1-0 (Ireland 45 +1), 2-0 (Robinho 56), 3-0 (Sturridge pen 90+1)
- Match reports
- 22 November 2008 17:00
- Posted by Tim Oscroft
Pre-match: There’s a distinct chill in the air as we head for our first 3.00pm kick off on a Saturday this season. Arsenal’s off-field troubles are dominating the headlines, and the Gunners are without Walcott, Gallas, Toure & Adebayor for a variety of reasons.
There was a major surprise with Joe Hart named in the starting line-up, the keeper having made a quicker than expected recovery from his sprained ankle sustained at Hull. Richard Dunne is back from suspension and wearing the captain’s armband once more. Following Gallas' outburst, Manuel Almunia was named as Gunners' skipper.
A mistake in front of Arsenal’s area in just the second minute allowed Ireland to nudge the ball to Vassell, but with the crowd urging him to shoot he delayed and laid it off to Zabaleta, but the Argentinean could not open his City account and he put his shot a long way wide of Almunia’s left post.
Neither side created anything of note until 16 minutes, when Hoyte hacked Robinho down on the left flank. City took the free kick quickly and Almunia had to be alert to block the Brazilian’s effort, drilled in low from the edge of the box.
Another quiet phase followed but it was City with the next half-chance when a move involving SWP & Vassell on the right ended with Benjani just short from getting a touch on the edge of the six yard box, the striker being well-marshalled by Mikael Silvestre.
It was hearts-in-mouths time on 33 minutes after van Persie won a free kick around 30 yards out, dead centre. A long delay for treatment to the Dutchman allowed Nasri to line up his effort, which Joe Hart did well to parry away to his left. The ball was quickly back in the danger zone, but Song fluffed a great chance and shot wide.
This seemed to liven everyone up, and three minutes later Benjani was one-on-one with Almunia from an Ireland through-ball – only for the linesman to correctly flag the striker offside – but only just. Stephen Ireland displayed his fine form twice in the last few minutes of the half, breaking down the left but was unable to get a decent cross in. Shortly after another good pass split the defence but was just too far ahead of Benjani, and Almunia collected.
The Zimbabwean should have scored as we entered stoppage time, heading wide from a chipped cross from SWP, but thankfully he did not have too long to regret it as we took the lead seconds later! Silvestre & Clichy got in each other’s way on the edge of the box, and the ball sat up nicely for Stephen Ireland, who delicately popped it over Almunia and into the net. It was Stephen's sixth league goal of 08/09, his seventh in all and perfect proof of his improvement this year. Now the question was, would we be able to hang on to the lead?
The visitors were into their stride straight away in the second half, Diaby breaking into the box and firing a yard wide. Seconds later Bendtner looked to be in position to get onto the end of a cross, but Dunne hustled and prevented any chance to threaten Hart’s goal. The bombardment continued with van Persie winning another free kick on 50 minutes, and the Dutchman stepped up to bend it around the wall – but thankfully just wide of the right hand post.
But City broke the shackles in the best possible way on 56 minutes, and they doubled the lead thanks to a moment of sublime artistry. SWP won the ball in his own half and strode forward, delaying his pass perfectly to find Robinho, who flipped the ball over Almunia for a magical moment that had the crowd and the City bench off their feet – and rightly so.
The Gunners nearly hit back on the hour when Bendtner broke into the box, but the Dane’s low shot brought a good save from Hart with his legs. The ball was quickly back with the striker, but his follow-up effort was wide. Back at the other end, a clever ball from Kompany across the face of the box allowed Robinho to stoop for a header that went just wide.
The Brazilian had the ball in the net seconds later after good work from Vassell and Ireland – but the flag was up for offside. Arsenal broke away and Song fired in a shot that was safely collected by Hart.
There was huge acclaim for Elano when the little Brazilian replaced Vassell with 20 minutes left. Just afterwards his clever corner out to Ireland allowed his team mate to fire in a rasping shot that hit Denilson on the arm in the area. No penalty came, the fact that Arsenal’s Brazilian midfielder was turning away must have helped the referee make his decision.
Robinho was inches away from a second with 12 minutes on the clock, going one-on-one with Almunia after breaking through the middle, but his touch took him wider than he wanted and his rolled effort was cleared off the line by Clichy. The star striker went over on his ankle making the shot and he hobbled off, receiving a big round of applause from his adoring fans.
City wound the clock down well, but Arsenal did get the ball in the net on 88 when van Persie robbed Hart as the keeper swung his leg back to kick downfield. Referee Wiley did not allow the goal and looked to be close to booking the Arsenal striker.
The Blues made it three in stoppage time from the penalty spot. Danny Sturridge, on a substitute, was hauled down by Djourou and took the spot kick himself, despite the presence of Elano, who looked to be wanting to take it. It did not matter though, with the young striker sending Almunia the wrong way and slotting home with his left foot.
A fine day’s work ended just afterwards, the perfect start to an important week.