City saw a break from the league tonight in the form of a Quarter Final Tie in the League Cup. This game probably wouldn`t reflect the current League as both sides made a number of changes. Indeed City made ten changes from the side that played at the weekend and the team sheet read as follows; Pantillimon, Onuoha, Savic, Kolo Toure, Zabaleta, De Jong, Hargreaves, Johnson, Nasri, Kolarov, and Dzeko. The bench for City was made up of; Taylor, Richards, Bridge, Rekik, Suarez, Razak, Aguero.
The game began with a minute`s appreciation for the life of Gary Speed who died so tragically at the weekend and then the game began. City kicked of right to left and immediately launched a long ball toward the right wing position. Kolarov had lined up as the left midfielder with Nasri central and Johnson on the right. The opening exchanges saw both teams sparring for possession. Nasri was being booed every time he went near the ball, but this was a game he had expressly asked to play in.
One duel that was looking interesting from the off was that between Chamberlain and Zabaleta, as the Arsenal youngster was blessed with blistering pace. The game was however looking scrappy as Arsenal were finding it hard to penetrate through the centre of the pitch and City were struggling to find a penetrative pass.
Then, in the ninth minute a lovely cross field ball found Johnson thirty yards from goal. The tricky winger dropped his shoulder and jinked the opposite way, made for the penalty area and unleashed a wicked shot that had the keeper beaten hands down but was just over the cross bar. First shot in anger by either side.
In the tenth minute, Chamberlain was played in as he made a diagonal run inside from left to right. He received and played the ball in one touch and the move was finished with a wonderful strike by Park at City`s far post which Pantillimon did well to keep out.
Fourteen minutes in and City saw a period of possession, but they were often harried and forced back by the young and enthusiastic Arsenal side. The possession ended in a move worked up the centre of the park and capped by a wild shot by Zabaleta under challenge.
A minute later and Hargreaves played a lovely pass over the top of the Arsenal defence. Dzeko went a fraction too early and was adjudged offside, but the pass was sublime and a demonstration of the class Hargreaves possessed.
Nineteen minutes in and Dzeko found himself on the ball in the centre circle. He chested the ball, shielded it and played a thirty yarder toward Johnson. Johnson made the by line with ease and cut a great cross back to Dzeko whose shot was blocked. A wonderful move and City looked like they had moved up a gear.
A minute later and great play by Zabaleta as Savic showed naivety and was left for dead by Chamakh. Zabaleta was on hand to make a wonderful sliding tackle to win the ball back. Not only that, but he was up first and played the ball up field.
Arsenal earnt a corner after some good play by Benayoun on twenty five minutes. Chamberlain played a short ball to the near post which was easily dealt with by City. The Arsenal youngster was looking a great prospect and was making Zabaleta work his socks off.
Seconds later and Chamberlain found himself free in the middle of the park twenty five yards out. He took two steps and unleashed a wicked curling shot which was flying into the net before Pantillimon made a wonderful save. Straight from the save City moved the ball quickly up field. A corner followed and Fabianski was nearly caught out as he flapped at the ball.
Thirty one minutes in and Mancini made an early change. Kolarov who had been playing a midfield role, was withdrawn and Aguero thrown into the fray. Mancini had seen something he didn`t like and brave as he was changed things immediatley.
Aguero was involved right away and earnt his team a corner with his third exchange on the ball. As ever, Mancini`s tactical changes had an impact on the game as City looked more dangerous with the change.
With ten minutes left in the game City were seeing more of the ball in the final third and were starting to take charge in the middle of the park. The possession stats were much in favour of City as, unusually for The Emirates stadium, City had enjoyed sixty per cent of the share.
Then, Arsenal enjoyed a couple of minutes where they pressed and probed the City line but could not pass within thirty yards of the City goal as a Blue shirt was always in the way. City were playing on the counter when this happened and nearly released Dzeko on forty one minutes before the big striker was felled by Frimpong.
As the half drew to a close, neither side seemed to be able to find that final ball, as defences were on top. In midfield, De Jong and Hargreaves were looking imperious and Frimpong for Arsenal was doing an equally good job in front of his back four. Neither side had threatened much and both would need more of a cutting edge to win in the second half.
Arsenal kicked off the second half as the same eleven that finished the first half started the second. They were immediately on the attack and Benayoun almost got goal side of Onuoha within the first minute. Seconds after this and it was City on the attack as Dzeko found himself twenty yards out, back to goal with the ball at his feet. He turned and crafted a wonderful shot which flew just wide of the right hand post with the keeper rooted to the spot.
As the game progressed, a lot was happening in the middle of the park but little to trouble either defence.
