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Agüero underlines the striking difference between Arsenal and City

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1

Agüero 83

In a game which Arsenal dominated in virtually every other respect, the world-class quality of Sergio Agüero produced the game’s only goal late on to move Manchester City into the last four of the Carling CupAgüero and Edin Džeko proved the difference between the two sides on a night when the Arsenal strike pairing of Marouane Chamakh and Park Ju-Young were an inadequate substitute for the absent Robin van Persie.

Arsenal were making a record ninth consecutive appearance in the quarter-finals of the competition. Arsène Wenger made ten changes, with only Johan Djourou retained from the side which drew 1-1 with Fulham on Saturday as the home side unusually lined up in a 4-4-2 formation.

Fabiański

Djourou – Squillaci – Koscielny – Miquel

Oxlade-Chamberlain – Frimpong – Coquelin – Benayoun

Park – Chamakh

Manchester City’s last visit to Emirates Stadium resulted in a goalless draw in the Premier League back in January. They entered this game on a run of 28 consecutive visits to Arsenal without a win.

Pantilimon keeps City level

City dominated possession in an entertaining first half but a relatively inexperienced Arsenal side featuring just one first-team regular were very much equal protagonists and carved out the better chances.

After a minute’s appreciation in memory of Wales national manager Gary Speed, who took his own life at the weekend, the game started in energetic fashion. An Arsenal midfield containing 20-year old Francis Coquelin and teenagers Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (18) and Emmanuel Frimpong (19) were in no way overawed by a Manchester City side boasting the formidable talents of former Gunners Samir Nasri and Kolo Touré alongside the likes of Owen Hargreaves, Nigel De Jong and Edin Džeko.

Park was denied the opening goal by a fine Pantilimon stop (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

It took ten minutes for the first meaningful chance to arrive, as Adam Johnson‘s menacing long-range effort bounced off the roof of the net. Almost immediately, a flowing Arsenal move ended with Park Ju-Young getting on the end of Francis Coquelin‘s first-time cross only for Costel Pantilimon to throw out a hand to parry superbly.

The City keeper subsequently needed every inch of his 6-foot-6 frame to turn away a sweetly struck first-time left-footed effort from the edge of the box by Oxlade-Chamberlain which was heading for the top corner.

The withdrawal of the ineffective Aleksandar Kolarov just after the half-hour saw the introduction of Sergio Agüero. The switch increased the urgency and directness of City’s play, but with Laurent Koscielny in top form and the 19-year old Spaniard Ignasi Miquel standing up well to Johnson out wide, Łukasz Fabiański was untroubled in the Arsenal goal.

Agüero’s snatch-and-grab

The second half was more industrious than inspirational as both teams struggled to find a cutting edge up front. Džeko failed to hit the target with a couple of half-chances, while Park and Chamakh struggled to make headway against City’s defence. One couldn’t help but feel that the rested Robin van Persie would have given the visitors’ back line more trouble than the pair combined.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was Arsenal's most threatening player throughout (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Oxlade-Chamberlain, however, seemed determined to carry the entire burden of Arsenal’s attack on his stocky shoulders. The youngster repeatedly looked to cut inside off the flank, and he proved to be a real handful for the experienced Pablo Zabaleta.

But the game finally turned on a pair of counter-attacks which underlined City’s greater experience at the point of attack. A quick Arsenal counter involving Johan Djourou and substitute Gervinho almost set up Yossi Benayoun, but the ball was knocked behind for a corner. The set-piece was poor though, and Džeko sprang forward, passing to Johnson who swivelled and teed up Agüero for a simple chance which the Argentinian striker was never going to miss. In the 83rd minute, it was City’s first and only shot on target in the game.

Arsenal ploughed forward in the closing minutes, firing in a series of crosses and corners and creating a couple of half-chances. But it was too little too late as City clung on to secure a place in the semi-final.

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsène Wenger was pleased with his side’s performance, if disappointed by the manner of the result:

It was an unfair result but I felt we were a bit naive because it was a corner for us and a goal for them. I knew that we were in trouble and I feel we didn’t take enough time to take the corner because Djourou was just going up front and he had to stay at the back on the corner. We didn’t leave him enough time to come back and that’s where we were caught.

I felt as well that we didn’t take the corners very well but overall what is frustrating that we lost a game at the moment that we looked the winner. It is frustrating because we put a lot of effort in and we were not rewarded. On the other hand I feel that considering the youth of our midfield we have battled really well and have shown some fantastic quality.

