ARSENAL 1, MANCHESTER CITY 0
Manchester United have one hand on the Barclays Premier League trophy this season after they won 2-0 at Old Trafford against QPR and City fell 1-0 to a late Mikel Arteta strike at the Emirates.
United now have an 8 point lead in the title race, a gap that had earlier prompted Roberto Mancini to admit that he would concede the title to United.
In the final calculation, City will look back at their recent away form, comprising 5 defeats, 2 draws and just 2 wins as the factor that lost them the league after a stunning start.
A disjointed match at the Emirates began with Arsenal in the ascendancy and ended with them holding the upper hand but this was nowhere near an absorbing contest – more of a fractured game of misplaced tackles, poor passing and lack of vision. Nothing like the pre-match build-up suggested of this game on paper.
City were admittedly without their pass-master David Silva, ruled out due to a knee injury although he had been off the boil for weeks, and they faced an early blow after Yaya Toure was taken off with an early injury and replaced by David Pizarro. The big Ivory Coast midfielder had been severely missed during his African Cup of Nations sojourn and his announcement of a break to his international career appears to have come too little too late to save City’s season.
City’s strikeforce was out of sorts too. Sergio Aguero took his place in the team at Edin Dzeko’s expense but did little to worry the Arsenal defence while Mario Balotelli remained his enigmatic self with a poor performance and could argably have been sent off in the first half following an nasty challenge on Alex Song. The volatile City striker had scored a massive 17 goals from 33 appearances this season but his temperament had been called into question in recent games.
City’s hosts had a target of their own on the day, to make safe a Champions’ League position and to finish above their local rivals Spurs and they set the early pace over their visitors.
Robin Van Persie thought he had scored after 17 minutes but his effort came off Thomas Vermaelen’s back and bounced off the bar from the deflection. Van Persie could have scored in the second half too but his header came off the post with Hart beaten. The Dutchman had struck his seventh effort against the woodwork this season and his second in the game.
With under twenty minutes to go, Van Persie thought he had scored the opening goal but the assistant referee had spotted him offside in the build-up and chalked off the goal in the middle of the Gunners’ celebrations.
The woodwork had already been tested throughout the match and saved City again late in the game when Theo Walcott’s effort was palmed onto the post by Joe Hart. Vermaelen’s followup fell to Yossi Benayoun but the ball was bundled to safety.
The Gunners finally got their reward for their work when Mikel Arteta had a go from 25 yards after Pizarro lost the ball in the final third and beat Hart. Now Arsenal fans were the latest supporters to mock the Poznan celebration as the cry of ‘one nil to the Arsenal’ rocked around the Emirates.
City’s misery was complete as Mario Balotelli was given his third red card of the season for his second booking of the game in the last minute for a challenge on Bacary Sagna. The young Italian had not made the most of the chances that had come his way during the game and trudged off the pitch taunted by thousands of gloating Arsenal fans.
Aaron Ramsay could have made it 2-0 deep into injury time but his shot was well wide after he fluffed his chance on the counter attack.
Roberto Mancini tried to put a positive spin on the day that probably cost City the title.
“We have 15 points more than the same time last year. There are six games until the end, 18 points, never say never.”
Mancini also admitted that Balotelli could be sold in the summer after the spotlight had fallen on the wayward striker once again.
“I am very sorry for him. I don’t have any words for his behaviour.
“He’s a good guy but I am disappointed for him because he’s young and continues to make mistakes.”
Mancini admitted that Balotelli probably wouldn’t play in the final six games of the season and as his horror tackle on Alex Song on the first half had gone unnoticed by referee Martin Atkinson it’s possible that Balotelli could be further punished by the FA.