On the pitch Arsène Wenger has given his precocious young players the freedom to be as creative as they like, or in the Arsenal manager's words, to play "without the handbrake". The freewheeling Gunners were simply too much for Manchester City, with Cesc Fabregas in a class of his own back conducting affairs in midfield and the striker Emmanuel Adebayor marking his own return to fitness with two well-taken goals.
Yet off the field of play the message is very different as Wenger has put his players on a short leash. The manager has taken the unprecedented step of banning all contract discussions as Arsenal prepare for the decisive phase of the season, starting with tomorrow's Champions League quarter-final first leg match away to Villarreal, who lost 3-0 to Almeria in La Liga on Saturday.
Wenger saw his side's challenge for honours falter 12 months ago when speculation regarding the futures of key players proved to be an alarming distraction. With Barcelona and Real Madrid keen to fight it out for Fabregas and other clubs eyeing up other Arsenal stars, Wenger has demanded his players leave all talk of transfers, contracts and money until the summer.
Wenger said: "We have to do this because we play every three days and we cannot sit around with the players. We have to focus completely on the short term.
"I believe it can be distracting. It is a period when you have to be completely in to be successful. You cannot be half in and a little bit out, or 90 per cent in and a bit out, because that 10 per cent you can miss at an important moment of the game. I believe it is for us to be professional and to know what is important and when. We have to show maturity and get rid of all the talks that are not helping us to win the games."
Wenger's firm stance is commendable but he risks looking like King Canute trying to halt the inevitable. As long as he continues to pack his team with extravagant young talents such as Fabregas, Adebayor and Robin van Persie, his team will forever be a target of predatory clubs with money to burn. And as long as Arsenal continue to offer their top stars less money than the packages on offer at rival teams, their players will always be prone to temptation.
Adebayor and Fabregas – two of Arsenal's most coveted stars – combined superbly to dispatch Manchester City. Fabregas, returning after three months on the injury list, took with relish a chance to play nearer the opposition penalty area as Wenger fiddled with his formation.
His free-kick was headed home by Adebayor to put Arsenal ahead after eight minutes. The combination was repeated with Fabregas supplying a stunning pass for Adebayor, who walked the ball around the Manchester City goalkeeper Shay Given to confirm the victory.
Adebayor, celebrating his return after 10 games out with a hamstring injury, insisted his focus was purely on trying to win either the Champions League or the FA Cup this season.
He admitted that his last trophy had come when he was 15 in a youth tournament when he was with the French side Metz. "Maybe I want it more than the others, I don't know," Adebayor said. "As a player, you always dream of winning things. When I joined this club, I was told by most of my friends and team-mates that I had a great chance of winning something. But for the last three years I have gone on holiday having not won a trophy and with an empty heart. Now it's the time to achieve things."
City threatened briefly when Shaun Wright-Phillips set up Gelson Fernandes, who hit the post. But ultimately their challenge was too lightweight as Arsenal extended their unbeaten league run to 17 games. The City manager, Mark Hughes, accused his side of failing to match Arsenal's physical presence, never mind coping with their passing and movement.
"When you come to a place like the Emirates you have to stick your chest out and say, 'Come on, what have you got?' We just didn't have enough on the field at the end to be able to ask enough questions and at the moment that's happened too many times away from home," Hughes said.
Goals: Adebayor (8) 1-0; Adebayor (49) 2-0.
Arsenal (4-2-1-2-1): Almunia; Sagna, Touré, Gallas, Clichy; Song, Denilson; Fabregas (Ramsey, 80); Walcott (Eboué, 70), Arshavin; Adebayor (Bendtner, 70). Substitutes not used: Fabianski (gk), Silvestre, Djourou, Gibbs.
Manchester City (4-4-2): Given; Richards, Dunne, Onuoha, Bridge (Fernandes, 17); Wright-Phillips, Zabaleta, De Jong, Kompany (Elano, 38); Bellamy, Robinho (Sturridge, 75). Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Bojinov, Garrido, Benjani.
Referee: A Marriner (West Midlands).
Booked: Arsenal Touré; Manchester City Zabaleta, Dunne, De Jong.
Man of the match: Fabregas.
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