By Richard Clarke at Emirates Stadium
Sergio Aguero struck seven minutes from time to dash Arsenal’s Carling Cup hopes on Tuesday night.
The Argentine finished fine breakaway work from Eden Dzeko and Adam Johnson just as extra time beckoned in this pulsating Quarter-Final.
The nature of the goal was telling. It was Arsenal who were superior this evening and it was Arsenal who were pushing for a goal in the final stages.
Youngsters like Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Emmanuel Frimpong, Ignasi Miquel and Francis Coquelin more than matched the Premier League’s stellar side. Arsenal had the better of the chances throughout. Oxlade-Chamberlain and Ju-Young Park certainly forced the most eye-catching saves of the night out of Manchester City keeper Costel Pantilimon.
Perhaps it was a touch of youthful impetuousness that allowed the visitors a glimmer of a chance at the death. Certainly they converted it with clinical precision.
Arsenal had their fair share of old heads on show tonight, this was no nursery side. However, it was their quartet of youngsters that stood out.
Sometimes you lose and you can only be angry, sometimes you lose and you can only be disheartened.
This evening Arsenal lost and yet you could only be proud.
Before kick-off, Wenger had told Arsenal Player that this would be no ‘second-string’ game. Certainly both teams were star-studded even if only one player per side had started in their respective Premier League games at the weekend.
For a change, Arsenal went 4-4-2. Park and Marouane Chamakh were the front pair. Yossi Benayoun captained the side.
Wenger had to mix-and-match in defence, choosing four centre-backs with Johan Djourou and Miquel filling in the flank duties.
Manchester City were full of familiar faces – Dzeko, Johnson, Pablo Zabaleta, Owen Hargreaves, Nigel De Jong, Aleksander Kolarov and, of course, Samir Nasri. Kolo Toure was captain.
The name of Gary Speed rang around Emirates Stadium just before kick-off as the home crowd paid its respects to the late Wales manager.
This had been billed as a significant test for both sides – the resurgent Arsenal and slightly faltering Manchester City. Although this was one of those nights when defeat could shrugged away, it would still hurt.
The early pace was that of a Third Round FA Cup tie. In the opening forays, Johnson cut inside Miquel and skimmed the net from distance.
However in the 10th minute, Arsenal carved Manchester City open. Chamakh worked the ball wide to Coquelin, whose low bending cross was met by Park at the back post. With Toure in close attendance, the Korean’s contact was scruffy but he still got enough on the ball to beat Pantilimon. However, the Romanian thrust out a sharp left hand to stop Arsenal going in front.
Just before the half-hour, Pantilimon was called into action again, palming away a left-foot drive from Oxlade-Chamberlain that was destined for the top corner.
Inbetween those efforts, Manchester City had shown menace but little penetration. Both sides were causing trouble down their respective right flanks. Johnson and Oxlade-Chamberlain were the agitators.
Just maybe the increasing influence of the Arsenal youngster pushed Mancini into a change on the left. Certainly Kolarov did not seem to be injured when he went off after 32 minutes and switching Nasri to the left would force back the home side down that flank. The first half suggested this was a game when, to quote the old adage, attack was the best form of defence.
Certainly, as half time approached, neither side were taking a backward step. When the whistle went, Arsenal were surely the happier with their work.
The second half started at the same pace; Dzeko firing wide for the visitors, Oxlade-Chamberlain forcing Pantilimon to punch away a drive. The Bosnian frontman was on the end of Manchester City’s best opportunities and flicked a shot wide from Zabaleta’s cross in the 57th minute.
It heralded arguably the most concerted spell of visiting pressure since the opening minutes. But again Fabianski was only employed for caretaking duties.
Midway through the half, Wenger introduced Gervinho for Park. The Ivorian went to the left allowing Benayoun to move central.
The change swung the pendulum toward Arsenal. The tireless Chamakh fired wide and then the snapping challenges of Frimpong set up a sweeping move that ended with Toure closing out Gervinho on the left of the area.
Ten minutes from time, after Dzeko had headed wide, Wenger replaced Miquel with Vermaelen at left back. The Arsenal manager clearly wanted to win this.
Djourou stormed forward but his cross was too short for Benayoun at the near post. From the corner, Manchester City thundered forward and grabbed the winner. A callous strike.
It was met with a vocal volley of encouragement from the home fans. They knew their side had been worth so much more tonight.
As they had all evening, Arsenal were positive in their response. However, their only real chance came when Gervinho’s cross narrowly eluded the head of Chamakh.
Arsenal were out – but not down.
Referee: Lee Probert
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