Arsenal 1-0 Manchester City: Balotelli off as Blues' title bid crumbles
Published 18:30 08/04/12 By Martin Lipton
Why always me? It’s the question Mario Balotelli has asked all season.
But do we really have to tell you, Mario? Do you really want to know?
The City fans who watched their title dreams turn to dust at The Emirates on Sunday, who witnessed an on-field meltdown of staggering proportions, have given up making excuses for the Italian.
Given up seeking to justify, make allowances, point to what he brings to Roberto Mancini’s side, a team left shattered as Mikel Arteta exploded a shot past Joe Hart three minutes from time to virtually gift-wrap the crown to Manchester United.
For in the final analysis, what he brings is far less than what he takes away, a living embodiment of self-obsession at the expense of the team-mates who have sweated blood for the cause for eight long months.
As Balotelli finally, belatedly, and more than an hour overdue, fell off the tightrope he had been walking all afternoon, he did not seem to care.
One stamp on Alex Song, which should have brought a red card. Three more reckless challenges on Bacary Sagna, eventually adding up to two yellows.
But more than that, 90 minutes of sheer selfishness, on the day when he needed to show some loyalty, not just to the manager who has stood by him through thick and thin, but to the players whose contribution to the club has been far more genuine.
For Balotelli, sadly, it is all a joke. A blast. A game.
The Abu Dhabi owners, whose stern-faced looks on the front row owed more to the old Soviet Politburo sat above Lenin’s Tomb, are just the mugs he has taken for granted.
Mancini’s mistaken belief that he can harness the talent? Deserving of no pay-back apart from this charade which may cost the manager his job.
And as for the fans who pay money some of them can’t afford, week after week – merely collateral damage.
What a savage indictment it is, even more so on the day that it all, surely, ended, with only confirmation of the bitter truth coming over the next few weeks.
True, Mancini has responsibility, too. He lost his nerve at the crucial stage, the buccaneering approach of the first half of the season replaced by caution, fear, inertia. An inertia that meant Arsenal, who hit the woodwork three times and missed chances that were virtually impossible to miss, deserved the win that took them above Spurs in the race for third place.
In truth, City were utterly woeful, lucky that it took so long for Arsenal’s superiority to be reflected, even more fortunate they were not down to 10 after just 20 minutes, when Balotelli’s sickening assault on Song was missed by blind-sided referee Martin Atkinson.
The loss of Yaya Toure after a quarter of an hour did not help, although even before that only an astonishing and inadvertent block by Thomas Vermaelen had prevented Robin van Persie nodding Arsenal in front, the ball pinging off the Belgian and the bar with Hart a spectator.
As he was in the second half, when Van Persie caressed an unmarked header from Song’s delicate chip against the bar.
Vincent Kompany and Joleon Lescott had shown more defiance than the rest of their colleagues put together. Samir Nasri was so ineffective he only really got the bird from the baying home fans when he came off near the end. Sergio Aguero was equally anonymous, Wojciech Szczesny’s lone save coming from the little Argentine’s looping header.
When Hart brilliantly tipped Theo Walcott’s shot against the post, Yossi Benayoun getting in the way of Vermaelen’s scrambled follow-up before Lescott cleared, it looked as if City might get away with a point, that Balotelli, against the odds, would see the game out.
Not to be, Arteta nipping in to rob David Pizarro and blasting past Hart, who kicked the post in the immediate aftermath and then again soon afterwards, as the ticking time-bomb that was Balotelli finally exploded.
The damage was brutal, total destruction. Of a season, a manager – probably – and the hopes and dreams of so many innocent victims.
No way back for Balotelli. Or City – this term at least. No way back for Mancini? It is starting to look that way. What a waste.