Saturday, April 24, 2010
Blank looks all round at the Emirates
Kevin Palmer, Emirates Stadium
A fixture that appeared littered with mouth-watering potential ended up being 100 minutes of the most forgettable football this Premier League season has produced.
• Arsenal 0-0 Man City: Bore draw
• Mancini: We'll cope without Given
• Premier League round-up
• Premier League Gallery
The long-awaited sight of Robin van Persie in the Arsenal starting line-up, the return of Patrick Vieira, Emmanuel Adebayor and Kolo Toure to face their former clubs and the importance of the three points City were scrapping for in their pursuit of fourth place in the Premier League meant all the ingredients were in place for a cracking early evening encounter. The trouble was, the two teams taking part were following a different script.
Petty fouls, misplaced passes and a lack of urgency from either team to break forward left the impression that City were content to claim a point on their trip to the capital and yet the feeling was a weakened Arsenal side could have been there for the taking after recent setbacks extended their trophy drought to five years and drained already flagging self-belief.
Arsenal fans who had come to berate Adebayor must have been disappointed to see the Togo striker left on the bench by Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini, as he employed a formation spearheaded by a solitary front man in Carlos Tevez. Craig Bellamy and Adam Johnson were charged with offering the feisty Argentine the support he would need and yet they rarely succeeded in this task.
Those of us fortunate enough to be offered complimentary entry into top Premier League games should not be ungrateful amid our good fortune, but it is hard to find anything positive to say about a game that refused to catch fire. To confirm as much, my under-used notepad charting first half progress featured a scribble reminding me to get some milk on the way home, with another note questioning why Manchester City needed a squad of eight press officers and a translator to cover one match.
To be fair, the second half was a little better, though the game re-started with the stadium a long way short of being half full as some Arsenal fans clearly considered an extended half-time beer to be a more enticing option than watching more of a battle Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger described as a "locked game" in the final analysis.
It needed the arrival of Adebayor five minutes into the second half to spark some life into the fans and the players on the lush Emirates Stadium surface, with Arsenal followers desperate to vent their fury as their former hero who riled them to the point of distraction when he raced the length of the pitch to toast his goal at Eastlands. There was also his unfortunate "attack" on Van Persie in the same game that created more than a touch of anger among Arsenal supporters, so the abuse he received was all too predictable.
Sporting bizarrely feminine pig-tails and bright red boots, Adebayor gave City the energy and commitment he was so often accused of lacking during his days sporting Arsenal colours, yet the chances refused to come for City despite their improved effort and after a burst of promise, they faded just as quickly.
Clearly content to leave with a point, and remain a spot behind fourth placed Spurs in the battle for the final Champions League berth in the Premier League, City's only attacking threat came from the pace of Bellamy on the break and yet this game drew to a close with a whimper rather than a roar.
Van Persie's clever late free-kick was the closest we came to a goal late on and it was so nearly a work of art from the fit-at-last Dutchman. With City's back-line expecting a trademark pile-driver set-piece, he offered something akin to a deft Phil Mickelson chip as he curled an effort inches wide.
By then, City keeper Shay Given had made a painful exit, having popped his shoulder out of its socket as he stretched to keep out an Abou Diaby shot 20 minutes from time. In agony and being comforted by medical officials who were administering him with oxygen, the Donegal man's left shoulder gave way under his own body weight and he looks certain to miss City's remaining games.
"We don't know what the situation is with Shay as he is going to the hospital, but we have to hope it is a little injury," stated Mancini before news came through confirming the Irishman has dislocated his shoulder. "He is a very important player for us, but if we have to play someone else in goal then it is not a problem."
Mancini was then asked whether he would try to recall Joe Hart from his loan spell at Birmingham. "I don't know if we can do this, but we will look at everything during the week," said the Italian, who went on to defend what some in the press room described as his negative tactics against Arsenal.
"We are happy with the point we have here, but we did not come looking to draw," he insisted. "We played against a good team in Arsenal and this is a good result. Our season will now be decided in the games against Villa and Spurs."
A jovial Arsene Wenger had clearly banished the nightmares of his side's defeat at Wigan last Sunday as he laughed his way through his press briefing. "This was not the sort of afternoon I'm used to because we created very few chances and they created none," he said. "It was not a great game because both defences were on top.
"I have to say Sol Campbell was exceptional again and you can compare him favourably with any defender in the Premier League at the moment. Maybe England should consider taking him to South Africa. I could not have expected he would be as good as he has been for us. We will sit down with him in the summer and see what we can do with him for next season."
Given's injury meant we were treated to eight minutes of injury-time at the end of this match, but another hour could have been played and these two sides would have continued to fire blanks. End of season fair it may have been, but City should not have allowed it to become such a non-event.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Kolo Toure - The returning former Arsenal hero turned in a polished display at the heart of the City rearguard and on a day when defences were on top, his old sparring partner Sol Campbell turned in a fine performance at the other end. He wore an Arsenal shirt during his interview with ESPN's Rebecca Lowe at the end of the game.
FACE IN THE CROWD: England boss Fabio Capello was on hand to see another lacklustre display from the increasingly unconvincing Theo Walcott. However, he may be tempted to have a look at the veteran Campbell after he impressed once again.
ARSENAL VERDICT: It must have been hard for Wenger's men to raise themselves after their title dreams were shattered in such harrowing fashion at Wigan. They are merely playing out this season before starting all over again in August.
CITY VERDICT: After their vibrant display in beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge a couple of months back, their lack of ambition as they took on another of the top sides away from home was disappointing. Time will tell is this is a good point or not for City.