x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Roberto Mancini rues inability of Manchester City to close it out

Manager Arsene Wenger, his opposite number, happy to come away with a point against Premier League champions.

David Silva, the Manchester City midfielder, is shut down by Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal duo. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images
David Silva, the Manchester City midfielder, is shut down by Abou Diaby and Aaron Ramsey, the Arsenal duo. Laurence Griffiths / Getty Images

There is little that offends the sensibilities of the average English football fan more than a diver. The attitude is: Real men take the physical punishment of a foul and never "cheat" their opponents by going to ground.

Here is an example of where such thinking fails. Nine minutes into the second half and Manchester City a goal to the good on Arsenal, David Silva passes Sergio Aguero into a scoring position. So good is the angle, the striker chooses to stay vertical when Laurent Koscielny's rash sliding tackled misses the ball and slides into Aguero's standing leg.

Such is the Argentine's strength and balance he still gets his shot away, only for Kieran Gibbs to block. Aguero immediately turns to the referee Mike Dean to claim what is by the rule book a straightforward penalty. Nothing is given.

Commenting on the game for Premier League TV, Craig Burley's first reaction is that there had "not been enough contact" for a penalty. Upon watching the replay, he corrects himself. "If he'd gone to ground it would have been given," Burley says.

And therein lies the problem. The modern game is so fast, England's referees so conditioned to legislate against the "gamesmanship" of diving, that a player who does as Aguero did, and fails to signal a foul rarely receives one.

There was no advantage in Dean's decision. Only a prime scoring opportunity denied and two, potentially key, points lost.

Arsenal equalised in the 82nd minute and City were left four points off the top of the Premier League, still without a clean sheet this campaign. "We have this problem, we don't close the game," said Roberto Mancini. "We should keep our concentration 100 per cent."

Arsene Wenger gladly accepted the point. "We believe we can challenge for the title, but it's down to consistency," he said. "We are not the perfect team yet, we still have room for improvement."

That much was evident in City's opener. A corner was spun into the area by Silva, a couple of yards ahead of the visitors' zonal marking line of defenders. All stood essentially static as City sprinted their tall men in to attack the ball.

Vito Mannone made the call of an inexperienced back-up, the goalkeeper charging late above his line of defenders and failing to punch clear. Joleon Lescott jumped between Laurent Koscielny and Lukas Podolski to head into the now unguarded net.

If there were few clear-cut first-half opportunities, Arsenal created the majority, fast on the counter, precise in their passing.

Aaron Ramsey impressed and one pass inside Gael Clichy offered a straightforward scoring chance to Gervinho until the right winger miscontrolled into Joe Hart's hands. A little later, Clichy redeemed himself by picking Santi Cazorla's precise through ball off Gervinho's feet.

Mancini's then brought on Jack Rodwell, a move that simultaneously allowed Yaya Toure to move closer to his attackers and switched City's midfield three into a mirror of Arsenal's.

Silva immediately created an opportunity for Aguero at the back post that was lifted over the bar. A few minutes later the Argentine was clattered in the area for what should have been a decisive spot kick.

The remainder of the second half was mostly City's, their control of possession and, in particular, territory suggestive of champions.

Seeking a change in the play, Wenger ended the self-imposed handicap of benching Theo Walcott, moved Gervinho to his preferred left wing. With Cazorla now full-time behind the centre-forward, Arsenal began testing Hart again.

One fine save thwarted the Spanish midfielder, but from his corner the equaliser came. Yaya Toure stood static in the area, Lescott let the ball to bounce off his legs to Koscielny, who fired home for a point that should not have been.

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