Belfast Telegraph

Manchester City look set for a Christmas No.1 as Silva strike seals a quick return to title summit

The story that circulated on Saturday night of Mario Balotelli driving around Manchester in a blue Santa Claus suit handing out money would appear, alas, to be apocryphal after all.

But there is another happy Christmas tale brewing in Manchester and it is every bit as joyful for the blue half of the city.

Yesterday was a return to form for City after their first League defeat of the season against Chelsea last Monday and it was a victory that took them back to the top of the Premier League after Manchester United's brief ascent during the afternoon.

Should City beat Stoke on Wednesday then they will guarantee going into Christmas as the top-flight leaders for the first time since 1929.

It was David Silva who scored the winning goal yesterday but it was ex Gunner Samir Nasri who was the game's most influential player, a reality that was painful for the Arsenal fans who came to barrack him.

Arsene Wenger's side did not even play poorly, especially given their adhoc defence, it was just that to beat City at the Etihad these days you will have to be exceptional.

Wenger's team are now five points behind Tottenham in third place who have played one game fewer than their north London rivals.

This is undoubtedly an improvement on the early season chaos at the Emirates but this defeat will have shown Wenger (pictured below with Roberto Mancini) that he is still significantly behind the team setting the pace in the division.

It was a thunderous start from City. The kind of opening that said they were there to get things done — and quickly.

It was as much as Arsenal could do to hang on for that first 15 minutes and a couple of months ago they might not have been so successful at doing so but this side is not so brittle.

In those opening exchanges Nasri was excellent, as he was for much of the game before his substitution in the closing stages.

The abuse from Arsenal fans he will be used to by now, it would have been the words of criticism from his manager that stung the most this week.

Roberto Mancini had only said that he thought Nasri could have done better but they were words clearly designed to have an effect.

In the ninth minute, Sergio Aguero should have scored when Gareth Barry slipped the ball into the left channel for Pablo Zabaleta to cross.

There was time for Aguero to take a touch in the area but he was not settled enough to keep his shot on target.

These were anxious times for Arsenal and that was before the away support had figured out a response to the chant from the City fans of “Van Persie is ours, you're just our feeder club, Van Persie is ours.”

Alex Song was booked for a foolish tackle on Silva, coming in from behind, and he might have considered himself fortunate not to be dismissed for another within minutes.

Later his clumsy challenge on Balotelli might have resulted in worse but Phil Dowd let it go.

As City came at the visitors, Per Mertesacker did well to get a foot to the ball as Nasri cut in from the right but generally the Arsenal centre-half tended to struggle.

Later on he failed to head away a cross and Balotelli pulled the ball down neatly in the area. It required an excellent save from Wojciech Szczesny to save Arsenal.

As a compensation for Mertesacker, Laurent Koscielny was impressive. He made one great tackle on Balotelli and started the move that almost saw Aaron Ramsey run in on goal on 35 minutes. That was stopped by Kolo Toure's saving challenge.

Having survived the early onslaught, Arsenal came back into the game later in the first half.

Joe Hart saved well from Gervinho after Song's through ball.

Later on in the half, first Barry and then Koscielny got themselves booked, the latter for tripping Aguero with his hand as he was grounded.

The undoing of Arsenal started with an injury to Johan Djourou that meant he had to come off within two minutes of the start of the second half.

Arsenal already had centre-backs in their two full-back positions and the introduction at left-back of Ignasi Miquel did not change that.

They shuffled round so that Thomas Vermaelen switched from left-back into the centre and Miquel took his original position while Koscielny went out to right-back.

It was the latter part of that plan that failed 10 minutes later when Balotelli was allowed to run unchecked down the City left wing.

He cut in past Song and hit a shot that Szczesny saved. Vermaelen could not get the rebound away far enough and Silva was there to finish.

In the space of a few seconds all Arsenal's defensive weaknesses were laid bare and they found themselves in the unwelcome situation of chasing a game against the most effective attacking team in the league.

City might have buried them in the moments that ensued.

Nasri exchanged passes with Silva and crossed for Balotelli who might have scored had he reacted quicker.

Zabaleta then intercepted a pass and hit a shot that bounced back off Szczesny's left post.

At the other end Van Persie had a shot from Gervinho's cut-back well saved by Hart.

In fact, Hart was impressive in those closing stages.

None more so than when he tipped a shot from Vermaelen over the bar in injury-time.

Such are the moments that successful title seasons are built on and, after Stamford Bridge last week, City are right back on track.

Belfast Telegraph


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