Five minutes in and Arsenal were on the front foot and Chamberlain was again giving Zabaleta a torrid time, but whilst the home side had three shots on target, none of them really troubled the City stopper.
First yellow of the game was awarded to Hargreaves as he struggled to keep up with a surging run from Frimpong. He did look to have nicked the ball but the ref saw it as a yellow card offense. City defended the free kick brilliantly and Johnson played the pass of the game through to Aguero who fluffed his lines and mis-controlled the ball.
Fifty six minutes in and Savic went on a surging run into the opposition half. He played a cutting pass between full back and centre half for Zabaleta to run onto. The full back put a great cross into the box which Dzeko met at the near post. His contact was not perfect, and the ball rolled tamely into the keepers hands. This was a chance missed.
On the stroke of sixty minutes, City burst into life, Johnson and Aguero exchanging passes, supported by Onuoha and De Jong. The ball was moved cross field to Nasri and then back across to Johnson. Finally a pass found Hargreaves unmarked a good thirty yards out. He took aim and shot but the ball flew high and wide of the Arsenal goal.
On the stroke of seventy minutes, the first sub of the game for Arsenal saw Gervinho replace Park as Wenger tried to inject some extra pace in his forward line.
The game was still very much there for the winning, but both defences had been on and neither side had been able to find the perfect final ball.
Two minutes later and Toure was called into action as Chamberlain put a great cross into the box, toward the far post. With Chamakh bearing down on the goal, Toure leapt magnificently to head the ball clear.
With fifteen minutes to go Chamberlain was involved in a great move again, losing Zabaleta with ease and putting a great cross into the box that found the feet of Gervinho. The Arsenal forward took the ball and shaped to shoot before being dispossessed by a wonderful tackle by the ever vigilant Kolo Toure.
With twelve minutes to go, City had probably their best chance of the game as Zabaleta put a cross straight onto the head of Dzeko. The big striker once again failed to hit the target with a good chance. .
Next followed two substitutions. First Razak for Hargreaves for City and then Arsenal subbed Miqel replacing him with Vermaelen.
On eighty two minutes Arsenal broke whilst City were camped in their half. Chamberlain again found himself on the ball. They won a corner which was cleared to Dzeko on the left of the City midfield. Dzeko broke with pace and found Johnson at the edge of the centre circle. Johnson found Aguero twenty five yards from goal. The striker took two touches and buried the ball into the net past the despairing Arsenal stopper. From Arsenal corner to City goal in four seconds.
Wenger`s last attempt to influence the game came within a minute of the City goal as he replaced the dangerous Chamberlain with Asharvin.
Arsenal were running out of time and were in danger of losing their first ever English cup game at the Emirates Stadium. City though, were defending well and throwing themselves in front of every ball launched into their box.
The fourth official added three minutes to the regulation time as Arsenal won a corner. Fabianski was called up for the set play. Pantillimon gathered the ball and tried to play Aguero in whilst the keeper was still in the City half. Luckily for Arsenal, the ball stayed up to long and Arsenal were able to recover.
In the dying seconds, Toure gave Arsenal a last chance committing a foul thirty yards out just to right of centre. City dealt with the free kick and the ref blew up for full time.
This wasn`t City at it`s best, but a lot of reserve players had decent games and the big players in Johnson Aguero and Dzeko all had a hand in winning the game for City. The Semi Finals were next for City.
Pantillimon – 8
Made three outstanding saves today and his distribution and positioning were excellent.
Onuoha – 7
Put in some good tackles and looked effective when going forward. Could have put in a few more crosses though.
Kolo Toure – 8
Had an excellent game and looked very very solid.
Savic – 7
Wasn’t troubled in the air and looked more settled than in his last game. Made a couple of good forward runs with good passes.
Zabaleta – 7.5
Up against a much quicker player but stuck to his task well and recovered well when beaten for pace. Also put in some good crosses.
De Jong – 7
Solid in front of the defence and for the most part found a Blue shirt with his forward passing.
Hargreaves – 6.5
Looked settled in the team and patrolled the midfield. His range of passing was good.
Nasri – 6.5
Played his heart out and was at the end of some tasty tackles by a number of Arsenal players. Brave to want to play but struggled to make an impact on the game.
Kolarov – 6.5
Struggled to make an impact as carrying an injury. Ended up having an early bath.
Johnson – 7.5
Set up Aguero for the winning goal. Worked hard for the win today.
Dzeko – 7
Was in the right place for the chances today but his execution wasn’t perfect. Did make a brilliant run from defence to start the break that ended up with the winning goal.
Aguero – 7
Didn’t have a brilliant game tonight but did his job and scored the winning goal. Never stopped running.
Came on for Hargreaves and didn’t look out of place.
Won a difficult game and got his team through to the semi final.