FULL TIME: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City
And that's that! A result that's more than fair, City the best team in the first half, Arsenal the bosses of the second. It's a scoreline that does City more favours than Arsenal, who remain five points off the lead. City stay in third, but it's still all in their hands. So Arsenal still haven't beaten any of the title contenders at the business end of this season - but they're still in the hunt for the big prize. What a run-in this promises to be. Over to Liverpool tomorrow.
90 min +2: City have a rare romp upfield. Fernandinho has a hoick from nearly 30 yards. It's over the bar. Then Negredo battles with Mertesacker down the inside left, chasing a long ball, and nearly chips Szczesny from a tight angle! But it's out for a goal kick. This is the second of three added minutes, by the way.
90 min +1: Corner to Arsenal down the right. Cazorla whips it in. Oxlade-Chamberlain can't quite get a shot away at the far post, and the ball clanks back into the arms of Hart after a quick game of pinball.
90 min: Gibbs strides down the left at high pace, then loops a cross to the far post. If Oxlade-Chamberlain was eight feet tall, we'd have had a winner. Arsenal are much the stronger side here. They clearly don't fancy letting go of their title dreams.
89 min: Javi Garcia is booked for hanging out a leg as Cazorla scoots past him, City having been shocked by Arsenal's tempo as they take a quick free kick out on the right. Cazorla takes the free kick himself, curling one towards the left-hand post. Hart punches upfield with purpose. Arsenal are finishing strongly.
87 min: Milner floats an appalling free kick into the Arsenal area, a ball that begs for Szczesny to come and pluck it out of the sky. The keeper does not disappoint.
86 min: Rosicky lays off uselessly in the centre circle, gifting possession to Silva. He races after the tittering City midfielder and hacks him down. He's not booked, which is ludicrous, really. This'll be a free kick to City, one that will allow them to load the box.
85 min: Each team makes a change, City replacing Dzeko and sending on Negredo, Arsenal swapping Giroud for Sanogo.
83 min: The inherent dangers of holding onto a Good Point nearly become apparent as Oxlade-Chamberlain threatens to burn past Milner down the right. Luckily for Milner, the Ox takes the touch of a randy bull, and hammers the ball so far ahead of him that he can't keep it in play. But there was an opportunity there to deliver something dangerous into the centre.
82 min: City sitting back a little now, allowing Arsenal a lot of ball in the middle of the field. Are they happy to hold onto what they've got? Positively Moyesian in approach.
80 min: Nasri, to comic whistling, boos and jeers, is replaced by Javi Garcia.
79 min: A throw of the dice by Wenger, who removes Podolski and fills the vacant space with Oxlade-Chamberlain.
78 min: Giroud chests a long ball down for Rosicky, who returns it immediately. Giroud takes a little touch past Demichelis, diddling the defender marvellously, but then drags a weak shot wide right of the target from 20 yards. A dismal end to a lovely showcase of skill. "The 38th minute's Ian Copestake is right," confirms Mac Millings. "It IS my birthday today. And I think I'm 42, although 67 feels closer to the truth. Did the Emirates crowd do anything on the 67th minute to mark my big day? I believe the plan was not to acknowledge my existence at all. Seems about right."
75 min: It's not clear how City haven't gone ahead here. The ball's worked into the Arsenal area from the right, whereupon the players stand around like PlayStation figures do when both users have dropped their controllers, or are too blitzed on pot to do anything constructive. Eventually, in a strange slo-mo sequence, Toure tries to hammer home from an angle on the left, but Szczesny smothers. From the resulting corner on the left, Toure slaps a header wide at the far post.
72 min: Free kick for Arsenal down the right, just inside the City area. Cazorla curls it into the area, where Giroud rises above everyone else, only to head weakly wide left. He puts his head in his hands, which given the sheer scope and ambition of his quiff, is a lot of head for those hands to get round.
71 min: A corner for City down the right, which comes to nothing. Not sure why I mention it, really. One for the completists.
