Man City 6 Arsenal 3
He left it until the final throes of 2013, but Arsene Wenger’s claim that Manchester City represent no more of a threat to Arsenal’s title aspirations than Everton or Southampton surely ranks as the most implausible statement of the footballing year.
The previous 90 minutes, and six goals, had provided ample evidence to the contrary for the veteran French manager and, in his defence, the only option left available to Wenger, as he attempted to fix his faltering squad for their upcoming fixture with Chelsea, was to engage in some extreme revisionism and wishful thinking.
For, if there is a weakness in City’s bid for a second championship in three years, it lies in their obvious superiority over the entire division. Consider that while Chelsea and Southampton remain the only clubs in the division’s top half of the table to have taken points off Manuel Pellegrini’s side, Cardiff, Aston Villa, Sunderland and Stoke have, between them, cost City 11 points.
Perhaps, over-confidence and arrogance are the only real challengers that City will have to overcome in 2014, a point with which Samir Nasri, the former Arsenal midfielder, concurred.
“We are really confident. But we always seem to perform when we play one of the big teams,” noted Nasri. “We did it against United, Tottenham, against Bayern in midweek and now we’ve done it against Arsenal.
“Now we have to do it away from home because we have struggled from the start of the season to perform as well away as we do here.
“When we play a big game it is easy to get the motivation. And big players will always respond when it is a big game. But now we know the title race is open. We’ve come back to three points behind Arsenal and next week they play Chelsea so we have to keep the pressure on them.”
Nasri serves as the embodiment of the changes Pellegrini has brought about at the Etihad in his six months in charge. Devoid of confidence after a controversial and ineffective Euro 2012, the Frenchman was not alone in the City dressing room in sulking and moping his way through last season under Roberto Mancini.
Pellegrini — or rather the Spanish “brains trust” in City’s upper management responsible for transfers — have also demonstrated a keen eye for talent, even if the investment has been stratospheric. Fernandinho, for example, looked a luxury signing at £30m this summer but was, by some distance, the best player on display at the Etihad on Saturday.
Considering the form and depth throughout the City squad, and across all positions, Pellegrini’s
target of seeing his side top by the new year looks well within reach.
“Yes of course there is more to come, because there will be more confidence in the squad,” said Pellegrini. “It’s also important to say ‘squad’ because we don’t have just 11 players. We have the trust in them, but we made changes against Bayern Munich and again today. I have to be sure we will continue to play in the same way. In every match it is important we give a good performance but we have the players and we have to find a style of play which is good for this team. I made a lot of changes but the team continued playing in the same way. It’s a style of play we are trying to work on every day, to be an attacking team. We are a good attacking team but we are a good defending team also. That’s why I repeat, we scored six but they scored three so it’s important that we continue working.”
Given that strength in the squad, even the potential loss of Sergio Aguero, scorer of the opening goal before suffering a calf injury which may rule him out of the holiday fixtures, could not take the shine off this most remarkable result. Alvaro Negredo, Fernandinho twice, David Silva and Yaya Toure, through a late penalty, added to Aguero’s goal with Theo Walcott equalising at 1-1 before claiming a second and seeing Per Metersacker head a meaningless late consolation.
Scorer of 31 goals in their last six home league games, City have now hit the net 72 times in all competitions with less than half of the campaign completed. Indeed, City’s assault on a variety of goalscoring records may prove to be the only note of interest that remains in this season by the time Easter comes around.
Not that Wenger was prepared to acknowledge City’s blatant superiority. “Not more than some other teams,” claimed the Arsenal manager when asked if City were the single team his side has to finish above to win the title. “It’s not the impression I had today.
“Look, we scored three and we should have scored six, we could have conceded eight as well, so that’s part of what happened. They will be a title contender, of course, but I didn’t feel much more than the other teams that we have played until now.
“Honestly if we cannot pick ourselves up by being top of the league what will happen when we are not top of the league? Let’s not go overboard, it’s a massive disappointment because we have lost a big game but no matter what happens over the weekend we’ll still be top of the league. And what is important now is how we respond to that.”
MANCHESTER CITY (4-4-2): Pantilimon 6; Zabaleta 7, Kompany 8, Demichelis 8, Clichy 7; Nasri 7 (Garcia 89), Fernandinho 10, Toure 7, Silva 7 (Milner 71, 7); Aguero 8 (Navas 49, 8), Negredo 7.
ARSENAL (4-2-3-1): Szczesny 6; Sagna 6, Mertesacker 6, Koscielny 5 (Vermaelen 41, 5), Monreal 5; Ramsey 6, Flamini 6 (Gnabry 72, 5); Walcott 7, Ozil 4, Wilshere 6; Giroud 5 (Bendtner 75, 5).
Referee: M Atkinson 5
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