By Richard Clarke
Arsenal slipped to their first defeat of the season at Manchester City on Saturday night.
Joey Barton's penalty five minutes before half-time proved the pivotal moment but Arsène Wenger's side will shake their heads with incredulity at the chances they missed before and after the winner.
Thierry Henry twice poked the ball at City keeper Nicky Weaver from point-blank range while Robin van Persie hit the inside the post just minutes before the goal.
Arsenal pinned the home side in their own area for much of the second half but, even with the assistance of substitute Theo Walcott, they could not breakthrough.
Some of the reason was bad luck, some of it was over-elaboration, some of it was the City defence, for whom Richard Dunne excelled. But whatever the explanation, it was a disappointing start to Arsenal's travels this season.
Given that this was the third game inside eight days, it was hardly surprising to see four changes in the Arsenal line-up.
Tomas Rosicky made his first Premiership start after recovering from his groin injury.
Henry and Gilberto were restored to the starting line-up after beginning the midweek win over Zagreb on the bench. Jens Lehmann also returned after a slight knee problem. Emmanuel Adebayor, Mathieu Flamini and Manuel Almunia dropped to the bench while Freddie Ljungberg was rested completely.
The game started at a slow-burn but, once the touchpaper was alight, it quickly caught fire.
In the 15th minute, Alex Hleb sent Henry clear with a couple of City defenders in pursuit. He managed to beat last man and, from six yards, poked the ball at Weaver. The keeper kicked the ball away.
The home side responded with vigour. Hoyte erred on the right flank and Trevor Sinclair crossed for Barton to slide a shot past the far post. Sinclair and Micah Richards went close from corners and Paul Dickov's cross should have been converted by the unmarked Bernado Corradi after he appeared in the space between two defenders. However the Italian's header was woefully weak and Lehmann saved low to his left.
However the dominance would not last and, after that, Arsenal took over once more. Henry dragged a shot wide and again fired at Weaver's legs. Then eight minutes before the break, Hleb released Van Persie on the left of the area and Dutchman's shot cannoned off the inside of the post.
The visitors seemed in control but City snatched a shock opener in the 40th minute. Hoyte lost track of a high pass into the area and felled Sinclair as he burst through. It was a clear penalty and Barton's spot kick went in off the underside of the bar.
Van Persie thought he had win his own penalty minutes later and was booked for protesting when it was not given. In the dying seconds Kolo Toure's header was cleared off the line by Ousmane Dabo.
The second half started slowly with City sitting back and protecting their lead. Despite ample possession, Arsenal found it difficult to breakthrough. Their first real chance came in the 62nd minute when Fabregas fed Van Persie and he pulled a shot wide of the post.
Soon afterwards Walcott replaced Rosicky on the left. Adebayor would replace Hleb not long after that. In between those changes there was consistent Arsenal pressure. The closest they came was when the Belarus midfielder reached the byline and cut for the ball back for Toure, who failed to get his shot away.
In the closing stages Arsenal camped just outside the City area, however they were not creating clear-cut chances. Henry fired a free-kick over and Van Persie nodded just wide.
Walcott looked dangerous on the left, others had pot-shots blocked; it seemed that a goal just would not come.
It never did.
- Eboue 83
- Rosicky 66
- Hleb 76
- Persie Yellow Card
- Walcott 66
- Flamini 83
- Adebayor 76
- Jordan Yellow Card
- Barton Goal!
- Dickov 86
- Vassell 79
- Mills 79
- Samaras 86