Battle lost at the Etihad but not the league
By Hassanin Mubarak
Arsenal were stunned by Manuel Pellegrini’s City side at the Etihad on Saturday much like referee Mick Jones being floored by an unexpected ‘accidental’ slap from Newcastle’s Utd's Moussa Sissoko, - a firm and swift smack to the face, however, while Arsène Wenger’s men return back to London convincingly beaten and licking their wounds – no one should count them out of the title race.
Wenger does not believe the 6-3 loss at Manchester City will be hugely significant in Premier League title race. We’ll have to wait until the end of the season to see if that’ll be the case, though they are fighting words from a man who, before the season started, everyone was expected to be given the boot after going a seven season without a trophy.
Television pundits and other media outlets continue to play down the Gunners’ title chances as they have done from the day Arsenal topped the league, after a 3-1 victory at the Stadium of Light in September.
But 12 games on, they sit at summit of the league albeit by two points, however, in that time they have been the most consistent side in the Premier League.
Some continue to question the lack of leadership, in their defence and the team in general, while there is the on-going discussion of what would happen if the club’s main forward Oliver Giroud gets injured.
Despite the doubts, Wenger’s team has been the most consistent of any of the top sides and boasts the most versatile midfield in the league, with Jack Wilshere, Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey, Mathieu Flamini -- re-signed on a free transfer in the close season -- and the club’s record signing Mesut Özil.
Before the season had even kicked-off, Arsenal’s own supporters were calling for the manager to spend the cash on a marquee signing, in their case a striker. There was talk of Gonzalo Higuaín and Karim Benzema, and an amusing £40,000,001 pound offer for Luis Suarez in the summer; however, in the end, only one player was signed.
That player was goal-maker Mesut Özil.
The North London club handed La Liga side Real Madrid a hefty £42.5m cheque for the midfielder – a deal made to balance the books at the Spanish club after £85m dollars of their own cash went to Arsenal’s North London rivals Tottenham for Gareth Bale. Which has peculiarly turned in the Gunners’ favour.
The technically gifted attacking midfielder is a typical Wenger acquisition, quick-thinking and comfortable on the ball, with a total of 72 league assists in the last five seasons, more than any other player in the top five leagues in Europe.
Prior to the German’s arrival at the Emirates – his manager’s job was on the line, the long disgruntled fans of the North London club were pressuring the Frenchman to spend to avoid another trophy-less season, bemoaning his recruitment policy and called for heavy investment to be made to the squad.
Arsene Wenger had been backed to be the first Premier League manager to lose his job this season following Arsenal's 3-1 defeat to Aston Villa. This led bookmakers to slash odds of Wenger being sacked to 10/1 from 66/1. How things change in only a few weeks.
Despite the signing of Özil, the key for Wenger has been the stability of his squad of players, while the Frenchman knows his best team and the strength and weakness of his players, his rivals are getting to know many of their players. And they’ve had their problems.
Pellegrini is yet to get the best out of his stellar squad of players especially away from home, while José Mourinho’s magic is not rubbing off as well as it did in his first spell at Stamford Bridge, and could regret letting Romelu Lukaku go out on loan to Everton.
Money doesn’t buy instant success.
More than half a century before the English Premier League became a playground for billionaire playboys, the most successful clubs were built on many years of hard work and a stable base, the legendary managers Sir Matt Busby, Bill Shankly, and Don Revie spent several seasons at the wrong end of the table before going on to dominate the old Division One.
Even during the early successes under Sir Alex Ferguson in the 1990s, the Scotsman avoided disrupting a winning team by spending millions, often deciding to make only a tiny tweak here and there, for example prior to the 1994-1995 season the Red Devils, then champions, made just one major close-season signing, defender David May from Blackburn Rovers. Those days are long gone.
With many of the top sides in the Premier League appointing new managers and seeing an overturn of new player, not to mention the retirement of Fergie at Old Trafford, this Premier League season has been the most open campaign for many a year, and Arsenal, like big spending Chelsea, Manchester City, Liverpool and reigning champions Man Utd have as much chance of lifting the league trophy in May. So don’t write them off after this defeat.