The cliché that football is a game of two halves was made evident in yesterday’s match between Manchester City and Arsenal.
One shot on goal was the combined effort of the two teams in the first 45 minutes. Fortunately for City, Almunia is Arsenal’s goalkeeper and that only shot, a header off Micah Richards that the Spaniard should have saved, ended up in the back of the net.
1-0 at half time was more the result of randomness than any particular attempt by City to score.
The producer of the half-time highlights in the stadium is certainly talented and creative, as he or she managed to come up with four or five plays to show.
In the second half though talent and creativity moved on to the pitch, with both teams presenting their fans with fast, flowing football.
Arsenal came back from the changing room with a different attitude and that paid off with Robin van Persie scoring the equaliser 15 minutes into the second half.
The last 30 minutes of the match were the type of action packed football that only the Premier League can produce.
Manchester City pressed on after the goal and eventually regained the lead after Craig Bellamy, until then playing on the left flank, was sent to join Adebayor in the centre. 2-1 Manchester City.
A few minutes later, with Arsenal taking control of the ball and trying to get back on the match, another blazing counter-attack, another cross and Adebayor with a great header gave a two-goal advantage to City that would show to be precious in the last few minutes of the match.
After scoring, Adebayor sprinted towards the other end of the pitch, where Arsenal fans were concentrated, to "celebrate" the goal with his former supporters.
This would turn out to be the moment of the match and most likely of the season, should City be able to go all the way to the title.
It was a moment of pure irrationality and irresponsibility on the part of Adebayor as security had to be reinforced in order to prevent Arsenal fans invading the pitch, but it was certainly a great moment.
Even though the player apologised later on, the damage was done and the image of Adebayor stretching his arms in glory was left to be reproduced in both City and Arsenal fans’ memory.
After all, football is a sport made of passion, rivalry and intensity. And whereas Arsenal fans saw Adebayor’s behaviour as unfair and ungrateful, for City fans it helped assert the idea that Man City is more than a small club as Alex Ferguson put it, or more than the simple consequence of millions of pounds invested by a group of millionaires, as if the other teams were publicly owned.
After all he was celebrating the third goal against Arsenal in what has so far been a 100% successful season. For City fans it was the confirmation that their team has what it takes to be the "Fifth Big".
With Arsenal all stationed in City’s half, it was another counter-attack that would definitely kill the match. This time Shaun Wright-Phillips finalised the play leaving Arsene Wenger to wonder what had gone so terribly wrong in this match.
Rosicky would reduce the deficit to 4-2 and immediately afterwards Van Persie hit the post in what could have been the goal that put Arsenal back in the game. But it was not to happen.
After a season that promised so much in the first few matches, the two consecutive trips to Manchester showed an Arsenal that is indeed one year away from being a serious contender to the Premier League title.
Against City they were not able to have a single shot on goal for 45 minutes, despite having the ball for large periods of the match. The absence of a dominant striker seemed all too evident yesterday.
Arsenal's attacking football works well when facing minor opposition, but against the likes of City and United, that is just not enough. A player capable of scoring out of the blue, of turning a game that seems stuck in the midfield is clearly missing. Arsenal does not have that type of player.
Besides, the goalkeeper position remains a problem, as it was once again visible yesterday that Almunia is not a world-class keeper. As Simon Kuper argues in his latest book, goalkeepers are the most underrated position in football, as their price is generally low and their importance for the team’s success immense. Any winning side must have a reliable goalkeeper, and for the time being Almunia is just not one of those.
Even though they won and in style, City also showed its flaws throughout the match and in particular during the first half, where, even though playing at home, they did not manage to hit the ball on goal with the exception of Richards' header that Almunia guaranteed to end up in the back of the net.
It was clear that City lacks a player to link the attacking play. Too often the ball was kicked up front in the hope Adebayor would run to get it and then wait for the midfield to go in support. Stephen Ireland did not do that job and the absence of Robinho and Tevez helped underline that deficiency in the team.
I was also particularly puzzled by the attitude of some City player, Micah Richards above all. Even though his performance was perfect for highlights as he scored one and had a decisive pass in another, his attitude throughout the match was far from revealing full-commitment. The right flank was often left empty, his passes were, in a good number of cases, to Arsenal players, and his running in support of the attack was generally slow.
Shaun Wright-Phillips also struck me as too erratic to be given a starting line-up position. He is excellent when playing counter-attack football, but when the opposition is back defending, he more often than not ends up giving the ball away while trying to force his dribble past a defender. For a title contender, that is not enough.
In short, it was a highly entertaining afternoon at the City of Manchester Stadium, full of drama, goals and entertainment.
On one side a team that was supposed to be a contender but it is not, and on the other side a team that was not supposed to be a contender but it is.
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