Arsenal at the Etihad: a fixture that lifted City to serious contenders

Tomorrow’s game with Arsenal could go a long way in determining the next year under new manager, Pep Guardiola, should City fail to beat Arsenal at the Etihad. With City nervously looking over their shoulders at neighbours United, Manuel Pellegrini’s final game in charge at the Etihad is almost certainly a ‘must-win’. It was another home fixture against Arsenal almost seven years ago that catapulted City from ‘rich minnows’ to ‘big-time contenders’ in a matter of ninety minutes.

It wasn’t the victory but the manner of the result that saw big-spending City ultimately destroy Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal in September 2009. A comprehensive 4-2 victory turned people’s attention to the Etihad for the first time since the club’s large financed takeover a little over twelve months previously. Up until this point, City were laughed at in the media and criticised on a daily basis for even contemplating the thought of dominating world football.

Rewind to the day of the takeover at Eastlands. City’s biggest rivals were European and domestic champions, having won the Premier League and Champions League the previous season. That proved to be United’s third straight Premier League title whilst City were still hopeful of a top-ten finish. An Arabian consortium fronted by Suliman Al-Fahim spearheaded a deal with City to enable his royal highness, Sheikh Mansour of the Abu Dhabi Royal Family, to own the club. The Sheikh’s ambitions were those of typical Arabian style. Dominate, become the best, remain the best and build on the success. British and foreign media laughed at the prospect of ‘little City’ dominating English football let alone overpowering city neighbours, United.

Robinho was signed as a welcoming present, if you like, by the owners on the day the takeover was announced. ‘Mercenary’, ‘clueless’, ‘money-grabber’ were all some of the tags thrown at the Real Madrid star for making a move to City. Overnight City had gone from everyone’s favourite second club, where the country felt sorry for the supporters who had suffered by watching United dominate, to everyone’s most hated club due to envy and jealousy.

The first season ended with a top-ten finish – a target set out at the beginning of the campaign – and City were desperate to expand on their progress the following summer. Carlos Tevez, Emmanuel Adebayor, Kolo Toure, Gareth Barry, Joleon Lescott and Roque Santa Cruz were the marquee signings made during the transfer window and not one of them came without bad press. Once again people couldn’t stomach the thought that a once poorly run club were now determined and spending their way to the top of the English game whilst also purchasing some of the league’s finest players for big money.

The season kicked off and people were still refusing to take the club seriously. Three straight wins, all with clean sheets, saw City sit at the top of the table. However, having not yet faced one of the big boys, the media were still refusing to give credit to Mark Hughes’ side.

September 12th 2009 – Arsenal were the visitors to Eastlands. City had beaten Arsenal only once in the Premier League era and most expected City to lay down at the first challenge presented to them this season. Arsenal had finished the previous campaign as runners-up to Manchester United and were many people’s favourites for the title. A side fielding Robin Van Persie, Cesc Fabregas and new arrival Thomas Vermaelen meant Wenger’s men were at full strength. Former Arsenal players Kolo Toure and Emmanuel Adebayor lined up for City against their former side much to the disapproval of the travelling Arsenal fans.

A three o’clock kick-off was in store and referee Mark Clattenburg blew the whistle to start the match, with Arsenal controlling possession early on. Despite this, City won a free-kick on the edge of the Arsenal penalty area shortly before half-time. With the ball whipped in by Craig Bellamy, Micah Richards managed to direct a header towards goal only for it to rebound off the post. Fortunately for City, Arsenal goalkeeper Manuel Almunia’s diving effort wasn’t enough and the ball bounced off the back of the Spaniard and into the net to give City the lead, much to the surprise of the 47,339 in attendance.

Shortly after the interval, Van Persie levelled the contest and Arsenal’s momentum made an away win look likely. Then, Craig Bellamy gave City a 2-1 lead before possibly the greatest celebration ever seen in world football took place. When Shaun Wright-Phillips crossed a ball into the box to Emmanuel Adebayor, the Togo striker managed to direct the ball towards goal and score from twelve yards out. In doing so, Adebayor doubled City’s lead but also took off on a ninety yard run to celebrate in front of the Arsenal fans at the opposing end, who had been chanting personal abuse directed at his family.

Wright-Phillips would bag a forth before Cesc Fabregas managed a consolation for Arsenal. The game finished 4-2 and sent shockwaves throughout the Premier League. Adebayor’s performance ultimately highlighted the grievance he held with the Arsenal faithful and showcased that he was in fact at City to be a success story rather than live a fairytale. Well, so we thought.

Even though City’s victory came as a surprise to the media and rivals it didn’t come without controversy as Adebayor faced an FA charge for stamping on Van Persie. Despite the negative press that was circulating after Adebayor’s stamp, City were now being discussed as potential title winners.

The following week City would be lining up against Manchester United in a derby labelled ‘SUPER-star wars’, largely a result of what the victory against Arsenal had done for City’s image.

The game against Arsenal catapulted City from something of a laughing stock to serious contenders. Funnily enough, since City’s investment from Abu Dhabi some of England’s most historic clubs have suffered and ultimately fallen out of the ‘top four’ which once seemed unbreakable. City haven’t just since broken the historic ‘top four’ that was present for over a decade, they’ve shattered it into pieces.

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