Not so long ago the League Cup was considered a ‘Mickey Mouse’ competition which the so-called big clubs didn’t bother with. However, such is their dominance these days that they almost can’t help themselves. So this match saw £119m worth of Manchester City second XI talent take on Arsenal’s less-expensively assembled reserves.
Domestically, these sides have been going great guns over recent weeks, topping the form table in the Premier League but, with Roberto Mancini making clear his dissatisfaction at having to play just 48 hours after a tough match at Anfield, and with his mind no doubt on the must-win game against Bayern Munich next Wednesday it was always likely to be a muted affair.
Before kick-off at the Emirates there was a tribute for the late Gary Speed. Not for the first time a minute’s silence broke into applause and the singing of his name – a fitting tribute to a man who clearly left a huge impression across football, not just at the clubs for which he played.
Arsenal set out playing their version of 4-4-2 – as Arsene Wenger put it before the game – and Emmanuel Frimpong and Francis Coquelin did a great job of neutralising City’s five-man midfield for much of the game. It made for an interesting, if event-free, tactical battle in which Arsenal had the better of the limited chances.
However, the Gunners were lacking up front. Neither Theo Walcott nor, more importantly Robin van Persie, were in the squad and their replacements, particularly Park Chu-Young and Marouane Chamakh, failed to deliver when it counted
Conversely, City had Edin Dzeko starting and very early on Sergio Aguero came off the bench and it was that pair, along with Adam Johnson who combined for the game’s only goal – from City’s only shot on target.
It was a marvellous counter-attacking goal which came out of an Arsenal corner. Dzeko broke from his own penalty area before playing a glorious ball to Johnson who collected and held it up briefly before laying it off to Aguero with the outside of his left foot. The Argentinean ran into the area before slotting past Lukasz Fabianski into the bottom right-hand corner.
The Gunners piled on the pressure in the last seven minutes, but never really looked like they were going to find a way through. Instead, the City juggernaut carries on having notched up their first win away at Arsenal since 1975 (when, incidentally, they last won the League Cup).
Wenger’s side have been nothing if not consistent in this competition, this being the ninth successive season they have reached the quarter-finals. However, they’re yet to convert that into a win with last season’s calamitous final arguably being their biggest failure.
Before the match Wenger would not be drawn on whether it was important for Arsenal to put the disappointment of that defeat behind them but you get the feeling that losing this match will have hurt him more than it would have Mancini.
Arsenal (4-4-2): Fabianski; Djourou, Squillaci, Koscielny, Miquel (Vermaelen 79); Frimpong, Coquelin, Benayoun, Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arshavin 86); Park (Gervinho 67), Chamakh.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Pantilimon; Onuoha, Savic, K. Toure, Zabaleta; Hargreaves (Razak 78), de Jon; Johnson, Nasri, Kolarov (Aguero 31); Dzeko
Did you know… The last time these two met in the League Cup Manchester City won. Two games later manager Mark Hughes was sacked.
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