Five reasons Arsenal are steelier
MAN CITY 0
(Santi Cazorla 24-pen, Olivier Giroud 67)
Arsenal stripped away their soft underbelly to reveal they had the stomach for a battle. The meek may not inherit the Gunners after all. Having taken just one point from a possible 21 in the city, Arsene Wenger finally got that Manchester monkey off his back. For once, the Gunners were warriors against the big boys. Here's how they suddenly got so much better.
1 Coquelin gamble pays off
Daft Punk and Wenger have something in common beyond their nationality. The Frenchmen got lucky on a global stage.
Injuries forced the Gunners to recall Francis Coquelin from his loan spell at Charlton Athletic. The 23-year-old midfielder had already been farmed out more times than a three-legged turkey at Christmas and struggled to stake his claim for a first-time slot behind Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Mikel Arteta and Mathieu Flamini.
Short of alternatives, Wenger threw in Coquelin against a City side without Yaya Toure and the bold move worked.
Coquelin hounded Fernandinho and Fernando and harassed his own teammates.
City missed their inspirational Ivorian, but even Toure would've been forced to shift gears to match Coquelin's staying power.
He ran relentlessly between Arsenal's two banks of four, relaying information and linking the lines like a tenacious war-time messenger.
City failed to cut him down, leaving themselves exposed in No Man's Land. More impressively, Coquelin ordered those around him to track back and replicate his heavy industry.
From making up the numbers at Charlton to barking at World Cup winners, Coquelin has come a long way quickly.
If he lacks Arteta's artistry, he offers greater defensive protection - a priceless asset.
He has played eight times for Arsenal since his recall, winning six, drawing one and losing just a single game.
Wenger's sides are so often designed for glamour football, as if a scuffed knee or a dirty shirt goes against their purist principles. In Coquelin, they've founded a competitor committed to grunt work.
Wenger chose to twist and the gamble paid off. Now he must stick with Coquelin.
2 Tactical tweak pays off
In recent years, Wenger's stubbornness left Arsenal performances resembling a nature documentary about flamingoes.
Gloriously captivating in their pink plumage, the pretty flamingoes went about their business of being easy on the eye, as if being beautiful was enough.
And then, a couple of tigers turned up to rip them to shreds, spitting out chunks of meat across the African plains.
That was Arsenal against just about anyone above them in the table.
Carnage became commonplace. After years of stepping over the corpses of rotting Gunners, Wenger finally got the message.
He stopped thinking like a vacuous supermodel and realised there was more to life than being pretty.
He plumped for an unusual 4-1-4-1 formation that clearly caught Manuel Pellegrini off-guard.
Coquelin's hard work and Santi Cazorla's enterprising display certainly helped Wenger, but Arsenal immediately became tougher to break down.
The move begged the obvious question from exasperated supporters: Why can't we always do this when we visit the title challengers?
There can be no going back for Wenger now.
3 Winged wonders
Alexis Sanchez's impact upon his teammates cannot be overstated.
He's a complete footballer, a hypnotist who both captivates and controls his audience. The Chilean's actions demand compliance. He raises his game, so others must follow.
Until he faded in the second half, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tried to match Sanchez stride for stride.
He couldn't keep up - no one can at the moment - but one good deed from Sanchez demanded another from Oxlade-Chamberlain.
The work-rate of both men encouraged Nacho Monreal and Hector Bellerin to venture forward, knowing the wingers had their backs.
Monreal's attack led to the opening goal.
While Sanchez and Oxlade-Chamberlain's probing pulled apart both Vincent Kompany and Martin Demichelis. At the moment, Arsenal's wide men are basking in Sanchez's spotlight.
4 Per-fect Mertesacker
The German looked like a World Cup winner again. In an Arsenal jersey, he can display all the nerves of a competition winner.
But in the intimidating fortress of the Etihad, Mertesacker held the line. He has spoken candidly in recent weeks of his struggles and inconsistency, the reasons for which were not entirely of his own making.
Wenger's difficulty in fielding the same four defenders - and a reliable goalkeeper - was compounded by that gaping hole in defensive midfield.
With Coquelin minding the gap, Mertesacker suddenly found himself with a protective shield. His chest visibly swelled, in stark contrast to City's exposed central defenders.
With Bellerin proving to be an able deputy for the injured Mathieu Debuchy, Arsenal are becoming a resolute bunch at the back.
Previously, they looked like the Wild Bunch.
5 No more cowardly lions
Ordinarily in these fixtures, City have ice running through their veins and Arsenal have a banana smoothie running through theirs.
They were yellow, displaying all the menace of the Cowardly Lion.
They could run. But they would usually hide.
Against City, Arsenal could not be cowed. Again, the Sanchez factor must be acknowledged, his chomping, snapping, biting, scampering, terrier routine is having an obvious trickle-down effect.
Cazorla, for example, played like a bird released, fluttering around the box with newfound energy and confidence.
Every Gunner appeared galvanised.
With Coquelin and Sanchez, the Gunners possess a steely resolve that was sorely lacking in the past. They are cowboys in only one aspect. There is now a true grit to their game.
"I felt that we were well- disciplined, wellorganised, had a good solidarity and overall we kept a good control of the game."
— Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
"You can see what he can do and what he has done today. (He was) amazing. He controlled that midfield. To come and play the way he played here at the Etihad is just outstanding."
— Former Arsenal star Thierry Henry on Arsenal midfielder Santi Cazorla
Pellegrini marks down Jan 31
It was already billed as a huge clash, a game that would play a vital role in the final destination of the English Premier League title.
Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini now thinks his side's trip to Premiership leaders Chelsea will be even more important for them.
City lost ground to the Blues after a 2-0 home defeat by Arsenal yesterday morning (Singapore time) and are now five points adrift.
Chelsea host second-placed City on Jan 31 with Pellegrini aware they have to claw back points on Jose Mourinho's side to have any hopes of retaining the Premier League title.
Pellegrini, who was unable to explain City's dreadful performance, said: "The game we must play at Stamford Bridge is a very important game. We must close the gap to two points.
"I hope we are going to recover and play the way we are playing so far. With the ball, we didn't have clear ideas.
"Chelsea will be a very decisive game. We will try to win that game to close that gap again."
Once again, City missed the presence of Yaya Toure, who is on international duty with Ivory Coast at the Africa Nations Cup.
Pellegrini's side have not won a Premier League game without the midfielder since April last year, but the Chilean claims that did not justify the defeat.
"I think Yaya is a very important player, but I never have excuses," he added.
"We play other games without Yaya and can win also."
- Wire Services.