City's failings exposed once again as title challenge falters
FA Premier League
Monday 21 December 2015, 20.00 KO
City: Hart, Sagna, Otamendi, Mangala, Kolarov, Fernandinho, Delph (Sterling 46), Toure, Silva (Navas 71), De Bruyne, Aguero (Bony 62)
Unused: Caballero, Clichy, Demichelis, Iheanacho
Goals: Toure (80)
Booked: Silva, Otamendi
Referee: Andre Marriner
Man of the match: Kevin De Bruyne
Manuel Pellegrini's struggles continued with a dispiriting fifth defeat of the season at The Emirates on Monday evening. With speculation growing that Pep Guardiola has been lined up to succeed the Chilean in the summer, Pellegrini will have been hoping that his players would allow him to bow out on a high note with a second league title in three years. The signs here were not encouraging. City were sloppy in possession, lacked a cutted edge up front and always appeared vulnerable defensively. Eliaquim Mangala, in particular, had a night to forget.
The Blues rallied well late on, capped off by a superb Yaya Toure goal, but in truth it was too little, too late. Arsenal were deserved winners, courtesy of a fine strike by Theo Walcott and a decisive goal from Oliver Giroud on the stroke of half time, that effectively ended the game as a contest. City tend to struggle to come back from one goal behind in the Premier League these days, never mind two.
Pellegrini had sought to shore up his midfield for the heavyweight clash by recalling Fabian Delph in place of Raheem Sterling. This pragmatic approach appeared to be working, as City contained Arsenal fairly comfortably in the opening thirty minutes. Indeeed, the Blues should have taken the lead just after the half hour when Kevin De Bruyne raced clear after a clever through ball from Sergio Aguero. The Belgian, however, dragged his shot just wide of Petr Cech's far post with David Silva waiting unmarked in the box.
City were to rue the missed opportunity, as moments later Arsenal took the lead when Walcott sent an unstoppable shot past Joe Hart from outside the box. It was to prove the turning point of the game. City, bereft of confidence, found themselves on the back foot and with David Silva and Sergio Aguero both lacking match sharpness, struggled to create any further chances of note.
A one goal deficit would not have been insurmountable, but just behalf half time the visitors imploded, when the hapless Mangala inexplicably opted not to clear the ball into safety with the whistle beckoning. His overhit pass allowed Mesut Ozil to play in Giroud, who fired low past Hart to double Arsenal's advantage.
City improved in the second half, and began to dominate possession although the home side had the better chances as they hit the Blues on the counter attack. Hart saved well from Aaron Ramsey and Joel Campbell, before Toure's late wonder goal gave City hope. The Blues played with an intensity that was sadly lacking for the previous 80 minutes, but Arsenal were able to weather the storm and secure a vital three points.
Pellegrini claimed afterwards that City had been the dominant side, but it masked his side's obvious deficiencies and the Blues look far from being a title winning side. They are now four points behind Arsenal, and six behind Leicester. Ominously, no side has ever won the Premier League having suffered five defeats before Christmas.