By Richard Clarke at the Etihad Stadium
Laurent Koscielny struck eight minutes from time as Arsenal plundered a deserved point at Manchester City on Sunday.
It looked like being a frustrating afternoon for Arsène Wenger’s side until the centre half celebrated his first start of the season by thumping home from 10 yards after Manchester City failed to clear their lines from a corner.
The goal was perhaps against the run of play at the time but Arsenal’s overall performance certainly merited it. They were the better side in the first half but allowed Joleon Lescott to nod home from a corner five minutes from the whistle.
Manchester City pressed for a second after the restart and Vito Mannone made a couple of crucial saves. But Wenger’s substitutions revitalised his team and they had a chance for all three points at the death only for Gervinho to blaze over.
Still a draw at the champions is worthy result. You have to remember they have now only dropped points in three of their last 32 home games and have never lost in that time.
Arsenal, on the other hand, are still unbeaten and still optimistic for the season ahead.
Before kick-off, the visitors team-sheet had one major omission. Thomas Vermaelen had gone down with sickness so Koscielny came at centre-back. The Frenchman had been arguably the team’s best defender last season but his current campaign had amounted to a few minutes of injury time at Liverpool.
Elsewhere Olivier Giroud was left on the bench so Gervinho reprised his role at a centre forward; a position that had brought him two goals last week against Southampton. Aaron Ramsey slotted into the side. The Welshman had been used as a substitute in every game this season but this was his first start.
Wojciech Szczesny (ankle) was still out so Mannone retained his place in goal. Mikel Arteta took the captain’s armband for the first time in a competitive match.
Manchester City’s rich seam of talent is such that they could leave Mario Balotelli and Carlos Tevez on the bench. Sergio Aguero was back in the starting line-up after injury while Scott Sinclair made his home debut.
This was a big weekend in the Premier League. Just before the kick-off at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester United had seen off Liverpool 2-1 at a few miles west at Anfield.
As Wenger had admitted, judgements were inevitable on the back of today’s games. But there was no reason to suggest that they would be unfavourable.
And, in keeping with that, it was no surprise to see the visitors boss the opening stages with a precise passing display that demonstrated their confidence.
In truth it did not create much. Cazorla dribbled a shot goalwards and Gibbs squared when well placed to shoot.
It was Manchester City who forced the first save. Aguero cut inside and drove at goal, Mannone batted the ball away.
In the 16th minute, Arsenal created a chance that their build-up play deserved. Ramsey slid the galloping Gervinho clear in the right-hand channel. But the Ivorian’s first touch was poor and a glorious opportunity went missing.
By now, Manchester City had roused themselves from their slumbering start. But the next chance would fall to Arsenal.
In the 25th minute, Carl Jenkinson thieved the ball from Lescott on the byline and cut the ball back for Podolski, who blazed the ball over the bar when he should have done better.
However as half-time approached, Manchester City were starting to sustain pressure for the first time. Five minutes from the whistle they broke the deadlock.
Gibbs’ errant header gave away a corner. David Silva swung the ball to the far post and Lescott leapt highest to convert the header.
Seconds later it might have been 2-0 as Edin Dzeko whipped in a shot that Mannone had to fingertip over the bar.
The first goal was harsh enough on Arsenal. A second would have been a travesty.
However, after the teams emerged into the Manchester rain, the home side went about the business of finding the net again.
They pressed Arsenal back in the opening minutes and came close to finding the net when Aguero dropped away from his marker and fired an angle shot over the bar.
Manchester City would not create another clear-cut chance during their period of dominance. However they did hold Arsenal at bay all too easily.
Wenger saw the need for change and, with 19 minutes left, threw on Giroud and Theo Walcott.
It added urgency to Arsenal’s game but they still could not create chances. And, 10 minutes from time, they nearly conceded again when Yaya Toure fed Aguero and Mannone had to pull off a sharp save at the near post.
The visitors needed something, anything. And Cazorla’s 25-yard drive, pawed aside by Hart, provided both the impetus and the opportunity.
The corner was not properly cleared by Lescott and a tumbling Koscielny rifled a rocket of a shot into the net. The most emphatic finish you’ll see.
Arsenal now fancied a winner but it was Manchester City who nearly stole it. Mannone made a stunning save from Vincent Kompany’s overhead kick and Aguero dribbled a shot past the far post with the keeper stranded.
But at the other end Gervinho danced into the D before blasting over.
At the whistle, both sides could argue they deserved all three points but one each is probably fair.
And certainly Arsenal will be the happier with their efforts today.
Referee: Mike Dean
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