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Aug 25, 2007

Defeat can't dent City's revival

Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City

It has taken just two short weeks for Manchester City fans to rediscover the lost sensation of optimism.

In their reprogrammed minds, Sven Goran Eriksson is a manager who can do no wrong, while their admiration for a set of new signings they may never have heard of until they arrived in Manchester is already bordering on a love story. Oh, and the doubts over the true financial wealth of new owner Thakshin Shinawata have also been put to one side.

After beating Manchester United last weekend, all City fans want to believe the glory, glory days are back and while it seems a little harsh to shatter their fantasy, Soccernet's Insider arrived at the Emirates Stadium ready and willing to pour cold water on their hopes.

Yet even though this game ended in City's first defeat of the campaign, the manner of the performance and the impressive attitude oozing out of Eriksson's team suggested this Sky Blue revival is the real deal. Cesc Fabregas may have won this enjoyable game for Arsenal with dramatic winner ten minutes from time, but the visitors emerged with their newly earned reputation enhanced.

Logic suggests that a team with so many new arrivals cannot become contenders for a top four finish over night, with the more rational explanation for their rise being the classic early season story that happens for one unsuspecting club every year.

However, the first half an hour of this game suggested anything but that as they attacked Arsenal with the sort of gusto and passion their new-found belief has given them. The likes of Marin Petrov, Elano and Javier Garrido may be new to English football, but they look more than good enough to ensure the City revival is not merely a temporary blip.

Indeed, it was City who had the best of the chances in the opening quarter of this game as Petrov and Emile Mpenza wasted clear cut chances to expose an Arsenal defence that had been decimated by a pre-match problem for Philippe Senderos and Bacray Sagna's injury mid-way through the first half.

Eriksson may have developed a reputation for dour football during his long and often painful tenure as England manger, but he seems to have developed a different philosophy since stepping back into the club football domain he seems to excel in.

Not many sides come to the Emirates Stadium and try to match Arsenal blow for blow, but that seemed to be City's policy early on. Even though they were employing a lone front runner in Emile Mpenza, this was not merely a backs against the wall effort for the visitors.

Building their base from a solid defence featuring the ever impressive duo of Micah Richards and Richard Dunne, City's passing game was more fluid than it looked for the majority of what, even their most loyal and delusional supporter would admit, was a lucky win against local rivals United last week.

Solid performances from Dietmar Hamann and Stephen Ireland at the heart of his team gives Eriksson's flair players a chance to flex their muscles and even against an established 'top four' side, City were doing enough to fill their vast army of travelling supporters with hope that has now been revealed as genuine.

Arsenal may have wasted some presentable chances to snatch a half-time lead, but City worked hard enough to be level at the break and the work ethic Eriksson has instilled into his side so quickly suggests he has found a home for his talents at Eastlands.

Petrov's promptings on the left flank were especially impressive and identify Arsenal's weakness on the right side of their defence, he had another promising burst in the early exchanges of the second half, but the onus was always going to be on Arsenal to carve an opening and their age old problem was in evidence again.

Arsenal fans have sat through dozens of frustrating games like this in the last few years as their continued attacking promptings produced little more than near misses. As the crowd begin to vent their annoyance, it filters through to the players and panic then begins to set in.

Unless manager Arsene Wenger finds a way of converting fine build-up play into tangible results, Arsenal will continue to be the most attractive and unsuccessful member of the Premier League elite and as this game went on, you couldn't help but feel a City sucker punch was just around the corner.

City had decent claims for a penalty waved away as Michael Johnson was challenged in the box by Kolo Tore after 62 minutes, but referee Chris Foy did award a spot kick as Alex Hleb was pulled down in the box by the unfortunate Richards moments later.

It seemed City's fairy tale start to the season was about to come to an end, but as Kasper Schmeichel sprawled to his left and saved Van Persie's effort, the dream lived on and were it not for the late scorcher from Fabregas, they would have left North London with a point.

'We played better here than against United last week, but we ended up losing,' stated Eriksson, squaring up again to many of the journalists who tormented him during his time as England boss. 'Still, I can take so much from that performance because we stood up to Arsenal and did not just come here to defend and try to get the point. We deserved a draw, but they got through us in the end.

'This performance gives us much to be happy with and we created many good moments in this match to be leaving with so much more. So many of this team are new to the Premier League, but they are performing so well every week. So this is our first defeat, but there is much to smile about.'

Schmeichel's famous father was famed for charging up to the other end of the field in a bid to score last minute equalisers and the teenager nearly repeated the trick as he got his head on a last minute City set-play, but Wenger was among those leading the tributes to Eriksson's men.

'City looked dangerous at the start of the second half and the way Sven has got this team playing after so many new signings in very impressive,' he stated. 'We needed to fight till the end to get the goal and Cesc found it for us.

'This is the sort of game we would not have won this season, but this side is maturing now and continues until they can give no more. I was very impressed with City's performance and they are a side who can stay at the top end of the table all season, so this is a big three points.'

Having witnessed numerous games such as this at the Emirates Stadium in the last year, it seems Arsenal's determination to score the perfect goal is a damaging habit they cannot kick. They may have got out of jail today, but won't be so lucky every week.

As for the revived Manchester City and the masterful Sven - they are here to stay.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Richard Dunne
There may not be a better central defender in the Premier League right now as the big Irishman he stood up to everything Arsenal threw at him with real composure.

WENGER HUMOUR: 'When I saw my Dutch striker step up to face Schmeichel from the penalty spot, my memories went back to Dennis Bergkamp and an FA Cup semi-final against Manchester United back in 1999,' said the Arsenal boss with a chuckle. 'Then Schmeichel saves again. I just hope I don't have to meet his grandson in 20 years time.'

FOOD WATCH: Arsenal are getting ambitious these days and the sausage, mash and gravy offering was a delight. As ever, the ice cream fridge needed to be raided.

VERDICT: Arsenal still have plenty of questions to answer, but City have already done enough in four games to confirm they are more than just early season wonders. The top four will be out of their reach, but not the top six. Didn't we all say that Sven chap was a great manager?


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