A patient City left it late to edge into the semi-finals of the Carling Cup with this hard-fought win in north London, our first away to the Gunners since 1975.
Sergio Aguero pounced to round off a superb counterattacking move with just seven minutes to go, but chances for City had been few and far between prior to that.
Second-choice keeper Costel Pantilimon had kept City in it with some fine saves before the break. Both sides were much-changed and that gave a disjointed feeling that translated into a tense occasion.
By the time kick off rolled around, a mere 50 hours or so had elapsed since City had departed left the pitch at Anfield. But with such a short gap between fixtures, it helps if you can almost completely change your team and still name a strong starting XI, as Roberto Mancini can.
Adam Johnson was a spectator from the bench on Sunday and only briefly used in Naples, so this was a real chance for him to shine. Owen Hargreaves and Nedum Onuoha reappeared two months after their impressive displays against Birmingham City two rounds ago, while Kolarov was pushed up ahead of Zabaleta at left back.
Balotelli’s suspension saw Dzeko start alone with Aguero, who could have been given a night off otherwise, on the bench. Samir Nasri, predictably given a frosty ‘welcome’ back to the Emirates, was the only starter who had also begun Sunday’s game.
Another rarely seen squad member, Costel Pantilimon, showed no signs of rustiness early on when he made a superb, one-handed change-of-direction save to deny Park Chu-Young.
Adam Johnson’s shot that skimmed the roof of the net was City’s best early effort, and the Blues were grateful to their Romanian international keeper once again on 27 minutes. The impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain unleashed a long-range shot towards the left hand top corner but Pantilimon was equal to it, stretching out his right hand to tip it away.
The other feature of a subdued first half was the sight of Aguero replacing Kolarov, thought to be tactical at first but revealed after the game by Roberto Mancini to be because the Serbian was struggling with a knock picked up before the game had started.
The second half followed a similar pattern, with City keeping possession but failing to work the Arsenal keeper while his City counterpart effortlessly punched a couple of high balls away. Both sides tightened up even further as it stayed goalless – there was, after all, a cup semi-final at stake regardless of all the other demands of the season.
But the deadlock was finally broken with seven minutes to go by a sublime piece of counter-attacking from City. Dzeko chased a rebound from an Arsenal corner to the touchline and broke away infield to find Adam Johnson. His deft touch found Sergio Aguero and the Argentinean precisely placed the ball to Fabianski’s left with his first touch.
Chamakh went close to nodding in a Gervino cross in stoppage time - maybe Robin van Persie would have got there – but City held on to ensure they would be in the hat with another trip to Wembley potentially just 180 minutes away.