By Richard Clarke at the Etihad Stadium
David Silva struck the only goal as Arsenal went down 1-0 at Manchester City on Sunday.
The Spaniard scored seven minutes into the second half just as the visitors were settling down after a defensive reshuffle following the loss of Johan Djourou.
Mario Balotelli raced down the left flank that had been previously occupied by the Swiss international and, although his shot was saved by Wojciech Szczesny, Silva eventually scrambled home the rebound at the far post.
The visitors put in a decent response. Thomas Vermaelen saw an effort superbly saved by Joe Hart and, in the final seconds, curled an effort just past the post. But Arsenal were consigned to their first Premier League defeat since they lost 2-1 at Tottenham on October 2.
Manchester City were the more powerful side and worthy of their win. The little things went against the visitors, certainly when Micah Richards appeared to handle in the area towards end. But, on this showing, Wenger's men will have a major part to play at the top of the table this season.
Arsenal lost this afternoon but they were not beaten.
Before kick-off, Wenger kept faith with the side that had squeezed past Everton last weekend. There was no reason not to. Arsenal were the form side in the Premier League.
The hosts were not exactly faltering but had endured the closest thing they had come to a blip in an otherwise brilliant season so far. At the start of December, they had been knocked out of the Champions League and just a couple of hours before kick-off they were toppled from top spot by their cross-town rivals. They came into this game fresh from defeat at Chelsea – their first domestic reverse of the campaign.
However, the opening stages today suggested there would be no hangover.
Manchester City were the better side for the opening quarter of an hour. In the eighth minute, Gareth Barry released Pablo Zabaleta down the left. His low, curling cross was killed by Sergio Aguero with one touch at the far post but, as Laurent Koscielny and Thomas Vermaelen hared back in pursuit, the Argentinian crashed a cramped shot over the bar.
Manchester City were showing all of their power and class. They were first in the tackle and quick to win back the ball when they lost it.
Arsenal had to dig in. Fortunately, they were mentally ‘tooled up’ for the job.
Home keeper Joe Hart had been unemployed thus far but he would make up for it in the 18th minute. First he scruffily pawed behind an angled shot from Gervinho then, from the resulting corner, Aaron Ramsey’s snatched shot nearly caught him out at the near post.
They were decent opportunities that helped Arsenal find a foothold in the game. However, the hosts still had the edge.
Midway through the half, a combination of Per Mertesacker and Djourou failed to clear a curling cross from Micah Richards. The ball dropped nicely for Balotelli who swung a swivelling foot at the ball. Szczesny raced out to block.
However, Arsenal were brighter now and playing with more confidence. They were always prepared to play their way out of trouble and, at least metaphorically on this cold winter’s day, had rolled up their sleeves. Just past the half-hour, Gervinho and Van Persie combined for the Dutchman to feed Ramsey but Kolo Toure scrambled away the ball.
Manchester City bullied Arsenal a little as the whistle approached. Five minutes from time, Aguero robbed Alex Song just outside the area, exchanged passes with Silva before forcing a low save from Szczesny.
Djourou was the last down the tunnel at the break. The centre back was holding his groin as he went. Wenger gave the injury a couple of minutes after the restart before being forced into a change. The introduction of Ignasi Miquel caused a tactical switch. The Spaniard went to left back, Koscielny went to the right and Vermaelen joined Mertesacker in the middle.
The visiting back four had stood up to significant City pressure in the first half. Only one of them would be doing the same job in the second period.
However, in the 53rd minute, they would be breached.
Balotelli raced down the left in acres of space before Song came over to challenge. The Italian darted inside and fired low across goal. Szczesny made a fine low save but, although Vermaelen flicked the ball away from the stooping Aguero, Silva slid home the rebound at the far post.
There was nearly an immediate reply. Van Persie lifted a shot over Hart and into the net a couple of minutes later but he was flagged offside.
However, Manchester City sensed weakness about Arsenal and were not minded to show mercy.
Aguero fired a fierce low cross-shot inches past the far post, then Samir Nasri burst through but he failed to find the unmarked Balotelli 12 yards out.
Gervinho cut the ball back for Van Persie to fire low at Hart and, then in the 66th minute, the Ivorian’s cross was headed at the keeper by the Dutchman. Both were decent opportunities but the latter was flagged offside.
Inbetween those efforts, the home side came closer when Zabaleta stole Koscielny’s clearance away from Walcott before rifling a shot against the post with Szczesny beaten.
Wenger threw on Andrey Arshavin and Marouane Chamakh in the latter stages. It made a difference.
Arsenal had a solid shout for handball when Koscielny’s cross hit the arm of Richards. In the final minute of normal time, Arteta played a short free-kick to Vermaelen on the edge of the area. The Belgian’s strike was fierce but Hart expertly tipped the ball over the bar.
After Eden Dzeko fired into the side-netting, Vermaelen sent a curling effort just past Hart’s right-hand post with virtually the final kick of the game.
At full time, Manchester City had proved themselves worthy to be restored as Premier League leaders
But Arsenal had proved something too.
- Koscielny Yellow Card
- Djourou 47
- Mertesacker 82
- Song Yellow Card
- Arteta Yellow Card
- Walcott 69
- Miquel 47
- Arshavin 69
- Chamakh 82
- Nasri 86
- Toure 86
- Silva Goal!
- Barry Yellow Card
- Balotelli 73
- Aguero Yellow Card
- Milner 73
- Jong 86
- Dzeko 86