Manchester City mind the gap to keep United sweating in title pursuit

By Greg Stobart

‘Champions of England’ came the chant from the Manchester City fans as they hailed the players who managed to guide the club to their first league victory at Arsenal in 38 years.

It was the perfect return on the £62 admission paid by the travelling supporters as City returned one third of their allocation as fans baulked at the extortionate ticket prices.

James Milner and Edin Dzeko struck both of City’s goals in the first-half as Roberto Mancini’s men took full advantage of their man advantage following the dismissal of Arsenal defender Laurent Koscielny in the ninth minute.

City also finished with 10 men after City captain Vincent Kompany was also sent-off 15 minutes from time – but by then the visitors were cruising to victory as they delivered the perfect response to Manchester United’s 2-1 win over Liverpool earlier on Sunday.

The result restored the seven-point gap at the top of the Premier League table between United and second-placed City as the Manchester rivals look set for another tit-for-tat, head-to-head run towards the end of the season.

Neither Sir Alex Ferguson nor Roberto Mancini will be fooled that such an advantage means anything with 16 games to play this season and the teams still to face each other at Old Trafford.

After all, City hauled in an eight-point gap to United in the final six games of last season to win the title in the dying moments on the final day of the campaign in the most dramatic circumstances.

That turnaround came after Mancini had all but conceded the title following defeat at Arsenal on a tumultuous afternoon in north London when Mario Balotelli was sent-off and Mikel Arteta scored a last winner for the Gunners.

On that day, City failed to respond to United’s victory over QPR earlier in the day. This time, they were able to win at Arsenal in the league for the first time in 27 attempts to prove they have the spirit and mentality of champions.

Yes, they were aided by Koscielny’s red card, which completely threw Arsenal’s gameplan out of the window; but City were ruthless in taking advantage in the first-half – despite Dzeko’s penalty miss – and never looked threatened after the break as they saw the game out.

Here, it was the industry of Milner and the guile of David Silva that caught the eye as City took advantage of the extra space on the pitch, barely missing the absence of key figures Sergio Aguero and Yaya Toure to injury and the African Cup of Nations respectively.

United can point to the presence of Robin van Persie in their squad as the potential difference this year, but in winning the title last year City also crossed a mental barrier. They believe they are the best, they have built a habit of winning under Mancini.

There is a danger of trying to look too far ahead, to predict where points could be gained or dropped. The simple fact is that both City and United are going to drop points, and in all likelihood Ferguson’s men are unlikely to storm off into the sunset on their way to a 20th English title.

The title race is on. Once again it is between these two cross city rivals – and once again it promises to be a topsy turvy affair that goes to the very wire.

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