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Ronnie Whelan: Winning ugly can be just as good


Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger (left) and Manchester City manager Manuel Pellegrini

SOMEONE should sit Arsene Wenger down this week and make him watch his team's performance against Manchester City on a permanent loop. He might hate the concept but winning ugly is just as beautiful as winning well.

For years, Wenger has shown little or no appreciation of the fact that a team cannot flourish unless it has within it the ability to defend as well as it attacks.

With little or no consistency in the defensive area, everything he does falls short. This performance highlighted what Arsenal have been missing for years.

The players must take some share of the responsibility for this but when something happens over a long period of time, the finger will inevitably be pointed at the manager.

This win over the Premier League champions was achieved through a well-executed plan and the Arsenal attitude was spot on from the start. It was clear the players understood what was needed to win and were prepared to do the work.

How many titles would Wenger have won if he had applied the same formula which beat Manchester City at the Etihad and beat them well?

How different would the history of the Premier League over the last two decades have been if Wenger had mastered this type of performance?

Sure, there passages of silky stuff which Wenger has always insisted on, but the basis for the win was honest work-rate, concentration and a bloody-minded refusal to allow Manchester City to score. It's not often anyone has been able to say that about Arsenal over the last eight years.

Man-of-the-match Santi Cazorla was the root of all of this and it was his willingness to put the head down and graft which set the tone.

His biggest helper was Francis Coquelin who put his boot through the ball and sent it as far away from his penalty area often and in a way which Gunners' players usually avoid.

It was a no-nonsense, pragmatic approach which Manchester City had no answer to, and once again, Manuel Pellegrini is left groping for reasons for another listless performance.

His team seems unable to maintain a run of excellence without hitting a wall after four or five games and the sight of Vincent Kompany labouring after an hour wasn't a happy one for Manchester City fans.

Manchester City, in fact, wore Arsenal's clothes for this game. They passed the ball around well and owned possession for most of the game.

There were pretty little patterns and clever interplay but nothing stuck. In the end, they were undermined by some awful defending.

Kompany gifted them the opening goal from the penalty spot and Manchester City conceded a second killer-goal from a set-piece.

If Chelsea were not sitting pretty five points clear of Manchester City, this result might have created some hope among the band of stragglers trying to attach themselves to the top two. But Chelsea's 5-0 win over Swansea ensured that Jose Mourinho was the happiest man of all to see Arsenal play so well and deny their main rivals crucial points.

He's got some neck, has Mourinho. On Friday, he was giving out about Manchester City's ability to pay out £28m for Wilfred Bony and a few days later, his players run riot against the team which has just lost the same player!

It was an ominous sign for Brendan Rodgers and Liverpool who kept the show on the road with a win over Aston Villa which, I have to admit, had me shouting with frustration again. The main target for my irritation was Raheem Sterling, who still seemed to be on a beach in Jamaica when his mind should have been on the job in Villa Park.


Giving him a break away from the football club environment was a strange thing to do and it showed against Villa. He was a yard off the pace and tried tricks which might have worked in bare feet with sand running through your toes but not on a bitter, January day in the English Midlands.

Maybe this game will have blown away the cobwebs and he will be firing properly against Chelsea. That's what Rodgers will expect after letting Sterling kick back for a week.

Everything points to a Chelsea win over two legs in the Capital Cup semi-final and even if Mourinho throws out a weakened team, it should still have enough talent to deal with Liverpool. Put it this way, when a team with the stingiest record in the Premier League for goals conceded meets up with a team with no strikers, it doesn't take a genius to work out the likely result.

I don't write Liverpool out of it entirely. I think there will be the right level of hunger on show because, let's be honest, they need to win more than Chelsea do.