Match Coverage

City 2-2 Arsenal: match report

If you were asked the following question, how would you answer?: What has Manuel Pellegrini done for Manchester City?

That’s not just for City fans, either. The podgers that took refuge from a sweltering United Kingdom Sunday in the shaded rooms of their Mother’s homes to avoid melting like lard in a pan, the die hard United fans from the USA, and the budding entrepreneurs running our favourite BBC Sporf and Transfer Bible accounts who had a few things to say about the mass walkout at the end of the 2-2 draw against Arsenal – you’re all included, too.

We all know that while it may make a very retweetable post on Twitter, it’s not enough just to list trophies. Sir Alex Ferguson won 38 of them for Manchester United, but also transformed the club into a Godzilla of the footballing world and the players he worked with into self-assured individuals who would give everything for their fans. Mauricio Pochettino couldn’t claim a single piece of silverware at Southampton, but got them playing a style of football that now means their able to sit at the big boys table. Context here then is key.

So, as we look back on his final home game as our manager, what has Manuel Pellegrini done for this club? He’s won us the Premier League, the Capital One Cup twice, and this season managed to guide us to unfamiliar territory in the Champions League semi-final. But unlike Ferguson or, on a smaller scale, Pochettino, Pellegrini has failed to leave a fingerprint on Manchester City. He’ll be remembered for a sparkling first season at the Etihad, but also for the two seasons after that in which we’ve gone backwards.

He may be ‘charming’, but Pellegrini is also a very forgettable man. If we’re being honest, there was never really any relationship established between himself and the fans. While Pellegrini isn’t an unlikeable character, his cold demeanor makes him difficult to relate to – football is largely about emotion and we never saw much from the 62-year-old. It’s clear that the Chilean came here to do a job and do a job only. Unfortunately, he didn’t do it very well. With such superb resources at his disposal, to not finish in the top four is pathetic and while the players also deserve a significant portion of the blame, Pellegrini’s motivating abilities were never put on show.

Would you stay behind and congratulate this manager and this team that has managed just one win from 14 games against this season’s top 8? To condemn us for choosing not to stay behind to listen to that hollow speech and applaud averageness is ludicrous. They’ve turned their backs on us for most of the season; we were simply returning the gesture.

The most frustrating thing about Sunday’s draw is that we actually played quite well. The first ten minutes was breathless with Fernando destroying in the middle, Navas running in zig-zags rather than straight lines down the right flank, and Agüero showing some of that terrifying directness we haven’t seen from him in a while. It was the latter who put us ahead after 7 minutes with an exquisite half-volleyed finish after controlling Fernandinho’s knock down inside the penalty area. Agüero was one of the poorer performers in that embarrassment against Real Madrid last week and looked keen to shove the noses of the fans back up his backside. He did that successfully.

You can always count on a member of the back four to ruin the day, though. Monreal’s hopeful loop into the box was going nowhere before Clichy headed back into Hart and watched the ball clip the post in slow motion. Hart was giggling, but this could have been the most ridiculous own goal you’ve ever seen. The resulting corner was met by Olivier Giroud who stepped away from Mangala and headed in the equaliser. A great start wasted in such farcical fashion.

And surely now we can all agree that Otamendi and Mangala are just plain bobbins. A nice interception here and a decent header there does not change that fact. You’d have thought Otamendi would’ve given up after one hopeless punt forward, but the Argentine had at least five dreadful long balls to his name by the time Anthony Taylor had blown the full time whistle. As for Mangala, the Frenchman was seen reverting to his old ways, climbing aboard the backs of Arsenal’ forwards and committing stupid fouls in dangerous areas. How can we keep relying on a pair guaranteed to make at least one mistake a game? Pep wont, that’s for sure.

A word on Hart, too, who today showed why Guardiola may be looking at a different keeper. It’s difficult to criticise this fella who’s been excellent for us this season, but today his distribution was so poor. With the side actually demonstrating some urgency for once, we needed Hart to deliver the ball into wide areas quickly and accurately, a task that seemed to be beyond him. I’m excited to see how he reacts to the competition next season.

We came out firing in the second half with De Bruyne anxious to wrestle himself into proceedings. The Belgian, playing on the flank where he’s indubitably less effective, had been peripheral in the first but offered a truly world class moment to put us back in front. Picking up the ball just inside Arsenal’s half, De Bruyne gazelled himself away from Hector Bellerin (supposedly faster than Usain Bolt, lol…) and into a central position just outside the penalty area where he unleashed an excellent right-footed effort into the corner of Cech’s goal.

It could have been three moments later had it not have been for some selfish play from Kelechi Iheanacho. Breaking forward with Navas to his right and De Bruyne to his left, the Nigerian and his teammates found themselves in a three versus two situation. Infuriatingly, Kelechi chose to pass the ball five yards wide rather than into the feet of Navas who surely would’ve made it 3-1. This was a moment of self-indulgence from the bright youngster who must quickly bin that side of his game.

Theo Walcott, entering this intense clash from the bench, swung things in Arsenal’s favour as the clock began to tick. His pace was too much for Clichy and he immediately found himself one on one with Hart only to chip over the bar. This should have served as a warning sign for us, but, inevitably, it didn’t, and the Gunners were level once again on 68 minutes when a great move involving Alexis Sánchez and Giroud saw the Chilean hit the back of the net.

There were more chances for us, but a sumptuous one-two between De Bruyne and Agüero could unfortunately only result in a volley that trickled wide. We’d bottled it again against a side that were very much there for the taking and now must rely on Manchester United to drop points to have any chance of finishing in the top four. I’ve never wanted the red shite to lose so much in my life.

As far as disasters go, this may not be the most serious one with perhaps the world’s best manager on his way. But to finish outside the top four with this squad would be impressive. Right now, I’d put my money on that happening.

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