Arsenal 1-0 Man City: Oliver Holt's Big Match Verdict - No fight, no spirit, no title for feeble City
When the time came for the final judgment, Manchester City went quietly yesterday.
With the title on the line, their season on the line, their pride at stake and Roberto Mancini’s job in jeopardy, they went down without a fight.
Sure, there was plenty of sound and fury, plenty of controversy and angst. But it signified nothing.
That is the most damning thing about yesterday. When City were faced with their last chance, when they needed to stand up, all they could do was fall down.
Let’s be honest: Arsenal battered them. Totally dominated them. Played them off the pitch.
If Manchester United had worried that City would react defiantly to going eight points behind, they needn’t have been concerned.
Because City played like a £200m team who had given up the chase before a ball had been kicked.
They played like a side intimidated and cowed by their Manchester neighbours, a team that had already admitted defeat.
United, as many predicted, have got stronger and stronger and stronger as the season has gone on.
When the heat was on, United had players who gloried in the challenge.
Rio Ferdinand found his best form, Antonio Valencia came back from another injury and seared his signature into United’s play.
David de Gea conquered his early season uncertainties and stepped up with match-saving performances of courage and maturity.
Michael Carrick resurrected his United career, Wayne Rooney was a font of goals, Paul Scholes shone as brightly as ever.
A couple of months ago, Patrick Vieira, City’s head of football development, said United’s decision to welcome Scholes out of retirement was a sign of ‘weakness’.
Well, United have won 11 of their last 12 Premier League games since Scholes returned. And drawn the other.
And Vieira has won himself a place in the pantheon of predictions alongside Alan Hansen and ‘you can’t win anything with kids’.
Because as United puffed out their chests and quickened their stride, City grew weaker and weaker and weaker.
When they glimpsed the prize, it did not inspire them. It terrified them. And on Sunday, their terror was palpable.
Mario Balotelli played like a coward. Not because his studs-up tackle could have broken Alex Song’s leg.
But because apart from being sent off and kicking a goalpost, it was just about the only notable thing he did all afternoon.
Sergio Aguero, the record signing who was supposed to be the final piece in the jigsaw when he arrived in the summer, was anonymous, too.
Edin Dzeko, who cost £27m, did not get off the bench. Samir Nasri, who left Arsenal to win the title at City, was ineffectual.
And David Silva, the team’s creative force who has faded alarmingly in the last couple of months, did not even make the final 18.
He had a knock to the knee, City said, so he was rested in order to be sure he would be available for Wednesday’s game against West Brom.
That spoke of a player and a club who knew the game was up. Silva should have done everything possible to be on the pitch at The Emirates yesterday.
It was the only game that mattered. City had to beat Arsenal. Nothing else would do. It was the last chance to rescue the title that had once seemed to be theirs.
But Silva’s name did not appear on the team sheet. He will be okay for West Brom but West Brom doesn’t matter any more. West Brom’s irrelevant.
Only Joleon Lescott, Vincent Kompany and Joe Hart could hold their heads up yesterday. They were resolute in defence. Without them, Arsenal’s margin of victory would have been far greater.
But City should not be collapsing like this. Not after the money they’ve spent. Not after the experience they’ve bought.
They should have pushed United all the way to the wire this season. In fact, they should have outstripped them.
But when their collective character was examined, they were found wanting. This title race could have been an epic. It turned into a walkover.
When Mikel Arteta’s winner fizzed into the bottom corner yesterday, City’s bench was a tableau of despair.
On the touchline, Roberto Mancini ranted and raved in the rain like King Lear on the heath, madness gripping him as it all slipped away.
Brian Kidd, his loyal assistant, slumped in his seat. David Platt sat with his head in his hands.
Mancini deserved better, although his decision to place his trust in Balotelli raises more and more questions about his judgment.
It is Balotelli’s presence, more than Carlos Tevez’s absence, that has cost City so dearly this season.
Balotelli has become a symbol of the fact that City are struggling to leave behind the cult of the individual while United are a group who play for each other.
“Take a deep breath, everyone,” City’s former skipper Paul Lake wrote on Twitter last night.
“We’re all angry. We’re all frustrated, but at least we now know what it takes #itsallabouttheteam #mcfc.”
They need a little less Balotelli and a lot more Valencia. Once they learn that lesson, they will respond differently when they face their next day of judgment.