Thursday 22 February 2018

City Money men given a lesson in true class

If Thomas Vermaelen and Jack Wilshere had been available for an examination that had promised to be stern, Arsenal might well have further underlined the football reality check they inflicted on 10-man Manchester City.

They would have been tighter at the back and more precise in the middle of the field, which would have eroded even sooner the competitive endeavour which City, so desperately ransacked by the early folly of young Dedryk Boyata, managed to maintain with impressive spirit, right up to the moment Carlos Tevez limped away early in the second half.

However, if the final margin of three goals -- which would have been four if Joe Hart hadn't issued another nerveless announcement of his phenomenal progress by saving a penalty-kick from Cesc Fabregas -- was flattering, it still carried a powerful message to the City plutocrats, who might have been celebrating this as a pivotal day in their drive to become the most formidable force in the game.

Instead, and with a certain poignancy when the City of Manchester Stadium paid homage to the brilliant coach Malcolm Allison, they received something of a lesson in what provides a club with the foundation of greatness.

It is maybe not by cherry-picking every available superstar, but establishing a method that opens up the possibility of clear and striking progress.

For all the resources that have filled the club with such individual playing strength, City's Roberto Mancini is still some way from those certainties of ambition which Allison, all those years ago, declared at his first training session.

Allison stated that City would play with an unremitting boldness, a sense of their own potential and down the months and the years it was almost seamlessly augmented by the acquisition of such major players as Mike Summerbee, Francis Lee, Colin Bell and Tony Book.

Plainly, the new City already have a few major figures of their own, but yesterday they also saw how it is when a group of players, who happened to be wearing Arsenal shirts, have a way of playing, and thinking, that seems as natural as breathing.

Yesterday, Fabregas and Samir Nasri, particularly, were brilliantly faithful to the ethos of their manager, Arsene Wenger. Asked before the game whether he would take a draw right then, he demurred. He said Arsenal always played to win; it was a message Fabregas supported with eloquence after the game.

He said that he didn't know where Arsenal's commitment to a certain way of playing would lead this season, any more than in the last five, when the vital underpinning of silverware has been so elusive, but that really wasn't the point of what they were trying to do.

To win, yes, but win in the way their talent and their philosophy demanded -- and certainly there were moments yesterday when Arsenal's football soared.

The goals of Nasri and Alex Song belonged to the highest category of football creativity.

Even if there is bound to be scepticism about the possibility that Arsenal may have stumbled upon the iron that has hitherto been so absent from their play, it is not unreasonable to suspect that with their chronic injury list showing sharp improvement, this may indeed be the team's most serious challenge for honours in some years.

It was an uplifting possibility at the end of a week in which many felt the vast wealth of City had put all of English football in its thrall, even to the point where Rooney and his agent might trail along to East Manchester in pursuit of their unique largesse.

Yesterday, other possibilities were stirring. Javier Hernandez suggested to Manchester United that there might have been some life after Rooney and Arsenal at last managed to dispute the claim that they have become terminally deficient when the stakes are at their highest.

For City, on the day when Malcolm Allison's name rang out, and when it was remembered quite what kind of football his teams produced, Mancini's surely didn't, and much work is still to be done.

Irish Independent

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