While seven successive Premier League draws have taken the gloss off Manchester City's stunning early season form, tonight's Carling Cup quarter-final clash with Arsenal, according to manager Mark Hughes, offers the club an opportunity to return to winning ways. And in more ways than one.
City won this trophy in 1976. It was the club's last significant piece of silverware and, in a bid to end a 30-year trophy drought, Hughes has contradicted the habits of most top flight managers by committing full strength sides to England's second cup competition this term. The Welshman will not alter that personnel policy tonight. "I don't see any reason to change it, we want to be in the latter stages and in the semi-final," said Hughes. "We're close to something that hasn't happened to the club in 30-odd years and we're not going to change our approach now."
With Arsenal missing several key personnel as the relentless festive fixtures approach, Arsene Wenger is expected to rest many of the players who succumbed 3-0 to Chelsea earlier this week. Hughes, however, knows whichever Arsenal XI cross the white line will pose a threat. "Arsenal always come with attacking intent, but we've had good success against them in our home games of late," he said. "If we continue in that same vein we'll be happy, but whether we overcome them is dependent on what kind of team Arsenal pick.
"In previous years, they've picked younger teams in the Carling Cup - that might change because they haven't won a trophy in four years. They might place more significance on it now than they have in seasons gone by. "But you sense there will still be a younger element to their team. The qualities they have are there for everyone to see, but we will back ourselves at home." The City midfielder Stephen Ireland, who has returned to the first team following the club's mid-season break in Abu Dhabi last month, is relishing the chance to face Arsenal at Eastlands.
"When it comes to playing the top four, we've been switched on," said Ireland. "Hopefully we can take it to Arsenal and make it difficult for them." With Hughes eyeing the competition as an early chance for City's expensively assembled squad to win collective honours, official figures released by the club reveal it has spent more on agents' fees than any of its English Premier League rivals in the last 12 months.
Between October 1, 2008 and September 30, 2009, the club paid agents £12.9 million (Dh77.4m), more than a sixth of the £70.7m outlay of England's top 20 sides during 803 player transactions - including transfers, loans and contract extensions. But City's chief financial officer Graham Wallace offered a simple explanation. "The level of player acquisition over the past year has been unprecedented as we have sought to rebuild our playing squad.
"Squad building at this level and within such a short time frame is unlikely to be repeated, and the fees, which represent an average of £360,000 per transaction, fall well within our annual budget and operating plan as approved by our board." The Premier League champions Manchester United were among the lowest spenders, while Chelsea splashed out the second highest amount - £9.6m - mostly on contract extensions of players such as, Frank Lampard and captain John Terry. @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org Manchester City v Arsenal, KO 11.45pm, Aljazeera Sport + 3