70 min: Arteta faffs around in the middle of the park, and then loses the ball to Nasri. City are threatening to break upfield, five on two, so Arteta pulls his opponent back. The referee awards a free kick, but no booking, which was kind of strange.
68 min: Nasri twists, turns, dances, jigs, performs the mashed potato, etc., down the left. He eventually tries to dink a cross into the centre for Dzeko, but slices the ball out of play. The former Arsenal midfielder was given an awful lot of time to fashion something then.
67 min: Arsenal have had 55% of the possession since the restart, quite a turnaround from the chasing they were given in the first half.
65 min: Milner comes on for Navas. His first touch is to escape clear down the inside-right channel, where he can't get a shot away but wins a corner. He was offside as he received Fernandinho's sliderule pass. Nothing comes of the resulting set piece, which for those of you who get fed up of manufactured controversy, is probably just as well.
64 min: This is a brilliant game now. Arsenal go down the other end, Flamini bursting into the City area down the right and lashing goalwards from a tight angle. His rising effort clears the bar, though not by much. Good luck in guessing which way this is going to go.
63 min: City, having rocked a little after that goal, are right back in this now. Fernandinho launches a rasping riser from 25 yards. It's going over, but Szczesny can't take the risk and tips over. The corner's cleared.
62 min: Podolski and Navas come together down the City right. A free kick in a very dangerous position, level with the edge of the six-yard box out on the wing. Nasri loops it out to Silva, standing on the edge of the area to the left of the D. Silva creams a volley towards the top right, and it's whistling home, but it hits an Arsenal back and the home side clear.
60 min: Podolski should have put Arsenal ahead. He's sprung clear into the area down the left, an Arteta flick falling to his feet after rebounding off Kompany's arse. But with only Hart to beat, he hits the ball straight at the keeper. A slightly tight angle, but not good enough. The resulting corner isn't much of a consolation, what with it being wasted.
59 min: Arsenal are knocking it around with more confidence now. They're not quite stroking it around in the classical style - Mertesacker just ballooned upfield the sort of clearance that's not been seen round these parts since the George Graham era - but City aren't bossing possession as they were.
56 min: A free kick for City down the right. It's in a dangerous position, but is totally wasted, Dzeko putting himself about in the area in a clumsy style. The pressure's off Arsenal, in more ways than one. They've looked a yard sharper since the restart, and are visibly buoyed by the equaliser. A proper atmosphere in the Emirates now all right!
54 min: That's a lovely moment for Flamini, who was the unfortunate scorer of that last-minute own goal against Swansea during the week. And it's one that's rocked City back, for Sagna was in acres down the right there, and fired a low cross straight through the six-yard box! A single tap, and that would be a two-goal turnaround in a matter of minutes! But City escape. They need to clear their heads.
GOAL!!! Arsenal 1-1 Manchester City (Flamini 53)
Cazorla has a dig from distance. Hart hacks clear with his feet. The effort gives Arsenal a lift, and soon Podolski is whipping in a cross from the left. The ball should be cleared, but Flamini is left clear eight yards out, and he contorts his body to guide a waist-high shot into the right-hand side of the net! It's on again for Arsenal!
52 min: Navas tears down the right, stealing past Gibbs on the outside, then firing a low ball into the centre. Szczesny goes low to smother, but only clanks the ball onto Dzeko's shins. The ball should ping into the net, but somehow spins wide right of the target. That should have been 0-2. Then, up the other end ...
50 min: Cazorla and Flamini combine well in the middle to advance into City territory, the latter shuttling the ball wide left for Gibbs. But the full back trots into a dead end, and is forced to turn back. Arsenal come again, Rosicky taking a few steps towards the City area down the right, then slashing a fairly mundane effort wide right. City look super-solid at the back, Arsenal visibly wilting whenever they get near the opposition area.
48 min: Not the greatest atmosphere at the Emirates, to be honest. A sense of resignation already. But Arsenal have started the half brightly, with Giroud threatening to break clear into the area down the right channel. Kompany holds strong, though, and eventually prises the ball away.
47 min: Gibbs makes a nuisance of himself down the left and wins a corner. Cazorla whips a disappointing cross straight down a very happy Hart's throat.
