the workrate exhibited by Arsenal today was phenomenal. There were several Gunners guilty of some horrid giveaways, misplaced passes or blown chances. But, not one man in red can be faulted for their effort and their desire. That, more than anything else, is why we've had such a better start to this season than last. This version of the Arsenal may not be as technically-skilled as some previous versions, but they would run last season's Gunners off the pitch and have plenty left over.

Meanwhile, City couldn't muster much in the way of attacking threat. Edin Dzeko huffed and puffed, David Silva's internal calibrations seemed to be off and Yaya Toure was oddly on the periphery of the match. Were it not for the excellence of Kompany and Joleon Lescott, they could have been played off their own park by halftime. What attacks they did manage were ruthlessly snuffed out by the absolutely brilliant Per Mertesacker. Once again, he shone in the center of the Arsenal defense.

So, it was a bit of a sucker punch to find ourselves down a goal on the stroke of halftime.

Gibbs headed out a cross he could have let run out for a goal kick. On the ensuing corner, Mannone flapped badly and took himself out of the play. Laurent Koscielny was the nearest man to the ball, but his leap was poor and easily bested by Lescott, who headed into the empty net. Given the typically impenetrable defense of City at Eastlands, Arsenal heads could be forgiven for dropping a bit.

That took us to halftime, but none of us in the pub thought that Arsenal were out of it. I keep harping on it, but it keeps being true - there is something different about this team this season. There's a bit more steel in red and white, and they would show it once more before the afternoon was over.

Before that, though, there was a storm to be weathered. City were energized by the goal and looked to capitalize further. The anonymous Scott Sinclair was withdrawn for Jack Rodwell, and immediately City began to dominate the midfield. In many respects, it was a reverse of the first half where their possession was largely neutered thanks to our own brilliant center-half pairing. Mertesacker especially was heroic, with a series of intelligent interceptions and calm clearances out of danger.

The half wore on, and it was clear that reinforcements were needed. Once again though, the manager's choices were a tad bizarre. The struggling Gervinho was left on for 90 minutes (sorry, that is bloody indefensible), while Podolski and Diaby were the ones to depart. Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott came on, and the former in particular played well. Much will be made of the fact that he did not find the net again, but his hold-up play gave us a new option in a point of the match where City had closed down the midfield. Now, we could go over that obstacle, and it worked well at times.

Just before that, Dzeko was taken off for Carlos Tevez. Admittedly, my heart leapt in my throat a bit as he came on, but he was corralled nicely by the Arsenal backline. That is yet another line that Steve Bould can add to his CV as far as I'm concerned.

City were still comfortable with ten minutes to go though, and Aguero forced Mannone into another decent save (albeit one he should make) at his near post. Up the other end, Hart was finally tested when Cazorla fired a wickedly-swerving shot at the England man. Given the change in direction and the pace on it, Hart has to be commended for getting two hands on it and tipping it over the bar. It so easily could have gone through his hands.

The goal did come on the resulting corner, though. Cazorla's effort was cleared out by the City defense, though a bit unconvincingly. It went only as far as the outside of the area, where Koscielny was lurking. I joke at times that a given shot was "the finish of a center-half", but on this occasion that would mean "an unstoppable thunderbolt lashed into the top corner". What a strike...WHAT a strike. I don't know what happened at the Pig, but O'Hanlon's erupted with unbridled joy.

When the post-mortem on this season is done, I have a sneaking suspicion that Kos' goal will have proven to be a critically-important one. I don't think you can overstate how important it was to this team. You just can't.

There were still eight minutes plus stoppage time to be seen out though, and how close we were to throwing it all away. As brilliant as he was in scoring the goal, Koscielny almost gifted the three points straight back to City with a colossally-harebrained play. Off a corner, the ball pinged around a bit in our penalty area. Kompany was under it, and managed to connect on a brilliant overhead kick. The shot itself wasn't a problem for Mannone, who got down low to get two hands to it - the problem was the placement, as there was nothing the Italian could do with it other than play it into the center of the six-yard box. Luckily for us, Kos was there. Unluckily, he decided to play a perfect pass to Aguero at the back post, with the goal gaping.

What a heartbreaker that would have been if Aguero had, as he's done a million times before, calmly slotted that into the far corner. Mannone had no chance, either way.

Instead, the ball skittered harmlessly wide of the post.

I'm telling you, something is different about this season...even the luck.

That was his last action of the match, as he immediately came off for Mario Balotelli. Whatever my complaints are with Arsene's substitution patterns, it must be said that Roberto Mancini's are far worse. These are matches that are there for the taking, with the embarrassment of attacking riches that he has. If one multi-zillion pound striker is misfiring on the day, he has three more he can call on. Balotelli is a brilliant talent, but what can any sub do with just 5 minutes to work with?

I can't say I'm complaining, though. Mancini's cowardice was to our benefit, and we even could have won the game late on. A series of sharp passes left Gervinho with time and space just outside the penalty area. The shooting angle was there, but, it was at the feet of a player for who "off-day" would be a massive understatement. Again, why he was still on the field is a mystery...the fact that the shot was skied into the Van Allen Belt was not.

He was then withdrawn about 45 minutes too late at that point, Francis Coquelin coming on to shore things up and preserve the point. Three minutes of extra time were handled easily enough, and the Gunners travel back to London with yet another fantastic away result in the bag. That is now Stoke, Liverpool and City taken care of with 5 points, where last season we would have had 1 at most.

The League Cup match against Coventry this Wednesday aside, it doesn't get any easier for the good guys. Chelsea at home and then Fat Sam's West Ham away loom in the distance, but is there any among us who don't think this team can get results in both instances?  We may not win the league, we may not have anyone who'll net 30 goals this season, but we're a lot harder to beat and I think we have a lot of cause to be proud of this team already.

I know I am.

The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:

Mannone 7, Gibbs 7, Koscielny 7, Mertesacker 8, Jenkinson 7, Gervinho 5 (Coquelin N/A), Arteta 7, Diaby 7 (Giroud 7), Cazorla 7, Ramsey 7, Podolski 7 (Walcott 6)

Man of the Match:

There were plenty of guys who could have had this, but had somewhat flawed performances. Kos scored the goal that rescued the game, but he also damn near threw it away in a moment of madness. Ramsey was full of energy and had some great passes, but also had some brutal giveaways and was positionally-suspect at times. Arteta also had some uncharacteristic bad passes, while Cazorla was quiet by his standards. Once again, German precision wins the day. Without Per Mertesacker in the back, we could easily have been overrun at times, especially in the second half.