Arsenal vs Manchester City: Lack of late buys leaves City looking stretched ahead of important week

City face Arsenal on Saturday and then Bayern Munich on Wednesday

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The Independent Online

For the Premier League champions, Manchester City’s profile has been remarkably low even in their own city. The fuss, the headlines and the spending have all come from United. The frantic hours of transfer-deadline day for City resulted not in the arrival of Radamel Falcao or even Danny Welbeck but the departure of Alvaro Negredo.

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These, however, are eight days in which the spotlight will burn fiercely on City. Today they play Arsenal, on Wednesday it is Bayern Munich, then Chelsea on the Sunday. These are precisely the fixtures that the men from Abu Dhabi bought them for but they come at a time when the club finds itself stretched.

Although City were offered Falcao on a permanent deal for around £32m, they passed when a couple of years ago they might have bought the Colombian just to make a point. At the same time, they allowed Negredo to leave for Valencia.

It seemed a risk, although a foot injury would have kept him out of action until the end of next month. A striker was not a priority and Manuel Pellegrini still had three frontline forwards.

Now, with Stevan Jovetic returning from international duty with a hamstring injury, the City manager is down  to two strikers with his biggest games squarely on the horizon.

“I didn’t choose Alvaro as the man to be cut,” said Pellegrini. “Alvaro wanted to go so I allowed him to because he couldn’t play in the Champions League and he was injured. It was a good decision for him and for the club to go back to Spain.

 

“It would have been very difficult for Alvaro to play until the end of October and we couldn’t change a player in our Champions League squad until after December so in this squad [for the group stages] he would be out.”

The Financial Fair Play restrictions have limited City’s room for manoeuvre, not least because as a  punishment for breaching them they were restricted to a squad of 21, of which five had to be home-grown.

When asked why the club had not bid for the services of Welbeck, who has the additional advantage of being English, Pellegrini replied: “The squad this year has had very few changes because we could not spend an important amount of money and could not have more than 21 players in the Champions League squad.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea to spend a lot of money on a player and then, when he comes here, tell him: ‘You can’t play in the Champions League’.”

There are doubts as to whether Joe Hart, the one constant Englishman in City’s starting line-up, will play all three of these matches. The England goalkeeper was not especially convincing during City’s 1-0 defeat to Stoke City, which was the first time the Potters had managed so much as a Premier League goal at the Etihad.

Hart made two outstanding saves when facing Switzerland on Monday but Pellegrini gave an intriguing answer when asked if he would rotate Hart with new signing Willy Caballero, a keeper he knows well from their time at Malaga.

“I am not waiting for Joe Hart to make a mistake to change him for Willy Caballero,” Pellegrini said. “Willy has all the attributes and a good career behind him.

“It’s important to have competition in every position within the team. Replacing Joe Hart with Willy Caballero should not make a difference just as it shouldn’t with [Pablo] Zabaleta and [Bacary] Sagna, or [Eliaquim] Mangala and [Martin] Demichelis, or [Edin] Dzeko and [Sergio] Aguero. We need a squad if we want to win something.”

Meanwhile Frank Lampard is “ready” to play for City and the former Chelsea midfielder could make his debut against Arsenal today.

Lampard, 36, who is on a six-month loan from City’s affiliate club New York, has been training with the Premier League champions for the last month but is yet to make his debut because of problems with his fitness.

“Frank is ready,” Pellegrini said. “He has worked for about one month and he doesn’t have any problems. Mangala is working normally and is in the squad list also.

“We have to play three games in a week so we will see if they play in these games. Both of them are ready to  do it but I can’t say which games they will play – or if they will play.”

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