Hosts hit the woodwork twice but can't breach Joe Hart...
Arsenal started the game like a team possessed and were all over City from the kick-off. Within a minute, the home team had a glorious opportunity to take the lead. Fantastic one-two play by Samir Nasri and Cesc Fabregas brought the ball to the edge of City’s box. Nasri had the vision to play in Jack Wilshere who was steaming in from the left, but the young midfielder could not decide whether to shoot or play in Robin van Persie.
In the eventuality his cross-shot almost reached the Dutchman, but the ball eluded his desperate slide. Theo Walcott, who picked up the loose ball, was unable to make something of the situation.
From the resultant breakdown, City broke down the other end and had James Milner in acres of space on the right. Like Wilshere the winger was caught in two minds and he skewed the ball across the area and out for a goal kick.
Arsenal were buoyant from their start and with the fans behind them, roared forward in waves of close control and pinpoint vision. In the fourth minute Wilshere had a bullet left-footed shot nervously parried by Joe Hart.
The match was fast becoming a thrilling encounter and despite the Gunners’ dominance it was end-to-end. City had not settled at all, and soon after, Arsenal had their third effort in the first 15 minutes. Assured skill from Van Persie gave the striker a sight of goal, and his stinging, curling shot struck the right upright with Hart completely beaten.
It was the closest the game had come to a goal and the Emirates was fizzing with expectation. The team responded to the crowd and confounded City with their close control and artful touches. Brilliant build-up play from Nasri and Fabregas again brought in Wilshere, and the youngster’s snap-shot was well held by Hart.
Eventually, City began to play with more surety and enjoyed a spell of possession without threatening much. It was proving a turbulent time for City fans as, no sooner had they strung a few passes together, they went close to conceding.
Walcott, who was haranguing Pablo Zabaleta mercilessly, picked the ball up on the edge of the area and hit a low shot across goal. With Hart scrambling, it could have been curtains for City, but the ball slid past the post, aided by the curl Walcott had put on it.
The more comfortable Arsenal looked, the more anxious the crowd became – fearing it would be a luckless night. On 28 minutes Fabregas picked the ball up on the edge of the box and hit a low effort. The shot wrong-footed Hart, and he could only watch and pray as the ball hit the right post for the second time that night.
With the away side not even looking likely of testing Lukasz Fabianski, let alone scoring, it was a wake-up call when Carlos Tevez beat Arsenal’s offside trap. The Argentine had held the ball up superbly before passing to Toure and continuing his run behind the Gunners’ back four. As defenders looked for a flag after the Ivorian lifted the ball over them, Tevez controlled it and hit a speculative volley. The ball was always dipping over the bar, but it gave something for travelling supporters to cheer about, if only for a short while.
As the half began to draw to a close, Arsenal continued to pressurise, and Roberto Mancini’s men went into the tunnel relieved to be level.
There were no changes at the beginning of the second period, in both personnel and action, and City were almost undone by Walcott’s pace in the 51st minute. The through-ball had Zabaleta stretching and just as the England winger was about to pick his pocket, but Hart managed to come out and smother.
In spite of Arsenal’s industry, the second half was not played with as much vigour as the opening 45 minutes. As the anxious cries from the home faithful began to ring out with more regularity, Arsenal galvanised themselves.
Van Persie found himself in yards of space and an even more vicious shot looked to be heading to the top corner. Joe Hart, who had been totally stranded for the efforts that hit the woodwork earlier in the evening, proved why he is England’s number one with the most astonishing finger-tip save to put the ball over the bar.
With that it was all hands to the pump for City as the Gunners began to press forward at every opportunity. As the game wound down, it seemed that all the action had passed. Then in the 88th minute frustration boiled over.
Bacary Sagna clattered into Zabaleta on the touchline and the Argentine squared up to the Frenchman in anger. As their heads came together, Sagna seemed to push his into Zabaleta’s and the referee took instant action, sending both players off for violent conduct. It was a needless situation, and Zabaleta seemed completely blameless.
After Van Persie saw one more shot saved by Hart, the game was all but over. When the referee blew his whistle there were grumblings in the crowd, as all realised that Manchester United were the real winners in this tense stalemate.