Date: 30th March 2014 at 2:34pm
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Safe in the knowledge that title chasing Chelsea had shipped three points across London at Crystal Palace, City, with two home games in hand had the luxury of not having to panic as they faced their most difficult task of the week yesterday at the Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory, commonly known as the Emirates Stadium.

Having disposed of their own cross-town enemies so easily in midweek, Arsenal, having seemingly once again dropped out of everything except the FA Cup, which they ought to win, stood between City and an ominous climb to the top of the Barclays Premier League. At least for one day, dependent upon the outcome of Liverpool’s challenging but probably simple task of tidying up Spurs at Anfield.

For once Pellegrini saw no reason to change a winning line-up and for probably the first time this season paraded the men who dismantled Stretford’s finest with disdain on Tuesday. And they set off once again like a house on fire as if they meant it.

The powerful midfield yielding Nasri, Navas, Silva, Yaya and Fernandinho took an early grip, the defence of Zabaleta, Kompany, Demichelis and Clichy looked totally untroubled and Hart didn’t really get a look at the ball. Only up front did City look a little light with Dzeko toiling alone in a match that screamed “Aguero” at every turn.

Having said that, just as they did last Tuesday in the Theatre of Shattered Dreams, City got themselves in front in identical fashion. One of the principal characters remained the same in the shape of Dzeko, who unleashed the shot that clattered against the left hand upright and cannoned behind the Arsenal defence where Silva waited to side foot it home after only seventeen minutes.

This should have been the signal for the kind of onslaught that the Gooners subjected themselves to when they were dismantled at the Etihad earlier this season, but although City retained the ball for most of the remainder of the first half, they never really got themselves into a position to add to the score. Fernandinho’s shooting was off-key and over the top, Dzeko couldn’t really get clear with the attention of two Arsenal defenders, and Silva although searching and probing with some kind of efficiency often found Flamini letting him know he was around, seemingly unpunished.

As usual, the minute a City player stepped out of line the dependable Mike Dean brandished the paperwork with Kompany and Yaya admonished for bringing an abrupt halt to anything Arsenal looked like setting up.

The Gooners were howling for a penalty as Rosicky attended the grass untouched and were distraught to find an “equaliser” dismissed for offside. Well, there were only two players upsetting the laws of the game. Rosicky three times checked out the turf and for me on every occasion was worth a caution. But such is life at the top of the Barclays Premier League these days. You get away with it once you are out of contention.

With the midfield looking unbreachable and with Arsenal having kept whatever pace they have on the bench, their attacking play, such as it was, didn’t even trouble Demichelis, which when you have Oxlade-Chamberlain and Sinogo on the bench, is an indictment to their cause.

City easily closed off the first half to go in leading 1-0 and it seemed difficult to see how the second half would change things.

But it was a more determined Arsenal that appeared for the second half. They stepped up a gear in midfield and pushed their back line further forward to mirror City’s. But it turned out to be more than that as Cazorla, Arteta and Rosicky played more definite roles and Flamini became the driving force in almost Yaya Toure fashion.

Indeed in “City Time” it was he who started and finished an excellent move by Arsenal which involved Podolski who hadn’t been tracked by Navas and a dangerous low drive into the box which found its way to Flamini who had continued his run, to drive home the equaliser using the pace of the cross to outwit Joe Hart.

This really didn’t seem to signal any real danger for City even though Sagna was getting the better of Clichy and finding dangerous crosses of his own, one or two of which would have been converted by a more mobile figure than Giroud.

That City managed to weather the onslaught was a credit to them as Yaya and Fernandinho worked hard to try to recover midfield dominance. It didn’t actually arrive so Pellegrini brought on plan B with Garcia assigned to sit deep and release Yaya and Milner designed to provide cover for Clichy.

Negredo completed the changes covering for Dzeko for the last ten minutes or so.

Both teams tried hard to work the opening that would have delivered maximum points but both found their defensive counterpart in reasonable shape. City couldn’t prise the openings inflicted on Arsenal by Chelsea last week, albeit against ten men for most of the match and Arsenal even found it difficult to disclocate Demichelis. Kompany despite his caution led the back line effectively and it looked solid enough with Garcia patrolling the Blue Line.

City just couldn’t make it pay up top. The approach play masterminded once again by Silva was inviting, but all too often the final ball into the box didn’t have anybody’s name on it and the chances went a-begging. Long range shots didn’t help either as they all ended up in the seating decks.

Even the advanced presence of Yaya didn’t make a difference as the game swung from one end to the other with neither side content in holding on to the ball and settle for a draw.

Both teams did get to the ninety-third minute and the final whistle without inflicting any more damage on themselves as the game ended 1-1. This wasn’t enough to send City to the top of the league but it cut Chelsea’s lead over City to two points and City still have six points in hand. This makes Liverpool v Chelsea a must-win match for both sides now, especially if City can avoid defeat at Anfield in a fortnight’s time.

City played well in the first half, but needed a killer instinct in the opposition penalty area. They surrendered possession too easily in the second half giving Arsenal free ownership of the ball at the start. There was much more competition in the latter stages, but even the pace of Oxlade-Chamberlain, for me introduced too late to make an effect, couldn’t rally Arsenal in a positive sense.

I was disappointed to hear the resonant booing from the library in the direction of Samir Nasri. Come on you Gooners, he’s been gone a while now so it’s time to build the bridge and get over it. Learn from your opponents who even have a warm welcome for the likes of Joey Barton. The other week when we played Stoke, Stephen Ireland was welcomed “home” by the singing sections as indeed was Uwe Rosler whose Wigan side knocked City out of the FA Cup. You should really be more gracious than you are. Nasri had some good seasons with you from memory and the days you brought him to the Etihad clad in red and white, you idolised him.

The season might only hold the FA Cup in store for you, but it is an iconic trophy and was the prelude to where City now find themselves. And don’t forget, if City don’t take the title, then the season will have seen you yield a better prize than the Capital One Cup, which is all at this time that City have to show for their season’s work.

As far as City were concerned, I think every one in the team played their part. Hart is once again becoming majestic guarding the pipes, the back line is looking settled with no unnecessary shuffling, Yaya and Fernandinho look simply awesome. Why on earth the likes of Paulinho are said to be closer to starting in the World Cup than Fernandinho remains one of life’s mysteries.

Navas took a while to get his pace going but with Zabaleta performed his lung-bursting sprints to support the wide man. Silva was the string-puller in chief and the pivot of more or less everything positive that City put together. Dzeko once again led the line alone with Vermaelen and Mertesacker in close attention all afternoon.

At the end of the day City will take a draw from this match as a positive result as they now prepare for the tough visit of Southampton next weekend. This is a match not to be underestimated as they took Newcastle apart yesterday, winning 4-0.

I’m sure that Pellegrini will tune his players in for this match. A win is a must, as it is in all of the remaining matches this season.

all times East Manchester BST unless stated

Sa 05Apr 12h45, Southampton, The Etihad, PL
Su 13Apr 13h30, Liverpool, Anfield, PL
We 16Apr 19h45, Sunderland, The Etihad, PL
Mo 21Apr 20h00, West Brom, The Etihad, PL
Su 27Apr 16h10, Crystal Palace, Selhurst Park, PL
Sa 03May 15h00, Everton, Goodison Park, PL
We 07May 19h45, Aston Villa, The Etihad, PL
Su 11May 15h00, West Ham, The Etihad, PL


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