Arsenal had a very big game last night, when Man City paid a visit to The Emirates for a game between the second and third placed teams in the Premier League. The stage was set for a classic encounter between the two teams most likely to have a chance of catching "Manure" who are the leaders and favourites for the title. A win for Arsenal would have taken them up to second place above City, and any other result would have left City above them.
The Arsenal team was unchanged from the one that won so well away to Birmingham on Saturday, and it was the team that the majority of fans were hoping would start. It was the same team that had so impressively beaten Chelsea only a week before that game as well, and the feeling was that City would have to work very hard to prevent Arsenal from winning. As usual City set themselves up in a defensive manner, and it looked like they would be perfectly happy to settle for a point.
Arsenal came out of the blocks like a team that believed that they would win, and they played some excellent football. The chances came and went during the first half with the woodwork saving City from both Robin Van Persie and Cesc Fabregas with City offering very little in response. There were plenty of other chances too, but it was still scoreless at the break. At that stage I didn't think there was much more that Arsenal could do, and I couldn't see any of the possible substitutes making much of a difference. Surely Arsenal just had to keep playing the same way, and the goals would come.
However the second half continued in the very same vein, and try as they might Arsenal just could not get a goal. The closest they came was when Joe Hart made a fantastic fingertip save from a RVP special that was heading for the top corner. When Hart made that save I had the feeling he was a man who would not be beaten, unless Arsenal got a lucky break. At the other end City did less and less, and Carlos Tevez looked a frustrated figure long before the end. It must be frustrating for a player of his ability to watch his team get completely outplayed, as he is asked to plough a lonely furrow up front on his own.
Arsene Wenger brought Andrey Arshavin on for Theo Walcott after 69 minutes, and Nicklas Bendtner for Jack Wilshere after 81 minutes. The substitutions didn't make a lot of difference, and I actually thought that they stopped the flow of Arsenal's game. While the result may have been disappointing I thought that the performance was far from it. A 0-0 draw at home to one of the other title contenders isn't the end of the world, and Arsenal played with style and confidence. The goals that were hoped for didn't come, but it wasn't for lack of trying. If Arsenal had a little bit of the luck that always seems to go the way of "Manure" then they would have got the all important goal to open City up.
With only a couple of minutes left there was an unfortunate incident between Bakary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta. As they tussled for the ball near the sideline Sagna went down, and Zabaleta stood over him and uttered a few words in his face. I don't have a clue what he said, but Sagna seemed to take exception to it, and he jumped up to confront him. As both players rubbed foreheads Sagna made a definite forward motion that could well have been judged as a head butt. Other players stepped in to break things up, and the referee issued red cards to both players. To be honest I thought Zabaleta was a little hard done by judging by what I saw, but you can never tell exactly what transpired.
It means that Sagna will miss three games, but the first two are the cup games against Leeds United and Ipswich Town. It gives Emmanuel Eboue a chance to show the Arsenal fans what he can do, and he will also get to play in the league game away to West ham. The boss has said that there will be plenty of changes for those cup games, and I'm sure that Eboue would have played anyway. There's bound to be starting places for plenty of other fringe players too, and hopefully they will take the opportunity to show exactly what they can do.
The general consensus today is that "Manure" are the only winners from last night's games, but if Arsenal can continue to play like that they will have a real say in where the Premier League title goes. A haul of eight points from the festive programme was pretty good, and it could have been even more. Arsenal did have a very tough four matches in that time with home games against City and Chelsea, and trips to Birmingham and Wigan. The only game that I thought they should have been nailed on certainties to win was the trip to Wigan,
but unfortunately a combination of team selection and poor refereeing conspired against Arsenal on that night.
The home win against Chelsea was a game that showed that this Arsenal team are at last ready to take on the big teams and beat them. The fact that they didn't beat City was not down to poor tactics or inability to perform on the night, and if Arsenal continue to play that well the goals and points will flow. Added to that there was the very impressive away win to a Birmingham team who just don't lose at home. Arsenal's away form is second to none at the moment, and they have nothing to fear from any team in the Premier League.
Finally for today I have to apologise for the lateness of my post, but it was due to events beyond my control. I hope that the arrival of a technician at my home this morning will have finally solved my broadband issues, and I have now managed to buy a new oven after mine decided to pack it in yesterday. It's left a very large hole in my pocket in the first week of the new year, but if the family are going to eat it's probably a necessity.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.