Thursday, January 6, 2011

Arsenal and City Meet, United the Only Victors

Arsenal 0-0 Manchester City

I've talked up the contrast in philosophies between Wenger's Arsenal and Mancini's City before, and lastnight it was at its most obvious. Only one team showed a real desire to win the game.

Some will laud Mancini's pragmatism. But he's put a team together at a huge cost and they play as if they are battling relegation. Arsenal's defence is poor and teams like West Brom and Newcastle have come to the Emirates and had the balls to expose that. City barely had the ball all game and when they did they often seemed unsure of what to do with it. So they go away with a point, and perhaps their ultra-cautious manager will see it as a point nearer a Champions League spot at the end of the season, rather than two points further back from their Manchester neighbours.

He would do well to remember this: towards the end of last season, City visited North London with Arsenal in rancid form. Despite that encouragement, his team showed no ambition that day and came away with an eventless, goalless draw.

They ended up losing out to an attacking Spurs side in the chase for 4th place. Mancini's caution has backfired before, and as long as he remains a walking Italian stereotype, City will not win the league. City may lack flair in certain areas, but that is not an excuse- it is the result of Mancini's buying policy. And Sir Alex Ferguson would certainly make more use of players like David Silva and Adam Johnson. United continue to play attacking football even with a squad short on outrageous talent. Positivity pays, and that's why City won't win the league.

Arsenal deserve credit for sticking to their guns. The first half was unlucky at times. As early as the 2nd minute, Wilshere should have set Van Persie up for a tap-in, but overhit his pass across goal. The Dutchman hit a post from the edge of the area after bamboozling Kolo Toure. Then Fabregas slid a shot off the same upright from a measured Nasri pass.

As the game wore on City looked more assured in their defensive shape, less and less inclined to attack themselves with any purpose. Arsenal struggled to forage through the dense forest of blue, and Van Persie's long range thunderbolt was their best 2nd half effort- the ever-excellent Joe Hart pawed it away.

Whatever momentum Arsenal had was extinguished when the frustrating Arshavin replaced Walcott. The Russian was sloppy, criminally casual in possession. The hope was that Walcott's inclusion ahead of him in Arsenal's recent big games would provide a motivational kick up the arse, but his performances remain peripheral at best. It should be added that only last week he scored a fine goal at Wigan. But what's the bottom line- the goal, or the overall display it was at odds with?

Is he, as f365 often assert, a luxury worth having? Or is he a passenger in a team that can't afford one?

He's not the worst of this team's problems. The biggest one they face, now that they seem to be playing well, is the yawning gap between themselves and Manchester United at the top. It could stretch to seven points if United win their game in hand.

Assuming there is no collapse- and even this prosaic United team don't look to have a collapse in them- Arsenal need a consistent charge between now and season's end. The return of Thomas Vermaelen would have the squad looking very strong indeed, and silverware of some kind is hopefully forthcoming, although the Premiership title still looks, at this juncture, tantalisingly out of reach.

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