Belfast Telegraph

Santi Cazorla's the wizard as Arsenal end Manchester City hoodoo

Manchester City 0-2 Arsenal

By Ian Herbert

He was carried from the field on the shoulders of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and you felt that, more than jubilation, it was because his legs had nothing left to give. Santi Cazorla was both the architect and engineer of a win which turned squarely on its head the recent Arsenal experience at the Etihad - or at any top side's stadium for that matter.

By the end the Spaniard was toying with Manchester City, rolling a ball under his studs beyond Gaël Clichy and into the City area, because that is the kind of flair he - one of his team's best technical players - possesses.

What turned that flair into a performance which will live long in the memory at Arsenal was the accompanying energy and drive. Very few players can deliver both finesse and physicality like this; fewer still can maintain it deep into the second half of a match against the defending Premier League champions.

Arsène Wenger talked last night about a "good solidarity level" and that certainly defined what Cazorla had been a part of, as the controlling heartbeat of the midfield triumvirate on which this win was built. It was an improbable band of brothers in there and a second of the number, Francis Coquelin, warrants a particular place in the discussion, too.

A few weeks ago he was playing on loan at Charlton Athletic but here he was shouting instructions and marshalling a side set up to defend the middle territory to the death, refusing to grant David Silva the space to kill with.

Aaron Ramsey, missing from the Premier League since the first week in December, contributed heavily to the resistance movement, too. But it was Cazorla's energy which meant the most. We often hear about touch and vision in the attacking sense but his was equally demonstrable when Arsenal were on the uppers, trying to repel City. And after holding the line, he had the vision to send Arsenal on their way.

In the first half, that meant picking out passes to Alexis Sanchez, providing him with the chance to cut inside Pablo Zabaleta. In the second half, as City pushed up to find an equaliser, it meant running into the free yards of space they left behind. The BBC's Pat Nevin last night memorably likened this performance to that of Emil Zatopek, the Czechoslovakian long-distance runner and 1952 Olympic gold medallist, and there certainly can be that worn-out look of a marathon man about the way Cazorla works up and down, box to box.

His decisive contribution to the goals - despatching the penalty and clipping the free-kick which Olivier Giroud did not even have to jump to head in were only a fraction of the story.

It really did not seem like the contribution of a player who, you might say, makes up the numbers, at Arsenal. He has not been a part of the starting XI for long periods and has only returned to the fore because of the injuries to the squad which Wenger is beginning to put behind him.

"He is fantastic. He gets you out of pressure in very tight space and can give you openings. He is a great example to young players. He shows how important it is to be two-footed in the middle of the park. He wants always to have the ball. He passionately loves the game," said Wenger.

There were other contributors to an Arsenal resilience which Manuel Pellegrini admitted was new in them. A back four with Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin in it did not invite confidence but all stood firm, with 19-year-old Bellerin exceptional.

And though for once Sanchez was not the beginning and end of the story, his own contribution at both ends resembled a sleeker, faster Wayne Rooney. His shooting was askew, at times: one running out for a throw-in. But a cameo on the stroke of half-time - Sanchez being cheaply dispossessed by Zabaleta but sprinting 30 yards to hussle for the ball back - telegraphed the difference between the sides' philosophies.

Followers of Arsenal are too long suffering to consider this a new dawn. But it felt like one. Their team had not defeated City, United or Chelsea away from the Emirates since October 2011, had not won at the defending league champions since May 2002 and managed one point from a possible 21 in Manchester in recent seasons.

Wenger wasn't drawing any conclusions about turning points.

"Time will tell," he said last night. "What is for sure is that it increases the amount of belief and confidence."

Belfast Telegraph


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