Date: 19th December 2016 at 4:36pm
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It was with a sense of trepidation that the Pedmachine took his route along Joe Mercer way to the Etihad yesterday. Unconvinced by City’s 2-0 win over Watford, the only saving grace was that the purveyors of the Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory have also witnessed their team evaporate from rapid fire pseudo title contenders to a life of mediocrity and apparent lack of motivation.

In midweek we saw awesome Arsenal take an early lead against Everton at Goodison Park only to find themselves become lily-livered in the second half as the Evertonian Robustnessometer hit overdrive and the classy artisans of the beautiful game found themselves knocked out of their stride in time to wave the white flag and accept a 2-1 defeat.

Surely that was unlikely to present itself again? Wenger selected a line-up abundant with pace but lacking in power considering that against City with the former the latter didn’t matter. To combat this, Guardiola for the first time this season left his rearguard untouched consigning Stones to the bench and parading a Dad’s Army combo of Zabaleta, Otamendi, Kolarov and Clichy in front of Coco, tending goal.

The eyes of Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez and Iwobi must have shone brighter than the Emirates Illuminations as the team sheets were exchanged around 3 o’clock.

Pep positioned Fernando and Yaya in front and ahead of them lay Sane, De Bruyne and Silva, designed to support Sterling as a false number 9. It was a line-up that didn’t scream “goals” from any quarter against the background of City’s recent efforts and highlighted a problem. If Aguero doesn’t play where does the ready supply of goals come from? Also, does he not trust Iheanacho? If not, who does he think will come to the Etihad who is a better striker but who will sit a bit like the replacement goalkeeper almost praying for something to happen to the incumbent?

But City started brightly. Getting forward immediately and finding themselves very close to taking an early lead as Sterling’s effort was blocked on the six yard line. Within seconds they were 1-0 down. A quick ball out of the Gooners defence found Sanchez whose excellent quick-fire pass separated Kolarov and Otamendi and Walcott was on hand to collect the ball and drive it past the hapless Bravo. Goonerland went into raptures and Walcott went to sleep, his work done for the day.

Apart from the visitors section, the Etihad froze. With the pace and precision with which Arsenal executed this early goal, a long afternoon appeared to be in prospect, maybe reminiscent of the night Thierry Henry almost single-handedly took City to the cleaners at Maine Road which resulted in a nice-looking female streaker taking to the field. All eyes were on the perimeter fence!

City however did not lie down and lick their wounds. In fact, quite the opposite and within a couple of minutes Sterling should have equalised given a free header in front of goal but preferred to stick the ball in Block 116.

However there were no panic formation changes. The formidable and today excellent Yaya Toure got dug in and Fernando set about reducing Arsenal’s possession stats to almost embarrassing levels. Both of them set the launch pad for City’s attacking play as Silva and De Bruyne tried with difficulty at times to get things moving. Arsenal didn’t look as tight as usual and chances were certainly appearing in Gabriel’s channel which had an unsettling effect upon Koscielny.

The pace of Sane was also causing problems wider out and it was clear that the opportunities would come, but somehow even after a piece of comic-book defending where a clearance from Koscielny hit Bellerin in the face and rebounded goalwards forcing Cech into his best save of the day.

The key problem was that Sterling provides more danger wide out and is not really a suitable false 9. Sane on the other hand has the reputation of being quicker on the draw in the box. So, after reading the Pedmachine’s notes at half time, Pep decided to switch them, placing Sterling in his best position, wide right and Sane and De Bruyne competing for the central role.

Within seconds of the second half starting it paid off. Silva was the provider with a delicious chip over the Gooners back line. Sane timed his run to perfection, getting in behind to squeeze the ball past Cech to level the scores. Wenger moaned at the fourth official but there was not and cannot be a retrospective offside flag.

Now the doubts of Goodison came flooding back into the Arsenal team as City poured forward without leaving the back door open as Fernando patrolled the blue line and the power of Yaya was the power of the old Yaya but with a bit of pace and stamina to match. Sanchez started hitting the floor, sitting on his haunches, perhaps dreaming of a dream move away and Ozil did what Ozil does best?.nothing. Walcott had long since faded from view so now it was difficult to see where a Gooner-goal was going to come from.

City took advantage of this. They had already replaced Zabaleta with Sagna at half time, to ensure that Ozil made no advances down the left. It was time for De Bruyne and Silva to come to the fore and try to get Sane and Sterling played in.

Wenger stubbornly refused to introduce Metal Giroud, who was just about the best option bringing on Oxlade-Chamberlain to patrol down the right and take advantage of Clichy. But the former Arsenal man was actually in some kind of form today, having seen of Iwobi who was replaced.

Almost immediately things started to happen, but not in a positive sense for Arsenal. First a deflected shot from De Bruyne was saved by Cech, but in the next attack, De Bruyne working out on the left volleyed an excellent pass, once behind the defenders and into the path of Sterling. His electric pace seemed to leave Monreal backing off and this allowed him the space to switch inside and as level 2 waited for the left foot shot to find them, Raheem surprised us all by deftly placing his shot just inside the near post. Although Wenger might say that an offside Silva might have distracted Cech, judging but the way he went after the ball he had a clear enough view, he just wasn`t quite good enough to keep it out.

Guardiola`s adrenaline fuse hit the top of the Colin Bell Stand as his charges neat a top-four team for the first time since eternity and catapulted them back into second place.

Arsenal tried to step up the pace but their collective tank was empty and both Ozil and Sanchez, said to be holding out for big pay rises showed exactly why they shouldn`t get them. Sanchez was coming deeper and deeper looking for the ball and by now, although he had been introduced, did Giroud actually touch the ball while he was on the field?

City managed to play out the remaining 20 minutes plus 4 minutes of stoppage time really without a hindrance and collected a very important three point as Chelsea threaten to run away with the title.

This was a different type of performance by City. Yes they still leave us biting our nails if team get among the back four, but today the drivers were Fernando and Yaya, who were not going to let Coquelin, Xhaka and Ozil off the hook. Fernado broke things up, starving Arsenal`s key players of the ball and Yaya simply scared the life out of them in what for me was once his best performances ever for City. For me Yaya was man-of-the-match today although the fans in the stadium voted for Sterling and I think the Sky pundits gave it to Sane, who had his best game for the Blues and hopefully his well-taken goal will give him encouragement.

If tackles needed to be made, they were made on half-way and not on the edge of the box, the odd one from Otamendi apart. Silva and Fernando “took one for the team” and Yaya got yellowed for dissent. But this is the type of performance city need to produce in the Barclays Premier League to get themselves out of their slumber and build a winning streak. I`m sure that can continue against Hull but Anfield at New Year threatens to be a relationship-breaker in Crosby, where no doubt dear Sue and I will be at each other`s throats.

First stop for Liverpool though is tonight`s Mersey Monday Derby against Everton, no doubt buoyed by their dismissal of the said Gooners last week. City needs Everton to do well tonight to retain their position behind Chelsea, but I can`t see beyond a Liverpool win. The reds will be too powerful for the Toffees especially if they set Origi off against Funes-Mori, who will no doubt be deputising for the injured Jagielka. Sue`s pathway to the underside of her bed is lined-up and lit. She for one would not risk biting her nails.

Talking about the big New Year`s Eve match at Anfield, I`m hearing today that Craig Pawson will be the referee. Well that`ll be a laugh a minute won`t it?

 
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