The Ped Report Arsenal 1-0 City
Stretford is cranking up its gramophones this morning with a crescendo of "It`s over" playing out along Chester Road.
And how surprising is that after this season`s only serious challengers to their title bowed out of the series with hardly a fight yesterday.
As the Stretford`s mechanically went about the business of beating lowly QPR, albeit once again referee-assisted, City could hardly muster a shot on goal against a resurgent Arsenal. The endgame is now an almost insurmountable 8 point deficit to United plus indeed a 2-goal deficit in the GD table.
Looking at the team selection yesterday, and as in recent weeks, this was not a line-up to frighten the opposition. It was an eleven loaded with damage limitation, with a bench perhaps telling us a similar story.
That the damage was limited until three minutes from the end was perhaps an indictment to a team that at times loaded so many players into City`s penalty area that they got in each others way and at least twice prevented goalbound shots from going in.
That indeed was the story early on when Van Persie`s header hit the advanced Vermaalen and bounced to safety. Indeed it was similar story when Benayoun got in the way of an effort by Vermaelen, following up a Walcott shot that cannoned off the post.
Any expectation of fast flowing football that was the trademark of City`s early-season endeavours was eliminated the minute we saw that Silva was omitted from the squad. He has been subjected to some poor treatment over the last few weeks and we have seen his ankles surrounded in ice-bags, week -in, week-out when leaving the dugout for the sanctity of the changing room.
Yaya Toure looked to be the only source of creativity from a midfield that was detailed to play narrow and without any natural outlet. Milner was there to shield Zabaleta and "tuck-in", on the left was Balotelli really supposed a similar role in front of Clichy?
The strutting Balotelli and the eager but out of form Aguero were to provide the firepower, but only one shot from Aguero forced any kind of save out of Szcesny all afternoon. Had it not been from outstanding performances from Lescott, Hart and in particular Captain Kompany, City would have been dead and buried in a first half when they were starved of the football and couldn`t muster anything serious at all in attack.
And what of Balotelli? A mystery it was that Martin Atkinson was so generous in the first half that having committed at least 3 fouls, all of which were yellow card and one of which was probably a red card offence, less than Super Mario remained on the field of play. As the end of the match approached and with Balotelli amazingly still on the field, amazing that is on two counts, the first already chronicled and the second that his play was truly awful, finally gave Atkinson a fourth go at it, again late-tackling Sagna, and this time out came the second yellow and off went Balotelli.
Readers of the Ped Report will recall my comments after last season`s match with Dinamo Kyiv when I reported that he should be disallowed from playing for City again. After his efforts in the FA Cup against Stretford and Stoke, and his goals in the early part of this season, I thought we`d seen the back of that but his recent performances tell us a different story. He could have been sent off in any of the last six matches and his demeanour has once again caught up with him. Once again he has let City down in a crucial match.
His sending-off might not have happened until late on but he was on a tightrope all the way through the match and he offered absolutely nothing in terms of attacking football.
He was cautioned at the end of a first half where he contributed nothing except the execution of three poor fouls on Song and Sagna , the first on Song in retribution for a bad foul on Toure that saw City`s main influence replaced in the first fifteen minutes.
That he was allowed to remain on the field by Mancini for the second half, when he had caused mayhem in his own defence by not playing in the position nor to the tactics detailed, was inexplicable. With Dzeko and Tevez waiting in the wings and with Balotelli and Aguero getting nowhere, any changes that needed to be made were up top and not really anywhere else.
Pizarro had replaced the injured Yaya, but one just knew that the second replacement was not going to be striker for striker. Indeed when it came it was simply to stick Kolarov in front of Clichy, taking off the ineffective Nasri, but somewhat ridiculously leaving the even more ineffective Balotelli in situ.
Arsenal continued to pile forward. Although City did get a foothold in the second half, and when Arsenal had battered ther woodwork and had efforts cleared off the line sometimes by their own players and Hart had made a couple of excellent saves, one could be forgiven for thinking that the time had come to introduce Tevez to score an unlikely winner.
But no, Mancini persevered with the blue touch paper, eventually replacing Aguero with Tevez with only eight minutes to go. Just enough time for Arteta to rob Pizarro and run at the back four which for once backed off leaving him enough space to squeeze in a wonderful 25-yarder, with Hart unsighted and finally beaten. Joe kicked the post and kicked it again when Atkinson went to his pockets to offer an early shower to Balotelli.
Kompany and Lescott had been immense and all the good work was undone in that instant.
Arsenal deserved to win and to win more comfortably than 1-0. But who wouldn`t take a string of 1-0 wins at this stage of the season?
From City`s point of view the rear triumvirate excepted, this was the day that they threw in the towel, the day that belief deserted them, the day the Poznan died. Mancini has made similar mistakes this season as he did last - falling out with a match-turning striker leaving him without a plan-B at crucial stages of the season, sacrificing cup competitions and running out of steam in the league where major points have been lost to poorer quality opposition many of whom were at various times in the lower reaches of the division.
Last season the FA Cup run kept City going. This season we had no such luxury and one wonders whether in the Dunes knives are not getting sharpened. I hope not. Stability is the word and Mancini at some point will realise that it is all about sticking together and not sticking your neck out for a petulant errant schoolboy of a footballer who might one day be the best in the world. But that will not be with Manchester City and probably will not be in an era that boasts Messi and Ronaldo.
We turn our attention to West Brom on Wednesday. I hope the effort is better than it was yesterday if only for the fans.