He was especially pleased with his young central midfielders Coquelin and Frimpong:

I feel in midfield Frimpong did well, Coquelin did well, we battled very hard in there. We were mobile, strong in the fight, we did very well I must say. Sometimes we lacked a little bit of creativity in the final third, especially in the last 20 minutes when I felt there was plenty of room to give them big problems and we missed sometimes the experience in the final ball. But I cannot fault the team, they have shown heart, quality and desire.

And he was delighted with the attacking threat offered by Oxlade-Chamberlain:

Chamberlain looked the whole night like he could deliver something special. He has shown already tonight that he has moved forward, considering where he was in the last two months. He has improved a lot already. The experience tonight shows that it’s good sometimes to be positive and as well patient. I was very patient with him until now and I feel that it is important sometimes that you hold them back a little bit and keep them on the training ground. He has shown that he has improved a lot.

He has surprised me by the consistency of this game. You pushed him off the ball easily two months ago but tonight you could see that his resistance in the challenges, his strength in the duels, is there. That is of course very important at the top level.

Despite the defeat, this was an encouraging performance by what was effectively Arsenal’s reserve side. The midfield was particularly impressive, with the assured and tidy Coquelin complementing the all-action Frimpong, while Benayoun’s experience and work-rate on the left provided balance to the power, pace and exuberance of Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right flank. The central pair overshadowed the vastly more experienced City pair of Hargreaves and De Jong for much of the game, proving that Arsenal now possess greater strength in depth in the middle of the field than for some years.

Defensively Arsenal were also solid, restricting City to speculative efforts until the late goal. Miquel was stretched but rarely beaten by Johnson, while Djourou was also solid on the right. In the middle, Sébastien Squillaci made the most of a rare start with a good performance in which he was aided by the now customary excellent showing from Koscielny. Fabiański had little to do, although he looked less than assured on crosses. Nothing new there.

The only real disappointments on the night were the twin strikers of Park and Chamakh. The Moroccan looked off the pace physically, as images of him coughing repeatedly during the game suggested. Park was unlucky not to score with his early chance, but was invisible thereafter. Neither exhibited the movement or penalty box threat to suggest that Wenger will not need to strengthen his forward options in the January transfer window.

Saturday sees a return to Premier League action with a trip to Wigan. This has not been a happy fixture for Arsenal in recent years. Last season they squandered a 2-1 lead against ten men during the Christmas programme, while the season before they contrived to lose 3-2 having led 2-0 with 11 minutes remaining. After last weekend’s draw with Fulham, they will be keen to get back on track with a victory.

Arsenal man of the match: Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. Honourable mentions also go to Frimpong and Coquelin, but Oxlade-Chamberlain was the one player who looked capable of stretching City’s defence to breaking point, and was denied a superb goal only by an equally excellent save by Pantilimon.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

7 Responses to Agüero underlines the striking difference between Arsenal and City

  1. Luc@ says:

    Hi TIm, when i was watching the match i was thinking that Manchester had been taking Arsenal lightly, but after aguero scoring (his celebration)i understood clearly that they wanted to win. I’m very impressed by 4 youngster gunners and Koscelny.Man City is very strong squad and probably it will win some trophy but it hasn’t a right-minded for a campaign as carling cup where normally you play matches with young players.
    Sorry for my english.

    • Tim says:

      No problems, Luc@. For me, it’s up to individual teams what players they choose to field. Wenger chooses to blood young players, but equally we don’t have the same depth of experienced back-ups as City do and teams have to give their squad players some chances to play through the season. And our side was more experienced than usual as well, don’t forget.

      I think the fact that Mancini was willing to start Dzeko and De Jong and introduce Aguero so early showed he is serious about the trophy. And it was the fact they can bring world-class players like that off the bench that proved to be the difference here. Park should improve, and Chamakh may rediscover his form and confidence (although that is looking increasingly unlikely) – if they had possessed even half the quality of City’s strikers we would have won.

      Other than that, everyone played very well, especially the youngsters. Coquelin, Frimpong and Oxlade-Chamberlain were all excellent, and Miquel did well too against a tough opponent in Johnson. Really pleased to see Squillaci perform strongly too. As for Koscielny, it says so much about how much he has developed that a top-class performance like his is now considered routine for him. He is proving to be a class defender, and it makes a mockery of fans who wrote him off too soon. Sometimes we are too impatient!

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