LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Wojciech Szczesny of Arsenal celebrates after Mikel Arteta of Arsenal scored their first goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Premier League starts are few and far between for Yossi Benayoun. Consigned to the bench for most of this season, he has, nevertheless, started 3 of Arsenal's last 9 games, home to Spurs and Manchester City and away to Liverpool. As such, he's become Arsenal's equivalent of Manchester United's big-game player, Park Ji-Sung. He brings added creativity to the left hand side, as well as a more possession-based style of play. He also brings lots of energy and tenacity, useful for Arsenal's pressing game. Unlike Aaron Ramsey, Benayoun understands when to come inside and support the centre of the midfield and when to stay outside. His inclusion on Sunday against Manchester City meant there was less onus on Alex Song and Mikel Arteta to create, allowing those two to stay deeper. This gave Arsenal a solid base to play from, and Arsenal dominated proceedings.
Surprisingly, Manchester City sacrificed most of the midfield space despite their need to win, and their midfield personnel. When Yaya Toure was removed after injury, Roberto Mancini brought on David Pizarro instead of the more combative Nigel de Jong. This gave City a more passing midfield, and thus they took control in the latter stages of the first half and early in the second half as Arsenal's tempo and pressing dropped. In the defensive phase, though, City did not press Arsenal in return, and thus, dropped deeper, trying to prevent Arsenal from creating chances. Arsenal had to go for a more direct approach, attempting 38 crosses, a season high. Most came from the right hand side, as Mario Balotelli's tracking back was non-existent, whereas on the left, James Milner did a better job of tracking Kieran Gibbs, who had less influence than Bacary Sagna. In the second half, Samir Nasri went to the right hand side, and Andre Santos, on for Gibbs, took advantage and gave Arsenal an extra midfielder, enabling more control.
Ahead of Arteta and Song, Tomas Rosicky and Yossi Benayoun buzzed and attempted to create but Arsenal's best two chances came from Song and Sagna, both of whom had lots of space. Sagna was allowed to get forward by the lax defending of Balotelli, with Gael Clichy concerned with Theo Walcott. Song was constantly getting space as Arsenal's midfield rotated, with Mancini trying to solve the problem by using Milner and Barry higher up the pitch. Their closing down, though, wasn't particularly effective, and Song got space, completing 4 out of 5 longballs. Throughout the match, Song was attempting to create from deep, floating diagonals and attempting through passes. His accuracy, though, was off as he passed at 79%, but he did find Robin van Persie, only for his header to hit the post.
Defensively, Arsenal were able to nullify City's attacking threat, limiting them to a season low 5 shots, with none on target. Alex Song and Mikel Arteta rotated to keep Samir Nasri quiet, with Arteta reveling in a deeper role, with 5 interceptions and 4 tackles. Thomas Vermaelen and Laurent Koscielny combined to quash Aguero's goal scoring threat, with Koscielny usually dropping off for Vermaelen to step up and win the ball back quickly. Unlike QPR, City didn't use a big striker to expose Vermaelen.
The result puts Arsenal in the driving seat for third place, and once again, shows that Arsenal can beat the best teams in the league and in Europe by playing their own game. They did that here, and deservedly beat Manchester City, with Areta showing that Arsenal are no longer so reliant on Robin van Persie to score.