Well, everyone expected City would come to Ashburton Grove to play for a draw but who knew that one of the most expensively-assembled teams in the world could be quite so negative and technically bereft?
Waiting for the players to emerge from the tunnel before last night’s match, I looked to the stadium’s away section and wondered why the visiting fans had only taken half the allocation normally afforded to traveling supporters. It was very odd. I know it was a Wednesday night but, for such a big game, you would still expect a team like City to fill the full corner where the Clock End and East Stand meet. They had always done so on recent visits. But, by the end of the 90 minutes, it was perfectly evident why their fans weren’t there in any great numbers. Who would travel half the length of the country and pay good money to watch their team intentionally play like that?
Alex Song Tackles Yaya Toure©PA Photos
• Wallace Poulter gives the Man City view
City’s performance last night was reminiscent of the way Chelsea used to play in the first few seasons after Roman Abramovich’s arrival. Having spent millions on players and management staff, every week they ground out results with turgid but grimly efficient displays. In a way, it was understandable. They hadn’t won the league for decades and, for them, the destination was more important than the journey. And, on the evidence of the last night, so it also seems to be with City. They offered very little going forward except hopeful punts in the direction of Carlos Tevez and they set themselves up more like a team struggling to avoid relegation rather than one going for the title.
When Arsenal fans used to mock Chelsea supporters for the way their team played back then, their response was that we didn’t seem to mind grinding out one-nil victories under George Graham in order to win trophies after several barren years. There is a grain of truth in that but the difference is that George Graham hadn’t spend several hundred million pounds on players and was happy to make do with - and get the best out of - individuals like David Hillier, Martin Hayes and Perry Groves.
As for Arsenal last night, there can be no real complaints about their performance. In the first half they tore into City hitting the woodwork three times and coming close on several other occasions. The match should have been over by the interval but, sadly, it just seemed to be one of those days when the ball was destined not to end up in net.
In the second half, the Gunners had rather punched themselves out and looked wearied by trying to batter down City’s brick wall. Robin Van Persie forced a full-stretch save from Joe Hart but, aside from that, the team couldn’t quite muster the same impetus that they had in the first period.
Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta got sent off for some innocuous handbags at the end of the match. Though Sagna looked the guiltier party, it seemed harsh on both players particularly with only a minute or two to go. Still, in today’s game, we all know you can’t put your head near anyone’s face so there cannot be too many grumbles at the Arsenal man’s dismissal.
At the end of the night, it felt like two points dropped. Arsenal deserved the win but City came to the Grove and got what they wanted. We could spent all day moaning about the way the visitors played but, as Arsene Wenger said before the game, they do it their way and we’ll do it our way. It was the Gunners’ job to find a way through the massed ranks of hulking defenders. They managed that, but just couldn’t find the back of the net at the end of it.
You don’t get any points for moral victories but maybe last night’s match gave the Arsenal supporters who want Arsene Wenger to throw money around like it's going out of style a glimpse that the grass is not always greener on the other side. I have no idea if City play like that every week; I am not interested enough in them to bother finding out. However, if what they showed last night is what a couple of hundred million quid buys you in today’s transfer market, then I would far rather Wenger stuck to his guns and carried on frugally building a team that can challenge for trophies every year but also plays some decent football along the way.
The last five trophy-less seasons have been frustrating and it might sometimes be exasperating that the manager sticks so doggedly to his vision of developing a team from the bottom up when results aren’t going our way. However, seeing the alternative that City offered yesterday ought to make us appreciate far more acutely what the Frenchman is trying to achieve.
City can do it their way. But if that is the sort of football they play every week, they are welcome to it.
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