Problems mount for Mancini

Posted by Simon Curtis

Another costly error. Another loose performance littered with bad passing and poor decision making. Another questionable substitution. Thanks to it all, the pressure gauge climbs another notch for Roberto Mancini and his boys.

First, the costly error. Joleon Lescott's limp header from a corner and Yaya Toure's leaden response to the loose ball meant a clear shot on goal for Laurent Koscielny that made it 1-1 with very little time to play. Make no mistake; Arsenal deserved at least a point from this game after a performance full of energy, panache and grit, the latter an element so often missing from many of their previous visits to Manchester. They closed down City's dangermen in midfield, broke with speed and accuracy and presented a clear danger from first minute to last. Luckily, with Gervinho a danger only to Manchester's thriving pigeon population, City survived.

Lescott's blunder is the fifth error by a City player this season that has directly led to an opposition goal, hinting at a sloppiness to the play that borders on alarming. I believe this can be put down to a number of reasons:

1) Mancini's tactical tinkering is confusing the players

Yaya looked lost in the middle today, unsure whether it was a day for stormtooping or defending. In the end his performance was neither one nor the other, a stark contrast to his brilliance in all areas against Real Madrid in midweek.

Alongside him, David Silva's form is about to switch from perplexing to deeply worrying. This goes back several months now; today, despite his EPL index of five key passes (the most on the pitch with the excellent Cazorla trailing in second having made just two), his passing was slack and off-target.

Then there's the defence. We have had three at the back at Anfield and, at times, five across the back in Madrid. Clearly, it's not enjoying all the experimentation. Vincent Kompany and Lescott, two bulwarks of the title campaign, are both struggling for form and look exposed or fragile when put under pressure, almost unthinkable three months ago. In Madrid, Kompany was stretched covering the new boy Matija Nastasic and the errant Maicon. Today, things looked more solid with Lescott restored to centre back plus Pablo Zabaleta and Gael Clichy in the fullback berths, yet the passing distribution out of the back was at times appalling. Zabaleta joined the two centre backs in this general malaise, one that quickly spread to Yaya, Silva and the leaden Javi Garcia.

(2) The new boys are not a noticeable improvement on those shipped out

Garcia's positioning and passing today was poor. Try and imagine the admittedly one-paced Nigel de Jong in a game like that; there would have been bodies everywhere as Arsenal took a grip of the midfield. Things improved with the insertion of Jack Rodwell, who helped to short things up a little following a shaky first half for City, but he seems to be lower down the Mancini pecking order.

Scott Sinclair changed wings but did not change his ways, running straight and predictably at Carl Jenkinson so many times that the full back grew perceptibly in confidence and ended up having a good game.

This was supposed to be one of the weak areas that City could punish the Gunners, but it proved to be full of empty promise. Sinclair continued to run down blind alleys. Adam Johnson was never a Mancini favourite but his wing-play was highly unpredictable, going inside or out and often causing consternation in the opposition defence, which often helped unlock the door.

As Mancini has suggested, there may have been too many late signings and we are paying now trying to get them all settled in at the same time. I would agree and add that it may well be too many but it is also too little difference in quality.

(3) Teams are getting wise to City

Liverpool and Arsenal pressed us back, Real did the same and both QPR and Southampton made decent progress against us before ultimately being beaten. Arsenal pressed up close on Yaya and Silva, enabling two crucial things to happen: a) a lack of space for them to maneuvre in and b) a stifling of passes to them in the first place. With both teams keen to hit one another with rapier fast counter-attacks, the outlet ball became extremely important. Yet these either failed to reach the creators in the City midfield or, when they did, found Cazorla, Abou Diaby or Aaron Ramsey snapping away at the ankles.

With the match finely balanced in the second half, there was one more talking point to come before Arsenal finally buried their equaliser. Mancini's substitution of Dzeko for Carlos Tevez was perplexing. Sergio Aguero, fresh back, needed to be rested. Dzeko, in the midst of one of his more impressive displays, linking up intelligently and holding the ball well, needed more game time to bolster that precious self-confidence. To general amazement, it was the Bosnian, who gave way.

On a day when City were at sixes and sevens, this change from Mancini just about summed us up.

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