Arsenal live up to label of mental fragility in defeat at Manchester City

Raheem Sterling (third from left) scores Manchester City's winner against Arsenal

Raheem Sterling (third from left) scores Manchester City's winner against Arsenal - Credit: Archant

There has been a revolution at Manchester City in the last few years. With a world-class line up, silverware galore, a new ground, and sparkling academy in a previously run-down part of the city – they are very much a club on the up.

If you throw in the fact they have the legendary Pep Guardiola as manager, you could be forgiven for thinking this club is set to rule English football for many years to come.

However, there has always been something of an inferiority complex among the club and their loyal fans.

Forget Sir Alex Ferguson’s ‘noisy neighbours’ jibe, this is very much a club with fans whose first thought is: ‘What can go wrong?’

It used to be called City-itis. In 1968 City clinched the league title at Newcastle United by winning 4-3 – the very same week Manchester United won the European Cup at Wembley.

City’s glorious comeback against Gillingham to get out of the third tier was the same week United won the 1999 Champions League final with two late, late goals.

Or how about capturing the lauded Guardiola – the same pre-season the Red Devils finally employed Jose Mourinho?

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The feeling is that, whenever City do well, something is bound to go wrong – or simply be overshadowed.

And so it has appeared this autumn. After a superb start – which even had the normally cautious Catalan scoffing at the ‘so-called’ intensity of the Premier League – City and Pep entered a sticky patch.

All the while Chelsea kept winning, Arsenal looked solid and United started to steal headlines and points – so much so that some pundits and fans even exclaimed loudly that Sunday’s match was something of an early fourth place play-off.

Arsenal came into the game on the back of a crushing defeat at Everton, not so much for the result – though that was painful enough – but more for the way they meekly surrendered. A capitulation which gave rise to every jaded, tired observation that Arsenal lacked mental toughness.

What hurt most was that they got an airing from friend and foe alike because it was true.

And if Arsenal want to win the league this season, they needed to forget about the Everton debacle and show character at the Etihad.

They did just that on five minutes. Alexis Sanchez played a reverse ball behind Nicolas Otamendi and into the path of an onrushing Theo Walcott, who evaded a desperate, last-ditch tackle by Pablo Zabaleta to calmly slot the ball beyond Claudio Bravo.

The 3,000 travelling supporters leapt like demented salmon in the away end – and so they should have done after a long and expensive trip on the final weekend before Christmas.

If ever there was a time for Arsene Wenger’s men to make a victory statement, it was during the next 85 minutes.

But here’s the thing: they didn’t. They failed to roll up their sleeves and say: ‘Right, we got stick for capitulating against Everton. We are simply not going to do the same again against Manchester City. We are not going to give any further ammunition to those who believe we have a soft centre.’

Yet the Gunners gave away a half-time lead and lost 2-1 – as they had at Goodison.

No-one wants to hear excuses after a damaging defeat which reinforces belief that Arsenal simply haven’t got what it takes to win the title. Fans are fed up with it.

What is so frustrating is that everyone knows the team has the talent. But they lack heart and fight – despite all the protestations from the manager and the players. They are all decent human beings who do actually care about the club, their team-mates and playing for Wenger.

But if you took any fan from the away end and put them on the pitch, you would have got more application. You would have got someone shouting, bawling and giving their all for the cause. The way players in each of our title-winning sides used to do.

Talent is not enough. The club needs heart, passion and commitment. Because it’s those simple but vital ingredients that seem to be missing from the team. Again.

For Wenger and his men, the past week has undone so much. How they recover during the Christmas period will reveal whether all the talk about a new mental toughness is just that – empty talk.

Happy Christmas. Sort of…

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