English Premier League
Sunday 18 December 2011, 16.10 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, K Toure, Kompany (c), Richards, Y Toure (de Jong 86), Barry, Nasri (Dzeko 86), Silva, Balotelli (Milner 73), Aguero
Unused: Pantilimon, Savic, Lescott, A Johnson
Goals: Silva (53)
Booked: Barry, Aguero
Referee: Phil Dowd
Man of the Match: Gareth Barry
The opening exchanges in the game with cautious, with Arsenal seeing more of the possession in the early stages, but City having the first chance – Zabaleta broke down the left flank and was found by Nasri. The Argentine took a touch and sent a delightful ball across the face of goal to his compatriot Aguero. He, though, took a touch and tried to blast the ball into the net, but he got too much underneath it and smashed it over the bar.
But the visitors responded – Gervinho had a go and Hart had to be down quickly to push it round the post and, from the resulting corner, Ramsey had a potshot from the edge of the box. It didn’t look threatening, until it took a nick on the way through and Hart got across brilliantly to make an almost identical save as his first.
Midway through the first half, City could have taken the lead through Balotelli – who’d scored on his last eight starts. The ball broke to him in the box and he took a neat touch to keep the ball away from the Arsenal defence, before he turned and smashed a shot at goal. But, unfortunately for the home fans, Szczesny was off his line quickly to block and Silva couldn’t quite reach the rebound.
Arsenal responded again. They will feel disappointed not to have taken the lead as the ball broke to Ramsey’s feet in the box, but, just as he was about to pull the trigger, Kolo Toure came in from nowhere to nick the ball away. Hart was then off his line quickly to claim the ball, diving at Koscielny’s feet.
Aguero could have opened the scoring just before the break, when the ball broke to him via a touch from Silva. He carried it along the front of the box, looking for the space to shoot, and, when it was on, he was only able to find the gloves of Szczesny. The game had been even, though City will have felt they’d had the better chances of the half.
Though the home fans didn’t have to wait for long for their side to take the lead in the second half. With just eight minutes played after the restart, Balotelli found space for a shot inside the Arsenal box and Szczesny could only parry. Aguero got there first and prodded the ball on with his head, where Silva was free to slam it into the net from all of two yards out.
Arsenal had the ball in the net almost straight away, but the linesman’s flag put a quick end to the visitors’ celebrations. Suddenly, the game was very open, as Aguero hit the post, Nasri almost put the ball on a plate for Balotelli with an open goal, while Hart was putting in one of his best performances for City at the other end, preserving the lead.
With 67 minutes on the clock, Zabaleta could have opened his tally for the season with a rasping effort. Szczesny bowled the ball out and the City full back nipped in to steal possession. He carried it to the edge of the box and unleashed a fierce drive on his left foot; the keeper was a spectator as the ball crashed off the post and back out into open play.
The Arsenal players and fans were screaming for a penalty as the ball struck Richards on the arm in the box and it looked like City might have gotten away with one, before Hart got up well to punch away a Van Persie corner and almost set up a counter attack for Yaya Toure and Aguero. Richards got in on the act, breaking into the box on the right, but his pull back missed everybody, before he stabbed a shot wide as Balotelli rescued possession.
With the game heading into stoppage time, City were thankful to their goalkeeper once again for preserving the lead, as the ball fell to Vermaelen on the edge of the box. He took a touch and set a piledriver towards the home side’s net – and it was going in, until Hart got both hands in the way, diverting it over the bar.
But City weren’t going to pass off their chance to retake the lead at the summit of the Premier League and they held on to the advantage to take all three points. They scored their 50th league goal of the season and took themselves past 40 points – and no team that has had 40 points after 16 games has failed to win the league. The omens are looking good, but the team are looking better.