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Club Focus – Manchester City – Cautious City earn point rather than plaudits at the Emirates

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By Tom McAvoy

Friday 07 January 2011

Wednesday night’s match at the Emirates Stadium was supposed to be the night a true contender to champions elect Manchester United was revealed. Two in-form teams playing the best football of their seasons so far were to meet. With both sides containing players who could justifiably purport to be the Premier League player of the season so far – for Arsenal, Samir Nasri, whilst Manchester City’s reliance on the wonderful Carlos Tevez has been well documented – the neutrals licked their lips in anticipation of one of the games of the season.

Writing for the Daily Telegraph, Henry Winter called it “a night when the honours and dishonours were shared.” John Cross in the Daily Mirror put it more bluntly, calling City’s performance a “sorry reflection on both Mancini’s attacking ambition and investments.” Rather than being the firecracker the football world had anticipated, the game turned out to be a damp squib; something the assorted Press were quick to attribute to the Citizens' total lack of ambition.

City were unable to register a single shot on target during the 90 minutes. Carlos Tevez has often cut a frustrated figure this season – his remonstrations with Roberto Mancini are common knowledge – and as the industrious Argentine forward ploughed a lonely furrow in attack, it was easy to empathise with his simmering anger. Having spent £350 million in reinforcements over the past two seasons, the Italian manager’s excuse that David Silva, Aleksander Kolarov and Mario Balotelli blunted his attacking options rang somewhat hollow. This was a performance of the utmost negativity, devoid of ambition beyond earning a solitary point.

That City comfortably achieved their ambitionless aim was the fact irking Wenger more than any other. “They came for a 0-0 and they got what they wanted,” he said. Perhaps most disappointing is that City’s ideas for disposing of direct rivals seem not to have progressed since last season, as a clearly disappointed Wenger attested to: “I wasn’t surprised. They came here last year set up to play for a 0-0.”

On the other hand, Mancini’s boys were successful in leaving with what they intended to earn. Many will inevitably criticise their performance as overly cautious, even antithetical to the innate attacking instincts of English football, but Mancini saw it as pragmatic. It is certainly hard to argue with the quality that City possess in their defensive third. Kolo Toure showed no signs of his training ground spat with Emanuel Adebayor affecting his performance, putting in another peerless display alongside another contender for the Blues player of the season, Vincent Kompany. Say what you will about the match being a clash in styles; for all their attacking intent and intricate possession football, rarely did Arsenal test Joe Hart in the Manchester City goal – Robin van Persie’s early 15-yard strike crashing off the post the closest The Gunners came to a goal. Once an error-strewn opening 25 minutes had been negotiated, City settled and whilst being beaten for possession and attacking intent, were largely comfortable.

Mancini was unrepentant about his side’s approach, dismissing it as “not important to me.” More important was escaping from the Emirates with a point. If caution was required at the expense of the match as a spectacle, then so be it. However, the point leaves City two points behind Manchester United who have two games in hand. Are City really in a position to approach games as negatively as they did at the Emirates? Whilst they may see the result as a point well earned, their innate negativity may yet leave them with cause for regret come the season’s conclusion.

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