7 January ~ Arsenal v Manchester City. Third v second, Barça-lite v the nouveau riche – surely a match to set the pulses a-racing? Well, no. Another turgid 90 minutes at the Emirates saw City carve out another soul-sapping 0-0 draw. We’ve seen this Roberto Mancini model before – on the first day of the season at White Hart Lane, and again in the yawn-fest that was the Manchester derby. Sit back, soak up pressure, leave sole attacking responsibility on the industrious shoulders of Carlos Tevez and for goodness’ sake don’t concede.
Arsenal, on the other, hand showcased their impressive talents in playing their opposition off the park without scoring but can count themselves extremely unlucky to not notch up a deserved three points. But they didn’t and the league table still shows City two points ahead of their London rivals.
You could join the growing bandwagon and condemn Mancini for his pragmatism, for letting down the world of football by trying to stop Arsenal from scoring, but when he sends out his charges he doesn’t have to answer to the likes of Barry Glendenning, the Guardian columnist who claimed in his minute-by-minute for Wednesday’s match: “Surely a team assembled at such huge expense has some sort of duty to entertain.”
Why do they? While I don’t particularly enjoy watching City grind out results in this fashion, the argument that they owe value for money with their performances to the press and to the rest of the footballing world is a little, well, rich, especially in a season where no team has set the Premier League on fire. What else was there to expect? City to travel to Arsenal (a place they haven’t won in 26 attempts) and play three up front? Perhaps Mancini should have taken charge of the half-time entertainment at the Emirates, too.
Ultimately, I think everyone can agree that we’d like more teams to adopt, say, Chile’s tactics from the World Cup, rather than Switzerland’s – I’m not disputing that it’s at least a shame that City came to Arsenal with such a negative approach and of course I would prefer a scintillating 3-3 draw, but it was never on the cards.
Mancini deserves a small crumb of praise, however. If City’s quest is to become part of the Premier League elite, his side contributed to a fine impression of an overhyped damp squib of a “Grand Slam Sunday” encounter. Next he’ll be playing mind games with Fergie and everything. Stifling tactics are no new phenomenon – Inter won the Champions League with them, Greece won a European Championship. Until points are awarded for goals, they’re here to stay and you can’t blame Mancini – blame the results-based business modernisation of the game. Mark Booth