Arsenal 2 Manchester City 1 comment: City errors help push Manuel Pellegrini closer to the exit

COMMENT: City’s errors will be best viewed from behind the sofa

Ian Herbert
Chief Sports Writer
Monday 21 December 2015 23:57
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Theo Walcott puts the Gunners ahead
Theo Walcott puts the Gunners ahead

There is some understandable schadenfreude around Manchester City that, after having lists of the 15 of their managers Sir Alex Ferguson outlasted quoted at them for all those infernal years, it is Old Trafford that has the revolving door fitted now. Potentially five managers in three years will be extremely careless if Louis van Gaal’s days really do prove to be numbered, some at the top of the club will say, behind thinly disguised smiles.

Well, their own front door is hardly locked tight and non-revolving. The blue City suit Manuel Pellegrini wore last night looked tight and uncomfortable, and though you’ll find none of the terrace resentment for him and his philosophies that Van Gaal is experiencing, the shadow of Pep Guardiola walks abroad and stalks him.

It’s fairly remarkable that Pellegrini can actually find the magnanimity he does when the Catalan’s name habitually surfaces in his press conference. His most recent, “I’m sure he’ll manage Manchester City one day”, was generosity in the extreme. But until that day, which does not seem so distant, the Chilean lurks in the lobby, awaiting the knock from the younger man who has gone home to Catalonia to make up his mind.

Be careful what you wish for, Pellegrini may well tell Guardiola. City will bring riches and players and the Catalonian philosophy inculcated by his great friend Txiki Begiristain, with whom the weekly telephone calls have cemented a sense around the Etihad that they will secure football management’s prime commodity. But in two catastrophic moments last night we saw how City’s director of football and his spending decisions offer no firm guarantees for this manager or the next.

The £55m spent on Kevin De Bruyne was certainly an insurance policy for the moment, just beyond the half-hour, when City burst from defence to attack in the time it took the exquisite touch of Sergio Aguero to navigate a ball struck to him at pace by Nicolas Otamendi into the path of De Bruyne on the left. The Belgian travelled on and on, seizing the open yards of space Arsenal had been very frugal with and the sense of expectation right then was very real.

Tens of millions of pounds buy you the player who will lift his eyes in a moment like that and see the team-mate who waits in expectation of his pass, at the far post. De Bruyne neither looked, nor blinked, nor saw David Silva. He simply drove a shot on the acute, wide of the left-hand post, leaving Silva holding out his hands and Pellegrini burying his face in his. The manager, not inclined to displays of emotion, had composed himself in time to see Theo Walcott’s imperious demonstration of the fine margins at the top of the Premier League, 10 seconds later, more or less. He buried the ball Mesut Özil had rolled into his path way beyond the leap of Joe Hart.

The second of the City catastrophes will be best viewed from behind the sofa if Pellegrini goes in for the copious post-match analysis which is all the rage at Old Trafford. The £42m spent on Eliaquim Mangala brought an insurance of its own, against such dangers as a skewed clearance at head height to a central midfield team-mate sitting in front of defence. It was a hospital pass to Fernandinho, one which the most effective of technicians would struggle to control and, Fernandinho being outside of that bracket, it was a gift. The Arsenal side were able to recycle possession via Özil into the path of Olivier Giroud, whose reactions were sharper than Otamendi’s before he rolled the ball through Hart’s legs for good measure.

The judgement of Begiristain and Pellegrini that £28.5m for Otamendi was money well spent is not likely to draw Guardiola to the flame, either. Take your pick from a catalogue of misfortunes, but the missed clearance with Joel Campbell lurking behind him was the worst. It just so happened that Campbell’s composure matched the defender’s on that occasion.

Mesut Ozil impressed for Arsenal

There were moments in a first half which City took some control of when a different kind of vision might have flashed before Pellegrini. He was fielding Aguero and Silva together for only the sixth time this season, the other five having all delivered victories. But both players had gone by the 73rd minute, by which time that defence of the Chilean’s was being cut inside and out by an Arsenal who were walking it through their ranks. If Aaron Ramsey had not conspired to finish so poorly so often, then the scoreline could have seriously embarrassed City.

One of the TV directors’ favoured shots in the three months since City last won away is the view of a mournful, injured Vincent Kompany, sitting behind glass or in the stands. To look at the players on whom Pellegrini still relies – Aguero, Silva, Yaya Touré and Joe Hart – was to be reminded once again that for all the money spent, the remnants of the Roberto Mancini era are the ones on whom he must by and large rely. Touré laboured to hold the line around the hour mark as Arsenal ventured forward, again and again, but it was he who clipped in the reply which created a brief hope that City might rally.

By the end, Pellegrini was on his feet, pacing the technical area, hands thrust in pockets, searching for the evidence that there might be a game-changer in there for him; a moment of excellence from Raheem Sterling to steal something. It was not to be. Arsenal, the side from whom City pillaged players in the day when east Manchester provided the coming force prevailed for a win which was warranted. Their belief is cemented that this could be the season which delivers for them. Meantime, City and their manager look for evidence that they are in something better than a holding position, waiting for Pep over the course of five long months.

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