Today’s the day Manchester City fans find out if Manuel Pellegrini’s grasp of English is any better than his knowledge of basic maths.
Having overseen one of the most memorable nights in the club’s history and beaten the reigning European champions in their own backyard, Pellegrini proceeded to receive ‘pelters’ for not knowing one more goal would have put City on top of Group D, ahead of Bayern Munich.
Such a schoolboy error should never have happened and it took some of the glitz off the glorious 3-2 comeback victory in the Allianz Arena.
By mid-afternoon today, the cultured Chilean, always measured and sage-like in his comments, will know if he has managed to drill home the ‘C’ word – or rather words in this case – to his overwhelmingly non-English team.
No, Pellegrini isn’t into profanities, but a win over Premier League leaders Arsenal will signal to him that his team has mastered the art of consistency and continuity – the two imperatives he craves as his foundation for City success.
The Engineer may innocently and somewhat naively been awry with his Champions League calculations in Germany, but that will be completely forgotten if a much-changed City First XI prove capable of shooting the Gunners down at the Etihad.
It’s a basic case of ‘put up’ or ‘shut up as the bookies’ favourites are given the chance to narrow Arsenal’s points advantage to just three, and maintain their impressive 100% PL home record.
Fortress Etihad needs to remain just that if City are to launch an assault to top the table by the turn of the year.
The miracle of Munich needs to be put to one side as City’s big-hitters – Vincent Kompany, Yaya Toure and Sergio Aguero – the vital vertebrae of the team, return for the priorities of the Premier League.
Manuel’s mantra, since assuming command from Roberto Mancini, is to establish a style of play that can be maintained, irrespective of the player personnel at his disposal.
Wednesday night’s bout of Bavarian bashing is an encouraging indication that Pellegrini is well progressed in his quest.
The irony is that Man of the Match in Munich, the magnificent James Milner, may well be a selection casualty today, with ex-Gooner, Sami Nasri set to return alongside David Silva, himself only restored to the side in Germany after a long lay-off.
Spanish Dave, Merlin – call him what you will – Silva was sublime against Bayern, and with Nasri now regularly reproducing the form that tempted City to pay £24m to Arsenal, Pellegrini has an array of attacking riches from which to choose.
Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo will once again combine to spearhead the City attack that has so far plundered 29 goals in their opening seven home games – equalling the record set by Arsenal’s North London rivals, Spurs, set way back in 1962-63.
If the Sky Blues score today, it will be the 58th consecutive PL fixture that the Etihad faithful will have celebrated at least one home strike, in a run stretching back to a benign 0-0 stalemate with Birmingham City in November 2010.
Now is NOT the time for Manuel’s marauders to run dry, but Wenger’s Boys are hardly out to keep things nice and moist for the Mancunians.
Arsenal have the best away record in the division having garnered 16 points from their travels so far – double City’s paltry haul of just eight points away from the Etihad.
Add to the mix that the rear gunners – the Arsenal defence – is presently the best, having leaked just 11 goals in 15 fixtures, is going up against City sizzling sharpshooters who, with a net showing of 41, is the best in the PL, and the juices of anticipation go into salivation overload.
It wasn’t so long ago that another seemingly resolute ‘rock solid’ defence rolled up to the Etihad having conceded just six goals in over 1,000 minutes of Premier League play. City went on to stick another half-a-dozen past Spurs in the space of just 90 minutes.
Even with 50% off, City would be more than happy with a similar outcome today.
Much has been made of the fact that Arsenal’s 2-0 defeat in Naples came 24 hours after City’s win in Munich – allowing Pellegrini’s side extra time to recuperate. Even with the so-called ‘mind games’ that go on among the Premier League’s elite band of managers, this has to be a complete red herring.
Half of the expected City line-up today were rested on Tuesday night, so it’s broadly irrelevant. One wonders if Arsenal are a tad premature with any excuses in the event of City putting in a ‘mint’ performance ‘after eight’ consecutive home wins.
Appalling puns aside, Arsenal – a team that Pellegrini describes as ‘the best in the league’ – will undoubtedly prove to be City’s sternest test to date.
Having confounded their critics who keep waiting for the early season ‘bubble’ to pop, the Gunners will be well and truly in the driving seat if they can inflict City’s first home defeat. Even a draw will sustain Arsenal’s momentum and confirm them as the real deal.
An away win at the fearsome Borussia Dortmund has already shown Arsenal to be a team of supreme quality. The question marks will only arise if they are hit by injuries and resources stretched.
Mesmerising Mesut Ozil has been the catalyst of change, whereas Aaron Ramsey has emerged as a revelation this season. City will need to win the battle for the creative midfield honours today. It’s an intriguing proposition.
Recent history favours City with Arsenal having won only one of their last six league and cup encounters. Indeed it has been City’s backline that has proved Scrooge-like, keeping Arsenal at bay in six of the last nine head-to heads.
For neutrals it promises a feast of festive entertainment, traditionally a match that doesn’t lack for glamour, spectacle or colour – often the colour red – with half a dozen players sent-off in the last six PL games.
At the final whistle Pellegrini will be hoping to have broadened his vocabulary to include another ‘C’ word, and that congratulations are in vogue for City.
By David Walker