Sven, Paul and Jeremy
After a few pints in the volatile Drayton Arms pub, opposite one of the corners of the ground, we made our way to our seats. Approaching the stadium, we soon found that we were walking behind none other than former City manager Sven Goran-Eriksson. The Swede, no doubt here to check on the form of City captain Kolo Toure, was mobbed by a small throng of City fans – myself included. Whilst Sven is far from being a legend at the Club (let’s face it he wasn’t given much chance to be a legend), its clear that he is still loved by some fans at Club, mostly likely because of the style of football we played under him and the exciting players he brought to the club.
Once inside, we saw who I consider to be a true legend of the club – Paul Lake. A player who could have given City and England so much more, a player whose career was cut short by injury. Lake was more than happy to pose for photographs with fans around him – for me this only reaffirms his legend status, given the amount of fans who must ask him to do this whenever he is in the public eye.
And then for good measure, coming out of the ground we saw former Rugby Union England international Jeremy Guscott. Not bad for a day visit to the capital!
Arsenal should be proud of their stadium, surely one of the finest in the world. I felt rather privileged to be sitting on padded seats – not bad a £33 a hit – although the reality was that, as usual, the away support never sat down and so never took full advantage of this luxury.
Although obviously on a bigger scale the Emirates reminds me very much of Eastlands in terms of how the highest seats of each stand slope up and down. Similarities with COMS do not end there. Both stadiums are not quite there in terms of atmosphere, although yesterday the flatness of the home support was probably down to the team’s performance and the fact that, whatever the result, they knew that they were out of the title race. The major difference between the two stadiums seemed to be what food they sell - will we ever see Salmon Bagels for £4.50 a go at Eastlands?
On the pitch, it was another average performance from City where we never really got at our opponents. On the other side of the coin, they never really got at us. This was perhaps an example of when Mancini’s ‘safety first’ tactics served us well. Against United, one blip caused us to lose the game. Against Arsenal, there were no such blips and thus we came through at the Emirates unscathed. Everybody did their defensive jobs as Mancini opted to go with a defensive midfield in the form of Vieira, Barry and De Jong. Pablo Zabaleta, Wayne Bridge and (when he came on for the injured Bridge) Micah Richards did enough to deal with the likes of Walcott and Nasri. The worrying selection of Robin Van Persie never really presented the City backline with any serious problems.
Unfortunately we didn’t create very much at all at the other end. Adam Johnson faintly threatened on a couple of occasions but - as an Arsenal fan observed to me (in more colourful terms) coming away from the game - Bellamy and Tevez were ineffectual. And we all know what happens when our two lynchpins cannot affect the game: we either draw or lose.
This time we drew, and it was a much more valuable point for us than it was for the Gunners. That said, once again with the attacking talent at our disposal, I felt we should have been making more of a game of it against an Arsenal team with no Fabregas, Dennilson or Gallas. The arrival of Adebayor to the thunderous boos of the home support (incidentally the loudest they were during the entire game) upped our tempo a notch, but still we never really got close to causing Arsenal serious damage.
To add to our lacklustre performance, Shay Given dislocated his shoulder whilst saving a shot from Diaby and will now miss the rest of the season. He was replaced by Gunnar Nielsen, a player whom I knew absolutely nothing of but am now slightly more informed about – apparently he’s the first Faroe Islander to play in the Premier League. Stuart Taylor, the regular goalkeeping No.2 was out with knee surgery.
We must now ask ourselves, are we seriously ready for Champions League football?
When all is said and done, the last two results against United and Arsenal tell me that we are not yet ready to take fourth place. The frustrating thing is that I don’t think we turned up in either encounter, and let’s face it, we should be turning up and making a fight of it at this stage of the season.
We have thrown away a good momentum far too easily. The destruction of Burnley and Birmingham set us up nicely for the run in, but we never really gave ourselves the chance to win against the likes of United and Arsenal, and in so doing I feel we have dropped vital points and – most importantly have lost the momentum.
I have never wanted United to win as much as I did yesterday, and they did, so we must take the defeat of Spurs at Old Trafford as a positive, even if we failed to take full advantage of it. But still the narrative of the League issues us with more twists and turns. Today, after their 1-0 victory over Birmingham City, Aston Villa have somehow found a way back into the mix and now have as good a chance as Spurs and ourselves on making 4th position.
If we were to lose against Villa this coming Saturday, mathematically we would still be in the hunt for fourth, but speaking realistically, in our heads we will surely feel as if we have blown it. Anything less than victory will now not suffice as we enter a three game mini season that will have a major impact on the club’s trajectory over the next couple of years.