MATCH REPORT – City 1 Arsenal 3

The Premier League – Saturday 17th January 2009

We’re in a real rut now – playing tolerably well in the main, but not really looking like getting results. Arsenal at home followed this troubling pattern. City put in a solid effort, and then lost. And while we should not burden the team with too many expectations of taking (more) points from a side with resources that so completely dwarf ours, we’re approaching a time of the season at which points simply must be accrued.

Losing valiantly yesterday were: Myhill; Doyle, Turner, Ricketts, Kilbane; France, Mendy, Ashbee (c), Geovanni, Halmosi; Cousin. It meant a first Premier League appearance for Ryan France, becoming one of a very small number of players to play in all four divisions for one club. A magnificent achievement for a tirelessly loyal player – we tip our cap in acknowledgement.

Also lining up for the Tigers in a necessarily unusual formation was debutant Kevin Kilbane, accompanied by Nathan Doyle. A slightly odd alignment, but with Boateng absent through injury, Zayatte suspended and King unavailable, one somewhat forced upon Phil Brown. For Arsenal, who appeared not to have fully recovered from the shattering defeat dealt unto them by City last year, a familiar galaxy of stars took to the KC turf: Almunia, Sagna, Toure, Diaby, Denilson, Nasir, Djourou, Clichy, Adebayor and Eboue (booooo).

The customary sell-out at the Circle saw City start brightly, forcing two corners in the first minute which were eventually dealt with. Nathan Doyle has the first serious attempt on goal with a highly ambitious long-range shot which was cleanly struck but straight at Manuel Almunia.

Robin van Persie came very close with a free-kick that nicked off the wall and flew inches wide of Myhill’s post – this was proving to be a useful source of chances for Arsenal, whose dangerous attackers were being well shackled by a committed City side. Van Persie forced a brilliant save from Myhill midway through the half, and Mendy was able to steer the ball away from danger. Just.

However, Arsenal’s threat was growing, and they eventually look the lead in dismaying circumstances. City conceded a corner on their left flank, which was taken by van Persie and headed in by Adebayor. Nyyaarrggghhh. Few things grate more than conceding from a set piece, particularly when it loses you parity against one of the best teams in the land.

Thus far it had been a match of few chances, and this pattern continued to the break – although the East Stand roused itself with a marvellous, Newcastle-esque rendition of “Phil Brown’s Black and Amber Army” that rolled around the stadium for several minutes. The team went off at the break to enthusiastic applause.

5.30pm kick-offs are a curious and unnatural phenomenon. Neither afternoon nor evening, it meant we’d started knowing that Stoke had thankfully blown their chances of a stunning victory at Chelsea, but West Brom’s hugely impressive win over ailing Middlesbrough complicated a horrible situation at the bottom yet further. It meant we started against in the fantastically surreal position of really needing to take something from a match with Arsenal. And y’know, as the players trotted out for the second half, we believed we could.

Another thing about 5.30pm kick-offs is the additional opportunity for pre-match refreshment, which seemed to be benefiting the atmosphere. Too often, the Circle is a quiescent venue – admittedly better than many we visit, but this one was a pleasure to be a part of. With the Arsenal support a silent irrelevance, the City fans urged the team on with genuine fervour.

It was a fairly tight opening to the second forty-five, with Arsenal content to sit back and look to exploit their fabulous capacity to break at speed. Adebayor had the first effort during it, smacking a shot that Myhill showed fine reflexes to bat away.

Peter Halmosi’s disappointing afternoon was curtailed after 52 minutes when the imposing figure of Manucho, our latest Manchester United loanee, was summoned by Phil Brown. One of his first contributions was when he sent the ball on in the area and was felled by Djourou. It was a clear penalty – Mr Wiley didn’t give it.

Still, City continued plugging away, and were rewarded with twenty-five minutes remaining. Mendy’s cross took a slight deflection en route to Cousin, unmarked ten yards from goal. His powerful header flew past the exposed Almunia and scorched into the goal to spark Tigery pandemonium.

What now for City? Seek to safeguard a precious point, or try to repeat our trick at the Emirates? With the wind buffeting the players and heavy rain cascading onto the pitch, it was a fast-paced but slightly scrappy game, and City decided that fortune should favour the bold, and elected to be bold. A courageous gamble that deserved better than it got.

Eight minutes from time we fell behind. A raid on the right saw some neat fast passing release Nasri on the left, and his beautifully-hit shot whistled past Myhill. A cruel, gutting blow. Phil Brown may wonder why Nathan Doyle, whose sloppy play on the post he was supposedly guarding led to the first, was so far from his station.

No matter; we sensed their was little way back. Fagan came on for the industrious France, and although we huffed and puffed up front, a killer third was always on the cards. It duly arrived when van Persie – clearly offside, but not flagged by the linesman – squared for Bendtner, who applied an easy finish. And that was that.

So, another defeat. Another three goals shipped. The pack gain ground on us, and now just six points cushion us from what would be a truly sickening relegation. Yet, reason to stay optimistic. We played well, well enough to have beaten lesser sides. Arsene Wenger may be a supremely dislikeable character, but he has been producers fabulous teams on these shores for years, and there is little shame in being bested by one of them.

The next month gives us plenty of winnable fixtures. The need for a win or two is becoming quite considerable, but providing we keep our heads, the wins should come. (AD)