By Richard Clarke
Arsenal moved up to third in the Premiership with a 3-1 win over Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on Tuesday.
Arsène Wenger's side had gone a long way towards securing a Champions League spot on Saturday when they beat Bolton with goals from Tomas Rosicky and Cesc Fabregas.
This evening they pretty much completed the job thanks to replica strikes from the same players. Damarcus Beasley's effort just before the interval separated those goals. But when substitute Julio Baptista added a third goal 10 minutes from time Arsenal could at last breathe easy.
However that does not tell the full story of this game. The visitors were resilient in defence and dangerous on the break. The score was 1-1 for around half an hour and during that period they worried the home side considerably.
But just as concern was starting to turn to desperation, Arsenal found the goals to secure the points and, with it, surely a place in European football's premier competition next season.
Before kick-off, Wenger had said he would stay true to the side that had beaten Bolton on Saturday. He kept his word although a hamstring injury sidelined Freddie Ljungberg and so Abou Diaby stepped in as the deep-lying support for Emmanuel Adebayor.
Manchester City were deprived of Emile Mpenza because of a hip injury so Stuart Pearce brought in Dietmar Hamann as part of a five-man midfield.
The result against Bolton at the weekend had taken a lot of the pressure off Wenger's side. Having fallen behind, Rosicky bundled in the equaliser just before half time with a well-timed run into the area from the left-flank. Wenger later said it could turn out to be the most important goal of Arsenal's season.
This evening, the Czech midfielder put the hosts ahead with a carbon copy strike after 12 minutes. Diaby nudged the ball to Eboue on the right flank and the Ivorian curled in a delightful cross to the far post. As on Saturday, Rosicky was hardly favourite to reach the ball but Nedum Onouha stood motionless as the midfielder flicked home his sixth goal of the campaign.
That was the only real chance of opening 25 minutes. Arsenal were lively enough and certainly in charge but chances were a premium. Still it was worth remembering that the visitors came into this game with the best defence in the Premiership outside the top five and the worst attack aside from rock-bottom Watford.
The outstretched leg of Richard Dunne denied the galloping William Gallas on the edge of the area in the 28th minute. Just after that, Diaby returned to pitch with a bandaged head after lengthy treatment on the pitch and then the sidelines. His re-introduction did not last long and Baptista came on. The Brazilian saw his deflected free-kick drift over the bar in the 32nd minute. Then Fabregas, who had hit his first Premiership goal of the season on Saturday, warmed the hands of Andreas Isaksson with a shot from distance.
To this point the visitors had hardly figured as an attacking force. But they carved out a clear-cut chance eight minutes before the break. Vassell's left-wing cross was nodded on by Gallas and fell to Sun Jihai at the far post. The Chinese midfielder slipped as the ball reached him and that split second delay allowed Gael Clichy to charge down his shot.
The equaliser would follow soon afterwards. On 41 minutes, Jens Lehmann scuffed a clearance to Joey Barton and Michael Johnson managed to nudge a pass into the path of Beasley in the left-hand channel. The American darted into the area before prodding his shot beyond the Arsenal keeper and just inside the far post.
Incredibly the visitors might have gone into the break leading after Lehmann flew to his left to divert Barton's shot around the post.
Arsenal's nerves were hardly settled by the half-time break. Manchester City began the second period as they had ended the first - testing the resolve of the home defence.
Gradually Wenger's men recovered their composure. In the 53rd minute, a flowing move ended with Fabregas seeing a shot deflect wide.
However the game was starting to stretch by now. Arsenal prodded and probed for an opening but Manchester City were canny on the counterattack.
Barton got the glimpse of an opening in the 62nd minute but fired straight at Lehmann. Then Adebayor thumped a shot against Andreas Isaksson at the near post and Hleb cracked an effort just wide.
They were half-chances in truth. However the effort carved out in the 67th minute was clear and obvious. Adebayor's dummy sent Rosicky raiding down the left wing. He cut the ball back to Togolese striker on the edge of the area but his contact was poor and Distin managed to block.
Seconds later, Adebayor was on the end of Hleb's hanging cross. This time his execution was excellent and Isaksson saved low at his near post.
However there was little the Swedish keeper could do with Fabregas' strike 17 minutes from time. Rosicky miscontrolled the ball on the edge of the area and Onuoha clipped a clearance to the Spanish midfielder. It sat up perfectly for a long range volley and Fabregas duly obliged with a rasping right-foot shot.
Baptista swept home a third in the 80th minute after Hleb had cut in from the left. Arsenal now had control of the game and coasted the final few minutes. Their only scare came three minutes from time when Lehmann made a fine save after Manchester City substitute Georgios Samaras danced clear in the area.
- Rosicky 90 Goal!
- Diaby 30
- Fabregas 85 Goal!
- Senderos 90
- Baptista 30 Goal!
- Denilson 85
- Distin 78
- Sun 78
- Beasley Goal!
- Vassell 90
- Ireland 90
- Samaras 78
- Corradi 78