By Richard Clarke
Emmanuel Adebayor celebrated his return by bagging both goals in Arsenal’s comprehensive 2-0 victory over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
The Togolese striker capitalised on assists from Cesc Fabregas to net eight minutes into the first half and four minutes in the second as Arsène Wenger’s side extended their unbeaten Premier League run to 17 games.
The Spaniard was also making a comeback after three-and-a-half months out while Theo Walcott returned following a more modest fortnight on the sidelines.
The visitors created a number of clear chances at the end of the first half but, that aside, this was Arsenal at their best.
They left the pitch six points clear of fifth-place Aston Villa. Martin O’Neill’s side have a game in hand but that comes on Sunday when they have to go to Old Trafford to face the Premier League leaders.
They have it all to do.
Wenger brought all his fit-again players into the side as the Premier League returned after the final international break of the season - Fabregas (knee), Adebayor (hamstring) and Walcott (knee). Alex Song was the other addition from the 3-1 win at Newcastle a fortnight ago.
International injuries created the gap to accommodate that quartet. Samir Nasri (flu), Robin van Persie (groin), Abou Diaby (thigh) Nicklas Bendtner (knee) had all picked up problems while they had been with their countries. Only the Dane had recovered enough to be on the bench.
During the break, every English clock had been altered. We were now on “British Summer Time” and, it seemed, British Summer weather too. Emirates Stadium was coatless this afternoon and some brave souls were in shortsleeves. The end of the season was nigh.
Arsenal had been building up to it very nicely. A 16-game unbeaten run in the Premier League had been recently laden with wins not draws. As a result, Wenger's men came into this game three points clear in fourth place and hoping to create some blue sky.
But, of course, first they had to beat a team in sky blue.
Man City would have the opening chance of the game and some clear-cut opportunities towards the break but little would go their way inbetween.
In the fifth minute Craig Bellamy burrowed through the left and his artless ball in the area was hurriedly cleared by Denilson to Nigel de Jong. The midfielder’s low curling shot was foiled by a sprawling stop from Almunia.
Man City had not won away in the Premier League since August and were lacking a little confidence. Arsenal were the opposite and it was no surprise to see them take the lead with their first real attempt. Sagna was fouled near the right-hand touchline by Robinho and Fabregas’ free-kick was floated to the far post for Adebayor to steer a header through a crowded area into the far corner.
Poor defending had created the chance. Two Man City defenders went for the same ball and Adebayor did not have to leave the floor to win it in the air. It was the 24-year-old's first goal since the trip to Hull on January 17, his ninth in the Premier League and his 13th overall this season.
The visitors seemed to feel sorry for themselves after the goal and Arsenal kicked on.
Fabregas had a header held by Shay Given, Denilson and Adebayor saw efforts blocked then Kolo Toure dribbled through on the right only to have his drive batted away by the Irishman at the near post.
Arsenal were having all the play and possession. They seemed to be almost toying with their opponents. But, as the half went on, the visitors did start to have chances. Though you could argue that, initially at least, it was down to sloppiness by the home side rather ingenuity from the visitors.
Shaun Wright-Phillips nearly sneaked home a cross-cum-shot from the right before Almunia intervened on the line. Then around the half-hour Micah Richards and Gelson Fernandes both went clear in the Arsenal area. The first chance was saved by Almunia’s legs and the second grazed the outside of the post.
Seven minutes before the break, Mark Hughes made his second enforced substitution. Wayne Bridge had been forced off early on for Fernandes now Vincent Kompany also went hobbling from the pitch. His replacement was Elano.
The changes had done nothing to interrupt a fast, flowing game. Almunia raced out to deny Bellamy on the edge of the area then Given dived full length to turn aside a low, angled drive from Arshavin.
At the break, the game was as close as the scoreline suggested.
However that would change four minutes after the restart. Fabregas scooped a tantalising pass over the head of Richard Dunne to Adebayor. The beanpole striker collected, danced past Given and tucked away a simple finish.
Song powered a header over the bar a couple of minutes later as Arsenal started to flex their muscles once again. And the Fabregas-Adebayor axis nearly worked again soon afterwards but Given held on to the striker’s effort. Then Walcott powered a shot wide.
Arsenal were back in their stride.
The one-way traffic would continue before Adebayor and Walcott made way for Bendtner and Eboue midway through the half.
Given was earning overtime, most notably when he turned aside a spectacular drive from Walcott. The Irishman also saw William Gallas thump a cross-shot just over the bar.
Eboue slashed an effort high a couple of minutes after coming on. And when Robinho was substituted shortly afterwards it really summed up Man City’s day.
Fabregas joined him on the sidelines with 12 minutes left but, in contrast, his walk off was cheered to the rafters.
His side would be afforded the same ovation when the whistle went shortly afterwards.
It had been a very satisfying afternoon.
- Toure Yellow Card
- Fabregas (C) 77
- Walcott 70
- Adebayor 70 Goal! Goal!
- Ramsey 77
- Bendtner 70
- Eboue 70
- Dunne (C) Yellow Card
- Zabaleta Yellow Card
- Jong Yellow Card
- Bridge 16
- Kompany 38
- Robinho 75
- Sturridge 75
- Fernandes 16
- Elano 38