“I prefer one point and being booed than no points and being applauded off the pitch. We wanted to win, but sometimes the other team plays better than you and if that happens then you must not lose.”
Manchester City can’t do anything right, can they? When thoroughly beaten by Arsenal at the City of Manchester Stadium earlier this season, they were roundly mocked as an all-money-no-trousers, Harlem Globetrotter-esque cabaret act, destined to bring the fashionable players in to consume the readies and go home to a mantelpiece devoid of any silverware.
Imagine a certain Mr Mancini earlier this week. Sat alone in his gold-encrusted palace at the Carrington training ground, he plots and schemes for the Emirates. Surely if his team suffered such embarrassment at the hands of his upcoming opponents last time around, a sturdy defensive performance would silence his doubters?
Would it ‘eck. ‘ANTI-FOOTBALL!’ is the cry from many this morning, after City played 90 minutes of fairly robust but relatively unattractive football in holding Arsenal to a goalless draw in North London the previous evening. ‘BORING, BORING CITY!’ the Arsenal contingent cry, frustrated at a team that came to the Emirates fully prepared to hold onto the point they had when they arrived, rather than gain two more in the process of the actual football match itself.
Mancini must be pulling his hair out. We all enjoy attractive football, but is a defending masterclass against anybody really something to be so ashamed of?
Firstly, to park the bus, you need a bus. Chelsea barely attacked at the Emirates (partly through a a complete lack of proficiency at doing so as opposed to any genius-like tactical plan), but nobody cared because Chelsea’s bus resembled a crushed 1950s Routemaster with few of its windows remaining, and Arsenal ambled through it with ease. City, however, brought a big, shiny Greyhound to the Emirates, planted it, and it stood firm. It’s a defence that has been shuffled around on many an occasion this season, with Aleksandar Kolorov, Jerome Boateng and Joleon Lescott without a place in the starting line-up at the Emirates despite packing in the performances during the first-half of the campaign. For a backline to remain so sturdy in the face of such instability, should some deal of credit not be due to the players and the manager alike?
In addition, it is easy to slate a team for killing a game. But to the same degree, Arsenal also failed to bring it to life. It has become a cliche to dismiss Arsenal’s attractive attacking football as lacking in an end product, but sometimes cliches can ring true. Apart from a vicious early battering where the woodwork stood rattled on a couple of occasions, the second half saw Arsenal reduced to shots from long-range, albeit these included a couple of stunning ones. Kolo Toure and Vincent Kompany kept Robin Van Persie quiet, Theo Walcott found himself running into a wall of Zabaleta, whilst Samir Nasri struggled to drag himself into the game from the left. Arsene Wenger’s introduction of Arshavin and Bendtner proved fruitless, and whilst Arsenal’s movement of the ball deserves its plaudits, their final efforts did not. City’s ‘negative’ tactics have been the focus of attention, but it could be argued there was a rare lack of quality in Arsenal’s positive gameplan.
It should also be acknowledged that the game may have played out a little differently if two major pieces in Mancini’s attacking jigsaw would have been present. Much-maligned striker Mario Balotelli tapped in a hat-trick only a week previous, whilst David Silva has been a shining light for Mancini throughout the season until now. Whilst sympathy for the mob of mega moneybags may be short on the ground if they claim to be lacking in cover for certain positions, the presence of either of these players instead of the hapless Jo may have lit up North London to a greater extent than the display did last night. Carlos Tevez, meanwhile, covered an immense amount of ground in tracking back and chasing long balls in their absence, negating the notion of ‘negative’ football being inherent in at least one member of the City side.
In conclusion, goals are great. We enjoy two teams doggedly battering each other like two punch-drunk heavyweights. But in a league so competitive; when the Champions League means so much financially and when the investment in your club has been so large, points mean a whole lot more than goals and entertaining the public. This factor multiplies extensively on the road, away from home. Roberto Mancini attacked Arsenal before, and got his fingers burnt. He learnt, he defended, he got one more point than he did previously. Manchester City should not be attacked for this; they should be applauded.