Roberto Mancini doesn't rate Adam Johnson as a defender. No other conclusion can be drawn after the team sheet showed Jo starting in place of the former Middlesbrough winger. Mancini is all about defence. His players have to track back to help to deny possession to the opponent.
• David Young gives the Arsenal view
In something of a surprise City started out not in a Christmas Tree formation, but rather a 4-2-3-1 with de Jong and Barry in front of the back four, Yaya Toure playing the pivot with Jo and Milner on the wings. Such a formation is normally excellent against a strong attacking side and would provide an opportunity for City to break with pace.
And it didn't work. Not even close. City were torn to shreds by an absolutely rampant Arsenal. How the Gunners weren't up 3-0 after 15 minutes is beyond me, a worldwide television audience and the 60,000+ at the Emirates.
Essentially Arsenal were driving right through the hole between de Jong and Barry while Richards and Zabaleta were being pulled out of position. Moreover while Vincent Kompany has been superb this season it's partially because of the way City play defense in front of the back four. With wave after wave of Arsenal players storming into the box even City's best defender of the season looked all at sea.
At which point Mancini changed tactics subtly by reverting to three quarters of the Inter diamond. de Jong was moved back slightly to be the base of the diamond while Barry and the now withdrawn Yaya Toure played either side and slightly forward of the Dutchman. This stopped the main Arsenal attacks straight through the middle.
With both Jo and Milner also tucked in, Tevez was left to forage on his own up front, the Argentinean often surrounded by four Arsenal players.
In the second half City added a new wrinkle. Again with Milner and at first Jo and then Johnson, City played what can only be described as the Football equivalent of basketball's Box and One. In a basketball Box and One four players play a zone box defense while the One chases the opposing ball handler. City did the same with, depending on their positioning at the time, either Barry, Yaya Toure and occasionally de Jong chasing in front of what was a back 8.
As noted as a spectacle it was quite horrible. It was however pure Mancini. As the Italian has indicated with his tactics and team selections all year it's Champions League or bust for City. Last night Chelsea, Spurs and City all had away games. On paper City's was by far the hardest task yet while their rivals gained no points at Wolves and Everton, City traveled to Arsenal and brought home a point.
This is a short term solution. City do not yet have the squad to play straight up against the likes of Arsenal and United. I picked City to finish out of the Champions League places for exactly this reason. What Mancini is doing is phenomenal and essentially one year ahead of schedule.
Two other points. Arsenal were denied an absolute certainty of a penalty. Theo Walcott drove into the box down to the by line and his crossed was stopped by the outstretched arm of Vincent Kompany. Kompany had his body twisted, his back to the play and was close to Walcott. There was no intent to play the ball with his arm and it was very much ball to hand. And it doesn't matter because Kompany's arm was away from his body in an unnatural position. That's the advice to referees that is given in judging whether handling the ball (which is not a foul) was deliberate (which is.) If a player's hands are not in a natural position (or protecting themselves) when the offense takes place then it isn't ball to hand, it's considered deliberate hand ball. Arsenal should have had a penalty. Plain and Simple.
A bad call by referee Mike Jones who then further blotted his copybook with a ludicrous sending off of Pablo Zabaleta after Arsenal's Bacary Sagna made multiple head butt gestures towards the City defender. City are appealing the dismissal as a wrongful dismissal although a more accurate description might be "due to referee incompetence of Clattenburgian proportions."