Verdict: Arsenal 0 Manchester City 0
City went to an in-form Arsenal with the intention of not coming away empty handed. In that regard, 0-0 was mission accomplished and Roberto Mancini was apologising to no-one for his tactics.
The only surprise was that so many people were surprised by this. The clues were all there leading up to the game:
- Mancini had previously spoken about how playing 4 games in 12 days didn’t give players time to recover, and he would adjust his personnel and tactics accordingly.
- Arsenal away was the final and most demanding of these fixtures, so coming up with a plan where tired players could get a result was always likely to involve slowing the game down.
- A midfield that was showing signs of fatigue in the second half against Blackpool weren’t going to have the legs to press Arsenal high up the pitch. Both Yaya Toure and Gareth Barry are players whose effectiveness is drastically reduced if they’re not at their freshest.
- The injury to David Silva took away the player most vital to our possession game. Balotelli’s absence reduced our goal threat. Edin Dzeko wasn’t yet signed, while Adebayor and Santa Cruz are heading towards the exit door. As such Tevez was always going to lack support.
- Knowing how the four festive fixtures would reduce our capacity to press, Mancini selected our two full-backs with the best defensive skills and left out Kolarov and Boateng who offer more going forward.
- Finally, the selection of Milner over Adam Johnson is a clear statement of defensive intent. Johnson had played the previous two fixtures and Mancini may have been concerned about fatigue. Bringing Adam on was an attempt to snatch the win however.
The game opened with our fears about Arsenal’s inform midfield proving fully justified. They were even cutting through the centre of our midfield and defence – normally our strongest area.
It was our worst battering since we went to Spurs on the opening day of the season. Fortunately the similarities didn’t end there: Joe Hart went on to have his best game since that Spurs outing, we rode our luck, gradually lessened the threat, and ground out the result.
Despite the woodwork rattling start, all our defenders ultimately won plaudits. Changing three of the back four gave us a freshness in that area that was palpably missing in midfield, despite the relatively limited use made of Milner and Jo in recent games.
On the left Zabaleta was gradually able to keep a rein on Walcott, despite being outpaced.
Micah Richards eventually got a handle on Nasri and showed the more disciplined defending that Mancini is instilling in him.
Kompany was Kompany while Kolo gave everything against his former employers, as expected, and came out with the quote of the night afterwards.
“I think it’s very important to have a strong defence if you are challenging for major honours. Strikers can win you games, but defenders win you titles.”
For all Arsenal’s sweet creativity, it’s worth noting that they only managed a single shot on target from within our penalty area. This statistic more than any shows the defensive resilience Mancini instilled for the game.
A second defensive statistic is that City have conceded just one goal in the four games over the festive period. This is particularly remarkable given how tired legs and rotation normally lead to lapses at the back.
Wenger took a gamble in resting eight players for the second of the four fixtures and paid the price with a draw at Wigan. The risk taken there was a calculated one as his side were fresher for this game.
Sadly for Arsene it didn’t pay off and Arsenal have eight points from those games. Mancini rotated less for the game against Villa and ended up with ten points from a possible twelve – happy Christmas Roberto.
Of course, keeping a clean sheet shouldn’t disguise the failings elsewhere against Arsenal.
Opta Joe, Twitter
0 – Manchester City failed to have a shot on target in a PL game for the first time since Dec 2007 v Liverpool. Blunt.
Tevez did an outstanding job at holding the ball up, but his passing was mixed and two chances to strike at goal were rushed. Jo and Milner were unable to influence the game and link with our lonely striker.
This was a stark reminder of how reliant on David Silva we have already become. Adam Johnson is our only other player with the creative quality for this level of game. Balotelli is primarily a striker and Yaya is a more all round midfielder.
In contrast Arsenal could field Fabregas, Nasri, Wilshire and Walcott, before bringing on Arshavin and having Rosicky in reserve. For all our spending we lack a substitute for Silva.
Milner isn’t measuring up and Wright-Phillips appears to be on his way out. If we do qualify for the Champions League, then an additional top quality creative player may be required. However that’s for the future.
In this game we were eventually able to subdue Arsenal as festive fatigue took it’s toll in the final quarter. The only talking point then was the needless sending off of Zabaleta and Sagna.
Had Zabaleta dropped to the ground clutching his face when Sagna sought to press heads, then presumably Pablo wouldn’t have received a red card. Instead he was punished for staying on his feet and standing his ground.
Not a great message for the officials to be sending out, and one that ought to be overturned in Friday’s appeal.
The frustration of the home fans at the final whistle may in part be down to them losing ground on United. Our own title aspirations were equally damaged by a draw, but the top priority for Mancini is Champions League qualification.
To that aim, this was a good night. Results elsewhere proved what a leveller playing 4 games in 12 days is. We gained a point on Tottenham and Chelsea despite having the hardest fixture. Mancini doesn’t need to apologise for that.