LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City scores their first goal during the Carling Cup Quarter Final match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on November 29, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
0 - 1 Sergio Aguero 83'
Arsenal's young team played very well against a talented Manchester City operation tonight in a Carling Cup quarterfinal match, but despite being on top most of the match, succumbed to a vicious, perfect City counter following a corner, losing 1-0 at the Emirates. The Gunners can take heart from the performances of Emmanuel Frimpong, Frances Coquelin, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who were all solid-to-great in their play on the evening. Ignasi Miquel and Sebastien Squillaci played well in defense, too, despite not getting much of a first-team run this year. Arsenal simply lacked cutting edge up front, and in the end, City's quality shone through.
Arsenal started off the brighter side, the highlight of their early possession being a comically ambitious 30-yard shot from Ignasi Miquel, who was playing left back on the night. Arsenal's 4-4-2 looked a little static in the early going, but that may have been as much a symptom of the players' relative unfamiliarity as anything.
Adam Johnson cut inside onto his left foot, but put his shot just over the bar from 25 with his patented move, as City put together their first real chance eleven minutes in. Arsenal were breaking mainly through Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and 15 minutes in, they nearly found a breakthrough. Chamberlain fed Chamakh, who laid the ball off outside to Frances Coquelin. The Frenchman's cross across the face of goal from wide was perfect, and Park Chu Young nearly put it in at the far post, but the 6'8" Costel Pantilimon got a hand to it, and City cleared off the line. It was a wonderful chance, and a better save.
City, although possessing a lot of talent, looked a bit unfamiliar with each other as well, and both sides were prone to giving the ball away in midfield. Pablo Zabaleta flashed a shot wide from 25 that was no real danger after Koscielny cleared a good Dzeko cross. Chamberlain tiptoed his way through the midfield when Arsenal next attacked, but he couldn't get the ball through as Park made a run behind the defense. City strung together a couple of hard shots that were blocked 21 minutes in, and Arsenal were struggling to clear the ball as City upped their press.
Zabaleta crossed well for Dzeko, but Sebastien Squillaci was home to head the danger away, Koscielny helping with the second clearance. Marouane Chamakh went around Stefan Savic at the other end fairly easily, but Zabaleta caught up to him and tackled. Twenty-eight minutes in, Johan Djourou laid in a cross to the far post that Benayoun corralled and put to Coquelin in the middle. The Frenchman's shot deflected wide, though, and the corner resulted in nothing.
Chamberlain, though, would tee up for a wonderful shot from 30 yards that had top 90 written all over it, but Pantilimon used all 6'8" of his frame to tip it over. City came up the other end and won a corner, Lukasz Fabianski flapping wildly at air, lucky that no City player was at the far post to simply tap it in. It was really the Fabianski of old. Coquelin would make a wonderful turn in midfield to launch the Arsenal attack, which culminated in a blocked Frimpong shot.
Roberto Mancini subbed Kun Aguero on for Aleksandar Kolarov, who clearly wasn't doing whatever task he was meant to. Or maybe Mancini just felt that he needed a little more thrust in attack; either way, Kolarov was done after 35. Aguero is, of course, very dangerous, and had the ball in Arsenal's area almost immediately, but Koscielny and Miquel were able to shepherd it out for a harmless corner.*
*It turned out that Kolarov tweaked his hamstring in warmups, and couldn't continue past minute 35.
Samir Nasri was mostly anonymous on the night so far, and Emmanuel Frimpong was the main reason why, as evidenced by his tough play on the Frenchman at the touchline, simply guiding him out of bounds slowly as Nasri tried to post him up. Coquelin, not to be outdone, put in a good dispossessing tackle on Dzeko in midfield. Coquelin, indeed, was having a very good first half, but Arsenal were lacking a penetrative passer in the final third. Thankfully, at the back, things were looking solid as both Squillaci and Koscielny were combining well to nullify the threat of Dzeko and Aguero.
As the second half began, Benayoun almost put Arsenal up as he managed to get past Nedum Onuoha. Dzeko shot wide at the other end. Arsenal were again looking the most threatening, and Owen Hargreaves broke up another threatening attack illegally by dragging down Frimpong. He was given a yellow for his trouble. The free kick resulted in nothing, and Johnson and Aguero were able to counter. Luckily for the Gunners, Aguero's first touch was unusually horrible, and Arsenal were able to clear. He tried to make amends two minutes later, but ballooned his shot well over.
Laurent Koscielny was ruling the center of defense, making his usual solid ground tackles, but Nasri still nearly scored but for being offside.
Arsenal's attack was still struggling in the final moment, and Chamakh was coughing and looking very labored (maybe he has TB?) Still, for all that, Benayoun nearly set him free, but his shot on the stretch from the left was well wide under pressure.
Strangely, Gervinho came on for Park, not Chamakh, as Arsenal looked for a little more bite at the front, and a shift to 4-3-3. Chamakh was putting forth lots of effort, linking with Frimpong and Benayoun as best he could, but Arsenal were still struggling. Gervinho lobbed a shot well, well over the bar from 25 yards, the idea not bad, but the execution poor. He would get more chances, but looked to go to the byline rather than directly at goal roughly 75 minutes on.
City had their best chance 80 minutes in, Zabaleta crossing from the left, Dzeko easily beating Miquel in the air, only to head well wide. It was wasteful, really.
Hargreaves came off for Abdul Razak. Thomas Vermaelen came on for the generally good Miquel (who did well containing Johnson on the nigth) to shore things up for the remaining time and for his abilities in the offensive third. Arsenal countered viciously in the 85th minute, Yossi Benayoun meeting a Gervinho low cross at full stretch, the ball deflecting out for a corner. The corner was poor, though, and then it happened.
From the corner, both Benayoun and Koscielny tried to tackle, but were never going to get to Dzeko, who initiated a counter. He found Johnson up field, who laid it off for the unmarked Aguero, who slotted it home all too easily. 1-0 to City, and hardly any time left for Arsenal to do anything. It was a harsh lesson in brisk counterattacking.
Arsenal couldn't really find much at the other end; Gervinho shot well over in a wasteful attempt. Wenger inexplicably brought on Andrei Arshavin for Chamberlain, who had been Arsenal's most dangerous player by far. Coquelin nearly was able to create and equalizer, but it was Laurent Koscielny at the end of it, and he couldn't generate the shot needed. Still, Arsenal were pushing until the end. Gervinho won a corner, but Vermaelen couldn't apply the header. Arsenal were not done yet; another corner was incoming, and this time, Fabianski was joining the party. Pantilimon claimed easily, though, and Fabianski had to sprint back to head away the long ball.
Still Arsenal came forward as Gervinho flashed in a cross that Chamakh and Squillaci both couldn't reach. Toure fouled 35 yards out; one last free kick for Arsenal forthcoming. It came back out, and Arshavin volleyed it, a deflection on the way, but Pantilimon was there. He held on, and that was it.
City were through to the semifinal, but it was a top effort from a young Arsenal side. City's goal was more or less against the run of play, but was extremely well-taken. Arsenal will now have less to worry about on the schedule through January, and it was valuable experience for the young up-and-comers.
Bring on Wigan at the weekend.