Arsenal o Man City 0
There is having a penchant for defensive midfielders, there is playing cautiously and hitting teams on the break, and then there the sort of display City put in last night. Dour, dull but effective, it was the single most negative performance I’ve seen in many years, from an expensively assembled side with plenty of available attacking talent (ignore the absences of Silva and Balotelli, when you spend hundreds of millions on ready made players and leave the likes of Adam Johnson out, you cannot complain about a couple of injuries).
The approach is entirely understandable if you’re travelling to a powerhouse who have been impenetrable at their home ground. But everyone knows what is possible if you attack us, more than one team has shown that this season, but it was almost as if City were scared of opening up, scared of even trying to win. Make no mistake, this wasn’t a tactic of sit and then counter, this was a team not making any effort to win the match. Very strange.
There are those who will compliment them for it, and I certainly agree that they defended well, particularly in the second half. But while you can point to the result as evidence that the tactic worked, it was more down to fortune than anything else. As Wenger rightly pointed out afterwards, we still created more chances than you are usually afforded in these games, and the only reason we went away without the three points was bad luck. Van Persie and Cesc both had terrific efforts rebound off the post, had either of those gone in we could and should have gone on to get rewarded for what was a very decent performance, and City’s negative tactics would’ve looked ridiculous. Fine lines.
But, at the end of the day, they didn’t go in, and that’s football. Joe Hart also made a couple of good saves, although I thought Sky’s fawning over him was excessive given how both efforts that struck the post saw him comfortably beaten at his near post. But once our initial onslaught had failed to produce the goal it deserved, City settled, and it became increasingly difficult to break them down. We grew more frustrated as the game went ibm culminating in a silly incident when Sagna pushed his head into Zabaleta after a nothing challenge. I have no complaints over Sagna’s red card – while it could hardly be called violent conduct it is something you get sent off for these days, but Zabaleta did nothing, and were we City fans we’d be fuming at that one.
It ended up being a brilliant night for United – Chelsea lost, Spurs lost and we and City took points off each other – they couldn’t have written the script better. And as Chelsea continue to implode, United do indeed find themselves in a very strong position. On the plus side, they probably look down the table and see us as their major rivals now, unless they consider City a credible threat.
On this performance, I wouldn’t pay City that compliment. Draws kill championship challenges – consider that United are unbeaten, and we’ve lost five games, yet they are only four points ahead of us. Managers are beginning to understand that given a pair of draws, if you can throw men forward and turn one of them into a win, it more than makes up for that tactic backfiring on the other occasion. Catenaccio doesn’t win titles, and in Mancini continues to deploy three defensive midfielders, City will drop too many points to truly challenge.
I don’t think Mancini is stupid, I think he realises that his side aren’t yet equipped for a title tilt – that will undoubtedly come in time. For now, he’d accept a top four finish, an ever increasing possibility given the plights of two of the traditional Big Four. Draws like the one City have just managed will help them.
As for us, we shouldn’t be too downhearted. Two wins and two draws from a set of tricky matches over Christmas is a good return, and we’ve got a load of very winnable matches coming up. United will drop points – if we can continue to play as we currently are, we have every chance.