It's funny how a goal and a win can change the perception of a match. For 80 minutes yesterday, Arsenal built pressure and had shots on goals without scoring and flattered to deceive. A 0-0, perhaps worse, seemed on the cards.
And then the little Catalan steps up, works his magic, and a game we might have drawn last year is three points. A win is a win, but its games like these that we should be winning more comfortably, and the team still seems to lack a little coherency and balance.
Credit where it's due though: City have improved massively.
Richards and Dunne are as good a centre-back partnership that exists in the premiership, and with better players in front of him, Elano would have had an assist. One thing does need to be cleared up: Schmeichel did not have a good game.
He was protected by a superb defence, and when he was tested he flapped and parried. His penalty save was illegal (he was about five metres off his line when it was taken) and not very difficult (RvP hit it straight at him). Just because his dad was good doesn't mean he was 'impressive'; he wasn't.
A few things in particular need to be said about our performance. Firstly, the Djourou loan is increasingly looking like madness.
We have, at current, one fit centre-back at the club. Gilberto is not a centre-back and looked uncomfortable there.Secondly, while he can 'do-a-job' there, Flamini is not a right-back. He was particularly guilty of allowing Petrov acres of space which a better played would have punished.Hleb was our man of the match. Cesc may have scored, but Hleb won a penalty, got an assist., and caused all sorts of trouble.
Finally, I think, people are starting to give him some credit, and he's been outstanding so far this year. Yes, Hleb can lose the ball; but at times he looks like the only one of our players who wants to make something happen. His continued unwillingness to shoot remains my major criticism of him, but this seems to be gradually changing.
Almunia was solid, yet only had two real saves to make. The jury remains out, but he didn't put a foot wrong yesterday.Rosicky is becoming a worry. He's not scoring, even though he's been afforded chances.
Personally, I don't think a right-footed central midfielder should be playing on the left. We so clearly need a left-winger, I would almost see it as wilfully negligent of Arsene not to go for broke and try to sign one in the next few days.Bendtner should have come on after an hour. Adebayor didn't look fit and struggled badly at times.
Bendtner looks like a player who can change a game from the bench, and Arsene needs to make this substitution earlier in future.van Persie was effectively nullified by the City centre-backs and started acting petulantly.
He had a visible fall out with Rosicky, and also was unhappy at a final ball from Eduardo. Lets hope he can keep these primadonna tendencies in check.
Overall, 3 games, 2 wins, 1 draw. I can't help but feel that last year, we would have drawn this match, and possibly that against Fulham. When Mark Lawrenson even begins to visibly hedge his bets regarding us and a title challenge, perhaps our status as dark-horse contenders is not wholly unjustified.