And we're off again! No changes made by either side. Yet Arsenal need to make changes. If only in their mental approach. City get the ball rolling. If they make it through this second half unscathed, they'll have taken a big step towards the title, you'd have thought.
advertisement entertainment: In case you missed it during the week, here's Rob Smyth reliving the 1990 World Cup semi-final between England and West Germany, for no other reason than it was quite fun to do so.
HALF TIME: Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City
And that's that for the first half. City deservedly go in leading, though Arsenal have at least shown some fight. This could be an intriguing second half ... unless City score the first goal in it.
45 min: Arteta writhes around on the floor after being kicked on the boot by Silva as he lumps a clearance upfield. Silva's booked for the late, and totally needless, challenge. "Re 5.50pm and the George Harrison reference, it was in 1963 that the Beatles released ‘Not A Second Time’, which would seem quite an apt sentiment for Monsieur Wenger after the reverse fixture this year," writes
Mark Lewisohn Charles Morgan. "The following track on the album was ‘Money (That’s What I Want)." Lucky I wrote 1963 and not 1964, by the looks of it, because otherwise one of you would be flicking through the track listing of Beatles For Sale, and not getting much further than the second track.
42 min: Rosicky is booked for leaving a boot in on Clichy as the two contest a ball down the Arsenal right. He can't really moan, although that was one that looked worse than it was, and while Demichelis tries to make something more of it, rushing over for a trenchant chat with Rosicky, leading with his titties in the do-ya-want-some style, Clichy doesn't press the issue and a yellow's deemed suitable punishment.
38 min: Arsenal have got back into this game pretty well, so City decide to remind them who's the current boss of who. A period of sustained possession in the Arsenal half, with the ball pinged around in the progressive manner. No chances carved out, but the home support is getting tense and nervous again. Meanwhile, some clique-based admin from MBM regular Ian Copestake. "Amid all of this Premiership title race excitement one important factor seems to have been overlooked by everyone," he says. "Namely that it is Mac Millings' birthday today! He's only 42!" Only 42? We had him pegged down as a spry 67 in this afternoon's United-Villa report, when he was banging on about it to all who'd listen.
35 min: Podolski romps into space down the left and whips a ball into the centre looking for the run of Giroud. But Demichelis - who has his critics, but has been fantastic so far this afternoon - slides in to guide the ball out of play on the left, with the French striker lurking behind him, hoping to sidefoot home. The corner comes to naught.
33 min: Giroud looks to break into the Arsenal area down the left, but is upended legally by Kompany. The City defender goes in the book nevertheless, because earlier in the move he cynically bodychecked Arteta as the Arsenal midfielder attempted to round him and make off into space down the left. He can't complain about that one. Giroud has a moan, though, rolling around the floor, but he's got no cause to berate the ref.
31 min: A pointless booking picked up by Toure, who grabs Rosicky by the shoulder as the Arsenal man was trotting through a light-blue thicket in the middle of the park. Not a whole lot of common sense on display there.
30 min: Gibbs intercepts well as Silva is close to releasing Zabaleta into the area yet again down the right. But he gives the ball away almost immediately to Nasri, who looks to thread one into the bottom left from the edge of the box. Szczesny gathers without too much fuss.
28 min: Fernandinho wins a corner for City, a low shot deflected out left. From the set piece, a little head tennis in the Arsenal area. Giroud breaks out to relieve pressure, and wins a free kick from Nasri, whose illegal charge is met with pantomime boos from the home support.
26 min: Cazorla's seeing an awful lot of the ball in the middle of the City half, looking to dictate play, passing this way and that, jinking here and there. Problem is, he's not got too many options going forward. The latest, an attempted one-two with Giroud just in front of the D, doesn't come off. A decent response to going behind, though.
25 min: Cazorla slaloms in from the left and very nearly releases Flamini, marauding down the righ channel, into the area with a clever through ball. But Demichelis is on his game right now, and steps in to block the pass. This is better from Arsenal.
