Arsenal's impressive winning streak suffered a dent when Fulham visited the Emirates, so all eyes were cast for the mouth-watering quarterfinal tie between Arsene Wenger's men and the moneybags from Manchester City.
I chose not to write a preview for the Carling Cup quarterfinal because I had a big hunch that Wenger was going to mix things up in his starting lineup, and I wasn't surprised when I saw a back line with Johan Djourou, Laurent Koscielny, Sebastien Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel. The Squisha has featured sparingly for Arsenal this season, and the arrival of Per Mertesacker has further reduced his chances of playing for Arsenal.
Arsenal's midfield wasn't half bad as Wenger handed starts to Francis Coquelin and Emmanuel Frimpong at the center of the park, while Yossi Benayoun and the Chambered Ox offered wit down the flanks. Robin van Persie has been a key player for Arsenal this season, but he was given a breather as Marouane Chamakh and Park Chu-Young were given chances to prove their worth to the gooners.
Roberto Mancini has the luxury of a very big squad to pick so handed starts to big names like Aleksandar Kolarov, Adam Johnson, Nigel de Jong and Owen Hargreaves. Former Gunners like Kolo Toure and $amir Na$ri also took center stage in what turned out to be a really good match for the neutrals.
The match began in absolute silence, in recognition of the loss of a great Premier League stalwart that left this planet at the age of 42. He represented few teams in the league, but his exploits at Newcastle and Bolton can never be forgotten. May his gentle soul rest in perfect peace.
Nasri received a barrage of boos with every touch, and it was fully expected following his shenanigans this summer. Kolarav penetrated down the left and drilled in a cross, but no Man City player was in the middle to kill it off. Ignasi Miquel made a dangerous back pass that brought Lukasz Fabianski out of his comfort zone that ultimately led to a Man City throw but the visitors didn't capitalize on it.
Arsenal had the first real break that almost led to a goal. The Chambered Ox used his pace to tee up Chamakh, who held onto the ball before laying it up for Coquelin. The young Frenchman squared the ball across the six yard box to Park CY but the Man City goalie Pantilimon and the post kept the ball out. A good chance gone begging.
Alex Chamberlain showed some sultry dribbling skills as he skipped Hargreaves and de Jong with consummate ease before twisting past Stefan Savic, but Toure anticipated the ball well to avert the danger.
Chamberlain was the star attraction again when he executed a perfectly timed one-two with Chamakh before flashing the ball goalwards with his weaker foot, but the goalie tipped the ball over the bar.
As early as the 33rd minute, Mancini made a tactical switch to replace Kolarov with Sergio Aguero but It was funny to know that Samir Nasri's number was displayed initially by the fourth official. Chamberlain was pulling the strings in the midfield as he went past Hargreaves again before feeding Djourou, but the Swiss' cross was largely disappointing for an expectant Chamakh.
At the end of the first half, an Arsenal side that looked weaker on paper controlled the entire game and renowned experienced midfielders like Hargreaves and de Jong were run ragged by the exciting youngsters of Arsenal. On the bad side, Fabianski seemed shaky, Park CY was having a stinker and Chamakh spent more time outside the box than in it.
Chamberlain made mince meat of Pablo Zabaleta, but the Argentine showed good recovery to clear the ball out for a corner. Man City's goalie Pantilimon was having a stormer between the sticks, as he kept the Gunners at bay making save after save. He parried quickfire shots from Coquelin and Frimpong.
Man City were starting to assert themselves as the game progressed. Edin Dzeko, Aguero and Hargreaves tried the Arsenal net, but their efforts were poor. Park CY set up Benayoun with a cross-field diagonal ball and the Isreali did well to send it into the box for Chamakh, but the Moroccan sent his effort wide.
Weger took Park CY out of his misery and brought Gervinho, who had an exciting 15-minute cameo that last time out against Fulham. In the space of minutes, Gervinho had two attempts on goal but they were quite dreadful, to say the least. Wenger brought on Thomas Vermaelen for Miquel to steady the ship at the back.
In the 84th minute, Arsenal received a sucker punch as Adam Johnson's pass found Aguero that was all alone. The Argentine dynamo picked his spot and placed it past Fabianski in goal. Wenger took off Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the 89th minute, and he probably expected a miracle from the wrongest player in the world in such a situation at the moment: Andrey Arshavin.
The fourth official raised the electronic board and the crowd did their bit to cheer on their players as a big number four was displayed.
In the 92nd minute, Lukasz Fabianski probably watched the video clip how Paul Robinson won a penalty for Blackburn against Wigan, so he added numbers into the box when a corner was about to be played. Pantilimon caught the ball and would've probably scored from his box if he had half the technique Xabi Alonso possesses, but he chose to send the ball to Adam Johnson but Fabianski bravely got back and headed the ball away.
Arsenal's last chance to send the game to extra time came when Gervinho evaded Zabaleta to send in a delicious cross that begged for the slightest of touches, but none came from any player wearing the Red and White. That was it, as Manchester City booked their place in the semis of the Carling Cup and they'll be joined with Liverpool.
Fabianski (6.5) did okay and was blameless for the goal he conceded.
Djourou (6.5) didn't really support Oxlade-Chamberlain as the gooners would've liked.
Koscielny (7.5) put up a stellar performance for the Gunners.
Squillaci (7.5) showed the kind of form that won him the Ligue 1 Revelation of the Year award in his AS Monaco days (2003)
Miquel (6.5) did okay in the left back position.
Frimpong (7.0) blocked off Manchester City from the midfield.
Coquelin (7.5) was largely impressive and he also offered a lot in attack.
Benayoun (7.0) showed his flair and did pretty well on the flanks.
Oxlade-Chamberlain (8.5) was the star attraction from an Arsenal point of view.
Park CY (5.0) didn't come to the pitch with his shooting boots.
Chamakh (6.5) didn't offer much in attack but was heavily involved in link-up play.
Gervinho (6.5) move well with the ball but failed to take his chances.
Vermaelen and Arshavin didn't play long enough to get ratings.
After the game, there was still time for a bust-up between Samir Nasri and Emmanuel Frimpong. Both players had a clash on Twitter shortly after Nasri left for the greens of Manchester City, but they gestured to each other as they approached the tunnel. Arsenal denied punches were thrown, but a witness confirmed the players confronted each other as they left for the dressing rooms at the Emirates Stadium.
The tweet of the day goes to @Hamster41:
"@Hamster41: Enjoy the Carling Cup semi-finals City and Liverpool. While we play in the Champions League."
In as much as they are still in the lowest regarded competition amongst the three English football has to offer, they stand a chance of winning a trophy.
A feat Arsenal hasn't achieved since the days King Arthur ruled Camelot.
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