Both teams started with a 4-2-3-1; City started with Balotelli on the left, Milner on the right and Nasri behind Aguero. Arsene Wenger played Benayoun on the left, though tucking inside and linking with Rosicky who was the furthest forward midfielder, while Walcott retained his place on the right and Van Persie played up front.
The first twenty-five minutes were dominated by Arsenal who played at a good tempo and rhythm with mobility from Song, Benayoun and Rosicky creating numerical superiority between the lines, switches of play to either side where the full backs got forward in space (Balotelli often didn't track and Milner came very narrow on the right) and pushing Man City back very deep. City defended with two lines of four and retreated to the edge of their area but they were unorganised in their pressing and didn't deal with play between the lines or the 3v2 which often occured in the centre. Overall they lacked intensity in open play and from set pieces where Arsenal threatened three times in the first half.
Song was impressive in midfield and made a couple of direct runs forward and looked to release Van Persie with high diagonal balls from right to left or play wall passes behind for Walcott with Lescott too slow to cover laterally behind Clichy on a couple of occasions. Passes were also played into the feet of both Rosicky and Van Persie between the lines with both players initially moving high in the centre, then dropping off to receive the ball between the lines.
City struggled to move up the pitch in the first twenty-five minutes. Their main attacking ideas were to play direct balls into Balotelli, either behind the defence or with his back to goal while other players supported off him on the left. The away side's build up from the back generally went straight from the centre backs to the full backs or midfielders and then often down the line for Aguero behind. Milner frequently moved inside from the right.
After a while, City managed to threaten higher up the pitch, most notably from a well planned corner; Lescott used a block on Balotelli's man marker, Milner moved his marker out at the far post and Kompany moved to the near post which created space for Balotelli in the middle but his shot was blocked.
The away side did manage to halt Arsenal's dominance in the last twenty minutes with a number of changes. Firstly Nasri dropped deeper when Arsenal had the ball to try and stop the numerical superiority in the middle that Arsenal were getting.
City then changed to a 4-3-3 with Nasri on the right and Milner moving inside with Barry and the substitute Pizarro, who was effective in possession. This meant that they could could control the middle and also create space up front with Balotelli and Nasri moving inside and Aguero providing length and the option behind. Balotelli moved up front for a few minutes alongside Aguero with Clichy providing width on the left and Nasri also played on the left for a while with Barry narrow on the right. However, they ended the half in a 4-2-3-1 with Balotelli on the left, Nasri on the right and Pizarro with a free role as the link in midfield.
Walcott moved across to the centre in the last five minutes for Arsenal, with Sagna anad Arteta both putting a number of crosses in from the right.
The second period began with City dominating possession in the first minute though Arsenal counter attacking quickly from their own half. City had moved back to a 4-3-3 at half time with Balotelli and Nasri both coming narrow in attack for City, allowing space for their full backs to get forward. However their midfield three was different to previous with Barry and particularly Milner moving up on the ball which allowed Pizarro space from a deeper position to play his passes.
The pattern of the game soon changed though; Arsenal regained control of possession and built pressure up the pitch, switching play to the wide positions, particularly the right, and then playing in crosses or moving it between the lines. Van Persie had a chance from another diagonal ball behind by Song after City came late to pressure out wide and in the middle, but the Dutchman couldn't quite finish. Walcott was looking to receive passes behind Clichy and Song made a powerful run down the centre on the counter attack. City were again very deep, looking to attack on the counter but their transitions were often poor and allowed Arteta to regain the ball and switch the play while Arsenal's second line were very quick on the ball to penetrate City's backline.
Balotelli was rarely tracking back on the left and this allowed space for Sagna high on the right which created a chance when the right back played it across to Walcott in the area but ther winger hit the post and Vermaelen failed to finish at the far post.
City made a change, taking off Nasri and moving Kolarov to the left with Balotelli going up front with Aguero, while Arsenal made a straight swap with Aaron Ramsey coming on for Benayoun on the left. Arsenal kept up the pressure high up the pitch with Arteta finding space on the ball to dominate the play and when City gave the ball again in their own half, the Spaniard was quick to react and find space in front of the City defence to hit it into Hart's left hand corner.
City failed to gather any momentum to come back, with Balotelli sent off for a second yellow and Tevez failing to have an impact on the game.
Arsenal deserved the win because of the great balance they had in attack and the intensity they played with on the ball. City were not good enough and failed to deal with Wenger's side and now need a miraculous come back to win the title off of United.