23 min: Giroud attempts to score from the halfway line. No Beckham/Alonso/Rooney he, the effort sails left of target and doesn't even reach the byline anyway, Hart gathering with ease. But perhaps Arsenal have decided that they may as well go down in flames rather than die wondering. Their attacking already seems sharper, their moves forward made with a little more purpose.
22 min: Flamini puts the ball in the City net! But it won't count. Podolski curls one into the area from the left, and Flamini, on the stretch coming in from the right and level with the far post, batters the ball into the ground, sending it looping up diagonally over Hart and into the left-hand side of the net! But it won't count, as both Flamini and Giroud were miles offside, Demichelis having stepped up smartly.
21 min: A cross from Navas from the right. Szczesny tips it away from danger, but in a very uncertain fashion. He dropped an easy gather from Nasri on the left just before the goal, too. He's not a confident keeper right now. "Nearly 20 minutes in and it's 1-0," notes Colt Kennedy. "See, Arsenal are improving!"
GOAL!!! Arsenal 0-1 Manchester City (Silva 18)
This had been coming. Although not down the left flank. Silva trots down the inside-right channel, then slides it out left to Dzeko, who steps into the area and blooters a stunning shot onto the left-hand post, halfway up, Szczesny beaten all ends up. The ball pings to the right, where Silva, following up, can screw a sidefoot into the bottom right. On the touchline, Arsene Wenger shakes his barnet like George Harrison circa 1963, then runs his fingers through it in frustration.
16 min: Giroud does wonderfully well to stick out a leg and trap a long pass down the left, but his good work is wasted as he lays off to Podolski, who slaps a cross straight into Kompany's mush.
14 min: City up the other end again. They've certainly decided to concentrate on this right flank, and are flicking the ball around that area accordingly. Silva is seeing a lot of the ball down there, Navas and Zabaleta not shy to join in. Arsenal don't give up a chance this time, but they really do look nervous at the back. Still, they're not three goals down, and they've still got 11 men on the pitch, so this start qualifies as a roaring success in the context of recent big-club match-ups.
11 min: A bit better from Arsenal, Flamini sliding the ball wide right for Rosicky, whose cross towards Giroud at the far post is a little too deep. But they're coming back at City with another phase. Rosicky picks up the ball down the inside-left channel, latching onto a lovely Cazorla sliderule pass, and enters the box. He brushes past Zabaleta and falls to the ground. The crowd think the ref has pointed to the spot, and cheer accordingly, but it's a goal kick. And a good decision, Rosicky rather going over his own feet, although if he'd hung one of them out he could have bought a cheeky one off the City full back, who was hanging a leg out.
10 min: Navas has a dig from 25 yards out, down the inside-right channel. Nope! High as you like, but not even worth three rugby points, hoicked off to the right of the target too.
9 min: Arsenal can't hold onto the ball at all. City are knocking it hither and yon, totally dominant in the midfield. They've enjoying 67% of the possession so far. "Wenger said this week he regrets not signing Yaya Toure in 2003, though the transfer apparently fell through due to the Ivorian's passport problems," says Philip Podolsky. "He could sure use him in this team, though had Yaya signed for Arsenal in 2003, he'd surely be off to Barcelona circa 2008. Bit ironic that, innit."
8 min: More space and time gifted to City down their right flank! Where is Gibbs? What is Podolski up to? Navas sashays down the wing and pulls one back into the centre. Again, City don't capitalise, but they're running the show down this side of the pitch. The home fans have fallen quiet very quickly.
7 min: Zabaleta is once again afforded the entire right flank to gambol around in. This isn't very promising for the home side. He fires another cross into the centre, which is dealt with easily enough by Vermaelen, but Arsenal can't keep on like this.
5 min: A corner for Arsenal down the right, Arteta and Cazorla working well down that flank. But such is their level of confidence at the moment, all it results in is a City break upfield, Silva and Nasri over-elaborating when they were three on two. The home crowd is very nervous, no wonder after the stresses of the last week against Chelsea and Swansea, I guess.
