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Nasri finally sees the beauty in winning ugly

French midfielder's willingness to shun Arsenal way has him pushing for a start against Porto tonight

There have been a few difficult moments. Like the afternoon in late November when Samir Nasri was substituted early for what seemed like the umpteenth time, at Anfield, and advanced towards his manager, Roberto Mancini, mouthing the words sa mère, sa mère. There is no direct translation of this French colloquialism but it does not any express any great satisfaction.

But Nasri has put some of his difficulties behind him. In the week leading up to Arsenal's visit to the Etihad Stadium, in December, there were some discomfiting words about him from Roberto Mancini and if they were designed to have an effect then they worked immeasurably well. It is still not quite as he wants it. James Milner, City's most improved player this season, still edges the starting place over him in big games. But Nasri has learnt to heed his manager's demands to work "in the defensive phase", as Mancini put it in an assessment yesterday of precisely how the 24-year-old has improved. It is not how Arsène Wenger did things but results – in east Manchester and north London – evidently speak volumes.

"Sometimes it's good to win ugly," Nasri reflected – a comment as apposite to the way City are battering on through the season as to the way Arsenal are sinking. "You don't always have to play good football to win. Arsenal play good football but after seven years they don't win – so that's difficult for them. But the manager has a good philosophy. I know they'll find some solution."

The grass didn't seem quite so much greener up here six months ago and Mancini's request for less aesthetic qualities than Wenger had demanded was a reason why. "At Arsenal I was playing a little bit higher up the pitch and here we are 4-4-2, so you have to work more defensively. Now I want to show everyone it wasn't a mistake [to move]," Nasri reflected. It is always a sign that a player is settling when he can admit there were problems in the first place, which for the first time the Frenchman did yesterday.

He may get his next opportunity to help City defend a 2-1 away-leg lead against Porto early this evening, to judge by Mancini's analysis of his work at Estadio do Dragao last Thursday. "In this football it's important that every player, also the strikers, work defensively," Mancini said of Nasri. "He has improved a lot in this." He has also been more involved offensively, too, finally granted the central midfield role which suits him better. "You have to be involved 100 per cent and I wasn't," Nasri admitted. "Now I start to be settled and you will see a better Samir every week. I never asked City to pay £24m so [my price tag] is not [my problem]."

That City could double his wages was Arsenal's problem, part of a financial landscape which has left the Arsenal Supporters' Trust wondering how much of the club's £50m available cash reserves is their manager's. But despite belonging to "the richest club in the world", as a poster proclaims at City's Market Street store in central Manchester, Nasri said success was more complex. "Money doesn't buy team spirit," he said. "It's the players who come straight into the team and want to win something. Chelsea have money and bought players and they haven't won the title so money doesn't buy this."

City continue to fight for the players they feel were racially maligned in Portugal last Thursday. Uefa last night announced it would investigate after City submitted a written complaint.

Nasri suggested that Carlos Tevez should apologise and make himself available for selection, though with the Argentine's 3.30pm arrival for fitness training again failing to coincide with the hours the manager keeps, another day passed without a rapprochement. A gesture needs to come very soon now if it is to have any impact, following the player's return from Buenos Aires. "If he has to apologise he has to do that because then he will be in the squad," Nasri said. "We need someone with that quality."

Ahead of tonight's game, Nasri could afford to reflect on the prospect – albeit distant – of a Europa League final in Bucharest on 9 May against Manchester United. "It would be a good derby in the final," he concluded. "But we're not there yet." We have to beat Porto first and we'll see."