Everyone needs a nickname. You, me, even managers of Premier League football clubs need nicknames.
So it came to pass that two managers, Arsene Wenger (‘The Professor’) and Manuel Pellegrini (‘The Engineer’), with monikers that confirm their academic prowess, clashed at the Etihad Stadium on Sunday, but who ended the day with their name lit up?
Leading up to the game, Manuel Pellegrini’s team had been on a great run, reeling in Chelsea (who were temporarily caught up on the campaign trail), to go level on points at the top prior to last week’s draw at unpredictable Everton. City had won nine out of 12 (drawing the other three) in the league since their last defeat at West Ham and with Sergio Aguero available again, they would have been expecting a positive result this time around.
Arsenal, for their part, have come in for a lot of criticism for their away performances last season against the teams challenging for the title, shipping an incomprehensible 17 goals at Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City in the process. The open nature of these games didn’t work for Arsenal, suggesting that Wenger’s tactics may be in need of review and a greater focus on concentrated defending, rather than assembling a line-up pinning hopes only on the attacking side of their game.
As it was, the balance of attack and defence obtained and displayed by the Arsenal team must have proved cathartic for Wenger, who proclaimed redemption from those previous away day catastrophes. Indeed this was a solid performance all round, but leading from the front, or more specifically from the middle, were Santi Cazorla and Francis Coquelin, who seemed to be here, there and everywhere, much to City’s chagrin. Cazorla was hugely influential, and was involved in both goals – expertly dispatching a dubiously awarded penalty and providing the free-kick for the perfectly groomed bonce of Olivier Giroud to glance past the hapless Joe Hart. Late in the game, he would dance through half of the City team on a sortie from the Arsenal penalty area, to relieve pressure on the defence and he was due his own moment to strut his stuff, dancing to celebrate the second Arsenal goal.
Francis Coquelin also gave a hugely mature performance in the defensive midfield role, shielding the much maligned Arsenal back line from Manchester City’s sprightly attack, so much so that the likes of David Silva were unable to inspire.
Comparisons to previous defensive midfielder powerhouses of the Patrick Viera ilk will be suggested and may be somewhat premature, but this was a superb display from a player who only recently returned from a loan spell at Charlton Athletic – displays like this, though, will give him every chance of establishing himself in the Gunners first team.
For all the positives displayed by Arsenal, what about Manchester City? Unfortunately for City, despite a resurgence at the start of the second-half, they never got to grips with Arsenal’s energy and desire. This, coupled with poor defending for the second goal, where Giroud was in danger of being challenged more by his own team mates than City’s defenders, left their recent unbeaten run in tatters. The Professor had clearly outwitted the Engineer on this occasion.
Pellegrini will have to conjure a plan in readiness for his next examination, notwithstanding the FA Cup match against Middlesborough. That next examination? Only the return match against the self-titled ‘Special One’.
Jose Mourinho, no doubt already more than a little pleased at the annihilation of Swansea by the machine that is his Chelsea team, was the real winner of the weekend, which he will relish in the build-up to the top of the table clash at the end of the month.
Perhaps his only concern will be keeping an eye on ‘Super Frank’.