3 min: City are on the front foot right from the off, all right! First Zabaleta races into the box down the right, free, Arsenal having popped back to the changing rooms. Luckily for the home side, Zabaleta opts to pull the ball back instead of shooting, as he was within his rights to do, and the chance is gone. Then in the very next phase of play, Navas tries a curler from the right-hand side of the D and only just sends the shot wide of the top-left corner! Arsenal with their usual slow start.
2 min: Zabaleta goes on an early saunter down the right, winning a throw off Gibbs. Navas takes up possession from the throw, and whips a ball into the centre for Dzeko, but the striker can't get on the end of a dangerous cross. Arsenal faff around a bit at the back, and then Szczesny slices a simple kick out of play in a manner most nervous. City are on the front foot, right from the off.
And we're off! Arsenal get the ball rolling, amid a cracking atmosphere at Ashburton Grove. For some reason the referee isn't happy, though, and they have to perform the ceremony twice. Just like this crazy Premier League season ... it's on!
The teams are out! The Arsenal are in their grand old red shirts with white sleeves ...
... while Manchester City are in their famous powder blue.
Meanwhile a quick bit of pre-match chitter-chat. "Woeful season?" finger-wags Thomas Chivers, preparing to take me to task, albeit in the polite and gentle style you lovely MBM readers are famous for. "Bit harsh on the Arse since they were top until February, although I know what you mean." Hah, well, yes, I suppose that does read rather oddly. Especially as a win tonight will see Arsenal three points off the top of the table, and they're in the FA Cup semis to boot, hot favourites to win football's oldest prize. But all these thrashings in the big games haven't been good for the soul round N5 way, the mood dampened by a sense that something isn't quite right. Still, a good result today, and with that friendly fixture list, they could find themselves starting a run that'd be timed just so. A league won by a team who have lost to their rivals 6-3, 5-1 and 6-0? It's been a strange enough season, so why not? It's the sort of achievement you'd have expected from Manchester City back in the 1930s.
Arsenal select Lukas Podolski over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs, Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski, Giroud.
Subs: Fabianski, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Sanogo, Jenkinson, Kallstrom, Bellerin, Gnabry.
Manchester City name an unchanged side following their success in the Manchester derby: Hart, Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis, Clichy, Toure, Fernandinho, Jesus Navas, Silva, Nasri, Dzeko.
Subs: Pantilimon, Lescott, Milner, Negredo, Kolarov, Javi Garcia, Jovetic.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral)
If Arsenal and City need any further encouragement to seize the day, here it is: the leaders Chelsea have just lost 1-0 at Crystal Palace! The top of the table could concertina this weekend like an old tin can. Arsenal can get right back into this title race - while a City win will take them top tonight! What a Premier League season this is turning out to be!
It's now or never for Arsenal. A defeat tonight against Manchester City, and the title will begin to seem like a pipe dream. OK, given the way they were systematically stripped of their dignity last weekend at Chelsea, the title may already seem like a pipe dream. But it's been easy to forget, while everyone at Arsenal's in a hot funk, that the team's run-in is kind. This is not over quite yet. And a win tonight would see them suddenly back within realistic striking distance of tonight's opponents, as well as leaders Chelsea and second-placed Liverpool.
Problem is, Arsenal have been awful in the matches against the other title challengers this season. They lost 6-3 at City, of course, 5-1 at Liverpool, and last week were humiliated 6-0 at Stamford Bridge, a nadir of a woeful season during which they've seemed hell bent on drilling deeper and deeper and down. And with City turning up tonight in upbeat mood, having just thumped Manchester United 3-0 at Old Trafford, nervous Arsenal have every right to be worried that the last rites of their title tilt may be read out this evening.
But see that slight chink of light? There it is, shining its beam on a straw that's within Arsenal's grasp! The Gunners are playing home tonight, where they've ground out 0-0 draws with Chelsea and the (admittedly mid-table) champions Manchester United, and comprehensively beaten Liverpool 2-0. A draw is well within their scope, while a victory … well, they're due a result in a big match sometime. If they can just get past that 17-minute mark without conceding three goals or getting anyone sent off …
The big title-showdown begins at: 5.30pm.