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Poor timing, a decent result, and an opportunity squandered

06 January 2011

Cesc Fábregas was one of many who didn't like Roberto Mancini's tactics on Wednesday.

For the second time this season, City are suffering the slings and arrows of English footballing media after going for — and getting — a scoreless draw against title opposition. But this time the circumstances are rather different from the dour affair that was the Manchester derby.

No matter what the revisionist scribes may be saying about last night’s showdown at The Emirates, this was no bore draw. The first half actually was about as exciting a scoreless half of football as you’re going to see, with Arsenal putting together some very nice movements and coming very close to scoring on a number of occasions. Meanwhile, City managed to get the ball to both James Milner and Carlos Tévez on the right side of Arsenal’s penalty area in good shooting position, but both players failed to test Łukasz Fabiański with shots on target.

The second half wasn’t as free-flowing as the first, perhaps due to City asserting themselves more and putting the clamps on the hosts’ pretty short passing game. Still, in terms of the attractiveness of the game, this was a far cry from that insipid affair against United back in the fall.

Still, Roberto Mancini is being criticized for parking the bus and playing for the point. This time around, however, he has his defenders in the media. Mancini’s defense centers around a few factors — namely that this was an away match, that this was his side’s fifth match in a 17-day period, and that he was without two first-choice attackers in David Silva and Mario Balotelli.

For all these reasons plus Arsenal’s excellent form, coming away with a point from this fixture is an absolutely fine result. However, City’s repeated stumbles earlier this season in the form of shock results only can be negated by unexpected positive results, and unfortunately those opportunities are few and far between when you’re a title contender.

Dropping points at home to bottom-half strugglers Blackburn and Birmingham City and actually losing at home to relegation-threatened Everton were disastrous results. With this fixture now out of the way, this means City figure to be favored in every remaining league match except the visits to Stamford Bridge and Old Trafford (and possibly Anfield, depending on how Liverpool are performing at that time). And since no club is immune to slip-ups, you can expect another shock dropping of points or two along the way, setting up a scenario where City may need to go into Old Trafford next month and win — a nearly impossible situation.

It’s a shame the Edin Džeko matter wasn’t resolved prior to the opening of the transfer window, as Mancini definitely could’ve used the Bosnian target man last night. Faced with a paucity of attacking options, the manager was forced to start Jô, who contributed pretty much nothing — not even winning the balls in the air against the undersized Arsenal defenders like he had in his previous starts in the capital.

It will be interesting to see what kind of team Mancini fields for Sunday’s FA Cup tie at Leicester City. It’s a potential banana skin at a time when City are without their top player. After crashing out of the Carling Cup at the first hurdle, the FA Cup has become a huge priority for the club as it looks to end its 35-year trophy drought, so an upset at the hands of the Foxes this weekend would be both humiliating and disastrous.

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