Man City 0 Arsenal 3
As somebody who loves using the word disingenuous, this Man City match gives me some great opportunity. Because though we played well, it would be disingenuous to say that on the basis of this match, Arsenal are back to their very best.
And yet equally it would be disingenuous to say that it would have been a different result if Boyata hadn't been sent off. The cold facts are that in four minutes where City had eleven men on the pitch, we managed to get in behind their defence twice. But for a poor offside decision, it could have been 1-0 (through Arshavin) even before Boyata saw red.
It's also disingenuous to say that Alex Song's three goals so far this season vindicate him playing further forward. His position in the team is that of holding midfielder. I take no issue with him pushing up against City because Boyata's red card made Yaya Toure play at centre back. In turn, this gave us an extra man in midfield. But against West Brom his poor positioning was found wanting, and his first yellow against Sunderland came from being out of position in the first place. I'd rather he did a few things right all the time, then tried to be a master of everything and only managed it some of the time. It was nonetheless his best performance so far this season and we should be cheered by that.
Similarly, we should be pleased by Chamakh's continued good form and a very solid defensive performance all round.
But the two players I'm most cheered by are Samir Nasri and Denilson. Nasri started brilliantly in English football but seemed to suffer a little last year from second season syndrome – undoubtedly part of this stemmed from his missing pre-season and then picking up a series of niggly injuries but it took until March and the Porto game for him to really establish himself with a commanding performance.
This year his passing has been superb, his movement excellent, and his goalscoring record good. Of course one can point out that three of his goals have come from the penalty spot. But so what? No-one said anything when Lampard used to score 10+ a season from the spot. Nasri, as different from Lampard, isn't perennially reliant on deflections and scores really well-worked goals like his one-two with Arshavin on Sunday. On current form, he has to fancy himself for footballer of the year, even if Sky ridiculously insist that Fabregas played better on Sunday.
And on that point, let's point out how ridiculous Sky's coverage was. The idea that Arsenal played a dirty game because they picked up a few yellow cards was preposterous; in fact, we showed incredible maturity to not have anyone sent off despite it looking very much like that was going to happen when Clattenburg was handing out cards like they were going out of fashion. They were also the peddlers-in-chief of the notion that this game meant nothing because City had 10 men.
I say this game doesn't mean that much because we need to see Arsenal play this well reugularly. Sky say it doesn't mean anything as if the red card was some kind of fluke which had nothing to do with Cesc's ability to pick a pass, and Chamakh's superb running off-the-ball.
In fact, apart from picking up on Gareth Barry's ball-watching (which, truth be told, was pretty obvious) Sky reinforced my view that they rarely – if ever – have anything interesting to say.
For example, they didn't pick up on Denilson's barnstorming display. Now I accept that I am Denilson's biggest cheerleader and love to pick up on anything good he does. He's not quite up there with Bergkamp in the hero stakes but he's close.
But nevertheless, he was everywhere. He made some brilliant tackles. His passing was incisive. But for a super block by Vincent Kompany he would have scored another of his great long-shots. And crucially for me, he displays the positional discipline which Song has been lacking in recent weeks. Having a play in your team who literally never gives the ball away is very useful and we should appreciate him for it. In my eyes, with Fabregas, Nasri and Denilson, we have three of the very best midfielders in the Premiership at the moment – long may that continue.
But ultimately, this performance was based on a strong defensive performance. When you see Arshavin tracking back and then winning the ball it makes one wonder why he doesn't do it more often. Clichy and Djourou started a little poorly but pulled it around, and I couldn't fault Squillaci or Sagna, bar the right-back's miss right at the end which cost me £100 (yes, I really did bet on 4-0 before the match).
And so to Fabianski. It's long been said that it's easier for a defence when they have faith in their goalkeeper and this seemed to prove it. Before this match, Djourou and Squillaci had been at best inconsistent. Here, I felt they played well for 90 minutes and it obviously helps if you trust the goalkeeper – and Almunia had clearly been undermined before the season even started and it's taken three or four good games from Fabianski to give the fans (and presumably the players) some faith.
But it also works the other way, because a good goalkeeper seems to inspire the defence. Regardless, Fabianski was excellent. Not only did he do the things which you expect of a good goalkeeper, he made two excellent saves from shots which you'd realistically expect to go in. I know I'm stating the obvious here, but with a good goalkeeper, it's a hell of a lot easier to win a football match. Time will tell whether he can do this consistently but it was undoubtedly his best match for the club and he should be praised accordingly.
With us taking a strong squad to Newcastle in the Carling Cup, before a few 'easy' fixtures, it's a great chance to build some momentum for a few weeks before the Spurs game. Lets do so.
Keep the faith.