Manchester City's title defence remains intact.
This contest was warped from virtually its first exchange, an early dismissal allowing the champions a stroll until numbers were evened up late on with the match effectively settled, but Roberto Mancini will care not a jot. The reality that City had not won a league game here in a little over 37 years ensured the victory was significant, with Manchester United's lead at the top successfully restricted to seven points. For Arsenal, the immediate implications of defeat were grimmer.
There were, Arsène Wenger might argue, extenuating circumstances. Laurent Koscielny had lasted only nine minutes here before allowing Edin Dzeko to turn him in the six-yard box from Gareth Barry's nod up into the area. The Frenchman was panicked into something akin to a rugby tackle on the Bosnian as he prepared to connect with the loose ball, wrapping both arms round the striker's midriff and dropping him to the turf. Shirt pulling may occur regularly in the modern game but this grapple was spotted by Mike Dean, the only argument over whether the offence should prompt red centring on if or not the opportunity was clear-cut. It felt hard to argue it was not.
Arsenal had arguably been heaving to quell City's bright opening even prior to the dismissal of their centre-half. Surrendering a numerical advantage to the visitors left their challenge forlorn. Wojciech Szczesny did well to save Dzeko's resultant penalty with his feet, the ball cannoning back off the post and along the goal-line for the Pole to claim, but the respite was temporary. If Koscielny was guilty of sloppiness in earning the red, then Arsenal's defensive dawdling at a Barry free-kick midway through the first period was inexcusable.
The England midfielder took it short, with David Silva and Carlos Tevez taking touches with the hosts groggy before the Argentine slid James Milner into space. Thomas Vermaelen had allowed him to slip away but the finish, crisp and first-time across Szczesny and in off the far post, was still emphatic. Pablo Zabaleta's dispossession of Kieran Gibbs shortly afterwards, allowing Milner time to burst into the space behind the left-back, maintained the theme. The low centre was touched goalwards by Tevez, with Szczesny saving that attempt only for Dzeko to tap in the rebound and effectively settle the game.
The last time City had won a league game here was in October 1975, when Rodney Marsh had been among their scorers, with a stroll the ideal riposte to the 10-point advantage briefly opened up by Manchester United earlier in the day. Javi Garcia, twice, might have added to the lead with headers – the excellent Jack Wilshere nodding away the second from under the bar – but it hardly mattered. Szczesny did well to deny Tevez, too, at the striker's feet after a rapid break downfield, but it was only when the visitors, too, were reduced to 10 that they felt concerned.
Their own red was flashed at Vincent Kompany for a two-footed challenge for possession with Wilshere, the Belgian's right foot slightly tucked in behind his left calf as he left the ground but Dean well placed to assess the tackle. Kompany was aghast, beating the turf in frustration and pointing to the ball that he had clearly won, though that mattered little. There were echoes of his dismissal in the FA Cup against United last season, with games against Queens Park Rangers, Fulham and either Stoke or Crystal Palace in the FA Cup to follow. Even that does not sound too costly.
Where defeat leaves Wenger's side is more troubling. Abou Diaby returned to the first-team for the first time since September and lasted over an hour, but there remains a flimsiness to the senior squad that surely has to be addressed before the end of the month if that pursuit of a top four finish is to be fruitful. The gap from Tottenham Hotspur is six points with a game in hand – hardly irretrievable – but this club feels in need of a psychological lift as much as anything. A flash of ambition might provide impetus.
Olivier Giroud's free header from Santi Cazorla's free-kick, the Frenchman slightly mistiming his leap, might have offered up a lifeline though the home side's best opportunity fell to Theo Walcott in stoppage time, only for the striker to be denied by Joleon Lescott's goal-line clearance. There is still time for Wenger to add to his options this month and recover lost ground to the top quartet. City's ambitions are more grandiose, and they refuse to give up hope.
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