It was blatantly clear from the moment the whistle went that both teams were up for this game. City's season was falling apart according to large sections of the media after losing to Chelsea, and with Manchester United beating QPR earlier on in the day City really needed a result to stay top of the league.
Within the first 10 minutes City could have been 1-0 up as Zabaleta (playing at left back) received the ball out wide from a perfectly weighted pass from Barry. With the Arsenal defence retreating, Zaba placed a wonderful first time pass across the top of the 18 yard box which was collected expertly by Aguero. Sergio's first touch was sublime, his shot however wasn't as he blasted the ball over the bar.
As well as Zabaleta comng in for Kolarov and Clichy (injured and suspended), this game also saw Kolo Toure return to action, chosen ahead of Joleon Lescott. Noteably though, it was Kopmpany who occupied the left side of the central pairing. With the threat of Walcott cutting inside and causing trouble it was up to Kompany and Zaba to make so he didn't have any influence on the game.
That's exactly what they did. Both Zabaleta and Kompany has absolutely superb games. Amongst the best I've ever seen either of them play. Komapny was a giant in defence, nothing was getting past him and he even showed a few deft touches going forward when the opportunity arose. Zabaleta was sensational at left back both in defence and going forward, even hitting the post with a drive from outside the area later in the game.
After his previous performances this season I was a little worried when I saw Kolo's name on the team sheet. But I will hand it to him, he also had a fine game. Perhaps the most notable contribution was executing a perfectly times tackle on Aaron Ramsey with the young gunner 6 yards from goal and certain to score. The look on Ramsey's face said it all, he wouldn't get a better opportunity to score all season.
Balotelli came close to scoring after 25 minutes as he brought the ball down between two Arsenal defenders and shot on the turn from around 8 yards. Unfortunately for City, Szczesny was in fine form, and closed the gap quickly to stop the shot heading into the back of the net.
The first half was exhilarating as both sides seemingly took turns in trading blows. City attacked, then Arsenal attacked, back and forth it went. Joe Hart made a number of fantastic saves to keep City in the game, the best performance from him so far this season as he was clearly desperate to keep a clean sheet. Both teams went in level at 0-0 at the halfway mark.
The deadlock was finally broken on 52 minutes after Zabaleta intercepted a pass on the edge of his own area. Gareth Barry picked up the ball and passed quickly to Samir Nasri who then quickly turned and ran past the halfway line, spotting Balotelli in acres of space to run into on the left wing. Balo took control of the ball 6 yards from the byline, worked his way to the 18 yard box and jinked passed song before firing off a low drive. Szczesny parried the shot but Aguero managed to get his head to the rebound which then fell neatly to Silva who tapped the ball home with his right foot.
Both sides had a number of good chances in the second half. Robin Van Persie had the ball in the back of the net at one point but the assistant flagged for offside. Arsenal may well feel aggrieved after seeing the reply though. It was a mixture of poor finishing and excellent goalkeeping from both teams that kept the score down before time was called on a simply breathtaking game.
An outstanding performance from all players. Nasri was given man of the match at the Etihad, Kompany was given it by Sky, although Zabaleta and Gareth Barry were two other very strong shouts for the award.
City remain top of the table despite their season apparently falling apart after the Chelsea game. Stoke visit the Etihad Stadium in the next few days, a different sort of test altogether awaits.
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