There are lies, damned lies and statistics and, after a shocking display, Manchester City were left to go and figure it out as to how and why it had all gone so horribly wrong.
Possession is supposed to be nine-tenths of the law, but Manuel Pellegrini’s men will testify that 65% possession counts for 100% of sweet FA when it comes to winning football matches.
In the land of sporting clichés, goals win games, even if one of them comes from the softest of penalties.
The corner count – 16 to City and just three to Arsenal – would suggest the Gunners somehow survived a barrage of incoming fire from the hosts, to escape with this 2-0 victory.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Manchester City’s corners carry all the menace of a meringue on Mogadon – a popular tranquilliser for those none too well versed in the world of pharmaceuticals.
With the gloriously splendid City Football Academy now in full swing, just a quick walk across the Suisse Gas-sponsored footbridge from the Etihad Stadium, one wonders what the hell goes on at the set-piece training drills for the first team squad.
All season long, City’s corners kicks have been as effective as a one-legged man at an arse-kicking competition. Compared to the collective deliveries of messrs Milner, Silva, Nasri, Navas & Co, the Royal Mail looks like a best in class operation.
Manuel Pellegrini bemoaned the lack of creativity – quite rightly – in this damp squib of a performance – but corners are supposed to provide goal scoring opportunities, a threat to the defending team, a reason for the fans of the attacking side to get excited and pump up the volume.
The Chilean boss is a winner, a smart cookie, an astute tactician, a respected manager…so why the hell can’t he and his team of coaches see what is plain to every City fan – the team are ‘ckin clueless at corner kicks.
Time after time the ball is floated across the 18-yard box in insipid style, only to be headed away by some towering opposition centre back.
That is of course, when the corner goes beyond the proverbial ‘first man’ which isn’t always. Come on Manuel, show some ingenuity – engineer a solution…and quickly!
There’s mitigation to be heard in City’s defence, but let’s be clear, Arsenal thoroughly deserved the three points.
For once Arsene Wenger let his team’s football do his talking, rather than his constant moaning about City and Financial Fair Play, the Lampard loan, blah blah blah, ad nauseam.
Mike Dean aided and abetted Arsenal in what appears to be something of ‘thing’ with Vincent Kompany. He sent Kompany off at the Emirates two seasons ago – wrongly as it happened – as Vinny’s red card was rescinded within 48 hours.
This time Dean adjudged that the City skipper had forcibly blocked and felled Monreal in the 23rd minute. In truth Kompany had simply stood his ground.
The excellent Santi Cazorla converted the ensuing spot kick. The home fans had taunted the 30-year old Spanish midfield maestro, labelling him, ‘Just a sh*t David Silva…’
The ex-Malaga man had the last laugh on the City fans, and his former boss, Pellegrini.
Dean later booked Kompany for a foul, totally ignoring the fact Giroud had fouled Zabaleta immediately beforehand in the same passage of play. Fair to say Mr Dean is not a ‘Kompany man’.
Having missed the previous six games – and the three prior to the away win at Leicester in December – the Belgian Boulder was unsurprisingly, a bit rusty.
So too was Sergio Aguero, his first real action in 10 matches since sustaining knee ligament damage. Edin Dzeko managed a 15-minute cameo appearance – his first in eight matches.
Samir Nasri was missing with a calf strain and Yaya Toure and new £25m striker Wilfried Bony were on international duty with the Ivory Coast.
It wasn’t as if Pellegrini was without excuses, had he wanted to go down that route.
In fairness the City boss – like the magnanimous home support – accepted that the Champions were well below par as a more direct, incisive and tenacious Arsenal chalked up their first win in their last four attempts at the Etihad.
A far cry from the 6-3 football festival of December 2013.
City’s defeat – their first in 15 games – was sealed with some abject defending, allowing Olivier Giroud a pathetically simple free header past a helpless Joe Hart in the 66th minute.
Hindsight’s a wonderful thing and, at the risk of being wise after the event, whereas City’s run of results has been impressive, their performances have been creaking under the heavy burden of crocked stars.
Wins over Sunderland and Sheffield Wednesday, book-ended by draws with Burnley and Everton, have perhaps flattered to deceive.
Pellegrini’s squad has had its spine missing on numerous occasions, but still managed to display backbone.
Rather than be berated for what was indeed a dreadful display devoid of verve, vitality and creativity, City should perhaps be credited with doing so well for so long when just about running on fumes.
A win at Chelsea – as unlikely as it might seem at this moment – is well within City’s capabilities. The upcoming FA Cup 4th Round clash with Middlesbrough provides a great opportunity for a show of strength and a shedding of cobwebs for City’s big-hitters.
It’s not being defeatist to say the FA Cup could yet be City’s best option of silverware this year, it would certainly be an indefensible folly if Pellegrini assembles a ‘pick and mix’ XI on Saturday.
Forget the cotton wool and bubble wrap – play the best available players and bash the Boro in readiness for the Battle of the Bridge.
A spot of warm weather training in the sunshine and luxury of Abu Dhabi will do no harm this week and wins in the Cup and Premier League could see City turn a big corner by the end of the month.
Oh, did somebody mention corners?
By David Walker
www.readbutneverred.com @ReadButNeverRed @djwskyblu