English Premier League
Sunday 8 April 2012, 16.00 KO
City: Hart, Zabaleta, Clichy, Kompany (c), Lescott, Y Toure (Pizarro 17), Barry, Milner, Nasri (Kolarov 79), Aguero (Tevez 84), Balotelli
Unused: Pantilimon, Richards, de Jong, Dzeko
Booked: Y Toure, Balotelli, Milner, Zabaleta
Sent Off: Balotelli
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the Match: Vincent Kompany
City knew that nothing less than a win was necessary if they had any hope of winning the title this season, having seen United take an eight point lead at the top of the Premier League. They didn’t help themselves early on, with Yaya Toure picking up a yellow card for a pull back after just 90 seconds of the game played. The City defence coped with the resulting free kick, before Hart got up well to punch away a corner.
A Rosicky shot was blocked behind by Lescott, as he was free inside the area and the home side were dominant in the opening ten minutes. Kompany was up well to head away a deep ball into the box and City couldn’t get a foot on the ball.
With 15 minutes played, City were lucky to still be level. A corner was played into the visitors’ area and Van Persie met the ball and looked to have scored. But Vermaelen on the line blocked his own man’s effort, before Rosicky put the rebound over the bar. City hadn’t started and they’d lost Yaya Toure to injury.
Balotelli, lucky to still be on the pitch after the referee had missed a late, high challenge from him on Song, almost got the visitors in front. A corner from the right wing was swung low into the six yard box and he flicked it at goal, but it was blocked on the line and away to safety.
With 35 minutes on the clock, Balotelli was straight past Koscielny and through on goal thanks to a brilliant early ball from Pizarro, but Szczesny was off his line quickly to clear the ball, just before the Italian forward could get to the pass. A brilliant tackle from Kompany then denied Walcott a run on goal, as he was well picked out by the Arsenal goalkeeper with a good throw.
The second half got off to a much slower start than the first, with both sides struggling to create a good chance. On 52 minutes, Clichy fed the ball back to Nasri and the Frenchman curled the ball into the box where Aguero and Zabaleta were waiting. The two City Argentines got in each others’ way and Aguero’s header looped towards goal. It needed Szczesny to tip it over, but it was a much easier save than it should have been.
Clichy did brilliantly well to keep the ball in play on City’s left and he knocked the ball back for Nasri to cross. It was flicked to the back post, where Zabalete took a touch to drive a cross back in. Benayoun, though, did well to block it behind for a corner. Aguero then sliced a shot for a throw-in under pressure. City had started the second half much better than they had played in the first.
Just after the hour mark, there was another let off for City. Song played a great ball into the box from deep and it was met by the forehead of Van Persie. Hart was beaten, left standing, as was Kompany, but the ball rebounded off the post and the visitors were able to get the ball clear.
A City free kick was floated to the back post where Kompany nodded it back into the middle. It was behind Balotelli, who tried an overhead kick to connect to the ball, but he couldn’t send it goalwards. With 20 minutes to go, either side could still win it and it had become a very even game.
Suddenly, it became all Arsenal. Van Persie rightly had a goal ruled out for offside, before a series of shots from the home side were blocked by a combination of Kompany, Zabaleta and Hart. City were struggling to get out of their own box.
With 15 minutes to play, City had yet another let off. Sagna found space on the right flank and played the ball into the box, which needed Hart to touch it away. He then produced a fine save, tipping the ball onto the post and Vermaelen, faced with an open goal, couldn’t force it over the line. Hart got across again, before Lescott blocked from Benayoun and it hit the other post before dribbling clear of the goal.
With four minutes of the game to play, City’s title challenge was all but over. Needing three points to stay in touch of United, Pizarro couldn’t keep the ball in midfield and Arteta picked it up. He carried it forward before unleashing a great strike past Hart and into the bottom corner. It had been coming.
To rub salt into the City wounds, Mario Balotelli was shown his second yellow card of the game for a late challenge on Song in the corner, as the defender cleared the ball. This game was another example of a game this season where United hadn’t won the title, but City lost it. It’s time for City to finish the season strongly and rebuild for next year.