MANCHESTER CITY 0
Roberto Mancini will certainly feel a sense of mission accomplished upon leaving the Emirates on Wednesday night as Manchester City kept title rivals Arsenal at bay to earn a point.
Mancini defended City’s approach – maligned for being too defensive – to the game: “If you can’t win, don’t lose, and we didn’t.” City were indebted to the woodwork as Arsenal attempted to breakthrough and by comparison the visitors failed to test Lukasz Fabianski. Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta were also dismissed in the dying stages after a touchline clash.
Despite Mancini’s satisfaction, the result helps neither in the title race and, ironically, it sees the red side of Manchester as the real profiteers. To a certain degree Arsenal’s home form has been their Achilles heel this season but barring a potentially quick counter-jab from City, their main concern was to suppress the hosts. Arsenal came out like a steam train during the first 15 minutes and although Mancini has recently taken the shackles off his expensive assembly, the rugged defensive exterior returned.
As always Nigel de Jong and Gareth Barry patrolled the back four, with James Milner, Yaya Toure and Jo sitting behind lone striker Carlos Tevez – but it was this shape that offered City’s tireless defenders little rest bite. The absence of genuine width meant Tevez was starved of both service and support, therefore playing into Arsenal’s hands as wave after wave of red and white attacks ensued. City’s full-backs, Zabaleta and Micah Richards, briefly got forward in the first-half but it created space for Arsenal to exploit and subsequently enforced restraint from Mancini in the second-half.
This formation relied on City playing with Milner and Jo as the closest thing to wingers and both tried to support Tevez as the lone front man, but there was little link-up play, as all bar Tevez were continually dragged back to help disrupt Arsenal’s rhythmic midfield. City should have been trailing at the break but the woodwork was their biggest ally with Cesc Fabregas and Robin van Persie both frustrated by it, following typically incisive Arsenal moves.
With David Silva and Mario Balotelli both ruled out, Adam Johnson must have fancied this stage to remind Mancini of his big-match status, but the Italian had other ideas as the ex-Middlesbrough winger was benched. Johnson’s introduction just after the hour was overdue and questions must be asked of his initial exclusion. Playing Jo, a striker by trade, in a Johnson-type role surely grew from a defensive attitude. But like often before, for all the intricate passing and champagne football Arsenal so often conjure up, a highly organised and parked bus – as Mancini orchestrated – can frustrate Arsene Wenger’s men.
Asking Mancini prior to kick-off whether a draw would be a point won or two points lost, the Italian would have pointed to the former – but in fairness the happiest manager of a Manchester club would have been sitting at home.
2 Richards – 4 Kompany – 28 Kolo Toure – 5 Zabaleta
18 Barry – 34 De Jong
7 Milner – 42 Yaya Toure – 27 Jo
32 – Tevez
64 – 11 Johnson on for 27 Jo
90 – 17 Boateng on for 32 Tevez