By Chris Harris
Another Manchester trip to forget.
Two weeks after slipping up at United, Arsenal crashed to another North-West defeat against the champions’ city rivals.
The visitors started brightly enough but Micah Richards’ header found the net via the post and Manuel Almunia’s head to give City a freakish lead.
Robin van Persie delivered a fine equaliser just after the hour-mark and Arsenal looked primed to push for victory. But Craig Bellamy restored City’s advantage and Emmanuel Adebayor nodded a third against his old club.
Shaun Wright-Phillips rubbed salt in Arsenal’s wounds before Tomas Rosicky marked his first competitive game in 20 months with a close-range finish.
It was too little, too late and Arsène Wenger’s side have been well and truly halted in their tracks after a flying start to the season. They will have to pick themselves in time for their first Champions League group game on Wednesday.
Wenger had a big decision to make before kick-off about the identity of his front three after Andrey Arshavin aggravated his groin problem on international duty. In the end he opted for Nicklas Bendtner and Abou Diaby either side of Van Persie with Eduardo left on the bench. Cesc Fabregas returned from a hamstring injury while Rosicky was among the subs.
However the two names on everyone’s lips ahead of kick-off were on the City teamsheet. Kolo Toure and Adebayor left Emirates Stadium to join Mark Hughes’ expensive crusade in the summer and welcomed their old mates to their new stamping ground. As expected, Adebayor got the ‘pantomime villain’ treatment from the visiting fans.
Arsenal’s last visit here ended in a numbing 3-0 defeat – their fifth in 14 games at the start of last season. They were at a low ebb last November in the days after William Gallas was relieved of the captaincy so today was a chance to show how far they had come.
They started brightly enough. Arsenal criss-crossed the pitch with their crisp passing, barely giving City a look-in during the opening exchanges. Adebayor got a buffeting from Bendtner and it all looked promising for the away side.
Gallas should have hammered home Arsenal’s early superiority when he found space at the far post to meet Van Persie’s right-wing corner. The Frenchman has three goals to his name already this term but misjudged his header, sending it a foot over the bar. Within seven minutes, Arsenal would rue that squandered chance.
That’s how long it took City to get their noses in front and they needed a big slice of luck.
Gareth Barry curled in a free kick from the left, Richards climbed highest to loop a header towards the far post and Almunia staggered across goal to tip the ball against the post. For a split-second it seemed Arsenal had survived but the ball ricocheted off the post and in via the back of Almunia’s head.
It was tough on Arsenal, who had been pretty comfortable without actually extending Shay Given in the City goal. Now they would have to overcome a home side happy to play on the counter-attack.
It proved a difficult trick to pull off. Fabregas pushed up to support Van Persie but, all too often, promising moves shuddered to a halt on the edge of the City penalty area.
Indeed, the hosts had moments of their own on the break as Bellamy’s cross evaded Adebayor and Stephen Ireland dithered when he could have made Denilson pay for a misplaced pass.
Arsenal needed a bit more guile and a bit more thrust in the final third. Enter Rosicky. The Czech replaced Denilson early in the second half and immediately brought more flow to the visitors’ attacks.
The chances stacked up. Rosicky himself saw a volley deflect wide and Fabregas was denied by a last-ditch challenge from Toure after bursting into the box on the left-hand side. Gallas met Van Persie’s corner with a diving header only for Given to parry and the City keeper then had to push away a 30-yard piledriver from Thomas Vermaelen.
City’s back door was creaking and Arsenal finally broke through it in the 62nd minute.
When the goal came it was vintage Van Persie. He collected Rosicky’s short pass, span away from Joleon Lescott and kept his balance to rifle a low shot into the bottom corner. The Dutchman's 'chocolate leg' had broken his duck for the season.
Arsenal’s tails were up and only a desperate block denied Bendtner after another fine move involving Vermaelen, Rosicky and Diaby. With 17 minutes left, the clever money was on the visitors taking all three points.
But the pendulum swung emphatically. Richards bundled his way past Alex Song and squared for Bellamy to beat Almunia from 12 yards. Then Wright-Phillips missed a sitter after fine work from Adebayor.
Arsenal tried to come again but City punished them on the counter-attack.
Adebayor headed the goal he craved against his former club with 11 minutes left and ill-advisedly raced the length of the pitch to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans.
Then Wright-Phillips added a fourth for City from Bellamy's pass as Arsenal, chasing goals of their own, were left short at the back.
Rosicky marked his return with a close-range finish with three minutes left and Van Persie almost set up a grandstand finish when his shot bounced off the post.
But the damage was already done.
- Sagna 76
- Fabregas (C)
- van Persie Goal!
- Denilson 51
- Song 76 Yellow Card
- Eboue 76
- Rosicky 51 Goal!
- Eduardo 76
- Toure (C)
- Richards Goal!
- De Jong
- Wright-Phillips Goal!
- Adebayor Goal! Yellow Card
- Bellamy Goal!