Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Season 2011/2012: Match 10: Arsenal 0 Manchester City 1 (Carling Cup Quarter Final))

I'm back in London with work this week, and this trip has luckily coincided with a busy week in the English football calendar.

The last time I was down, I took in West Ham vs Ipswich, but this time around I'm at top flight grounds, although not for Premier League matches.

First up on Tuesday night was Arsenal against Man City in the Carling Cup.

When I booked the ticket, I did so expecting to see Arsenal U19s vs Man City reserves. It wasn't quite as bad as that, although there was no Van Persie, no Kompany, no Arteta, no Szczesny, no Hart, no suspended Balotelli, no Tevez (too busy arguing with his own reflection in an Argentine mansion).

But included in the line-ups were Benayoun, Chamakh, Djourou, Squillaci, Park, Zabaleta, Dzeko, Toure, Johnson, Nasri, Hargreaves and De Jong (brilliantly described as "The World's Most Expensive Nigel" by The Guardian not long after he signed for City).

Nasri had a tough evening, booed by almost the whole stadium every time he went near the ball, retribution for deserting the club late this summer.

And what a stadium it is. I'd been before for a conference held in one of The Emirates' sumptuous function suites, but the atmosphere outside the ground for Tuesday's match was electric. I did a full lap, reading about the true legends of Arsenal who grace the stadium's outside walls.

Where Hampden, also a huge purpose-built football arena, feels like a soulless bowl, the Emirates crackles from the minute you step out of Arsenal tube station. The view from my seat in the gods was perfect. I genuinely couldn't fault the place. The only stadium I've liked watching a game at more is Ibrox.

It's just a pity that Arsenal weren't firing on all cylinders. They actually contained City very well - Laurent Koscielny in particular was composed at the back, marshalling Dzeko with confidence.

But Arsenal's front two of Park and Chamakh were a long way off the pace. Park in particular was a huge disappointment, and made no impact whatsoever.

Arsenal's brightest attacking player throughout was teenager Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who gave the city defence a torrid time from the right wing. If his final ball had been a bit more dangerous, or his strikers more alert, Arsenal might have taken something from the match.

In the end though, it was City who moved into the semi-final. Sergio Aguero, introduced in the first half as a substitute (a £38m substitute!! Is that a record?) was played in by Adam Johnson and dispatched a low finish past Lukasz Fabianski.

Arsenal can feel aggrieved, but it was their own poor finishing that cost them. A decent enough match, and certainly a bit different to the Montrose v Ayr United match I was at a week earlier. (A cup tie that ended in a single-goal win for the visiting side....)

Man of the Match: Most of City's players looked comfortable. Aguero clearly put the shits up the Arsenal players, as they looked panic-stricken for about five minutes after he came on. Toure organised the City defence well. Oxlade-Chamberlain's performance against illustrious opponents belied his tender years. But for me Koscielny was the stand-out perfomer, giving an assured performance at the back in the face of attacking talent most defenders would baulk at.

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