City miss a critical fact but still have Aguero to unleash on the unwary
Arsenal can prove worth if they can keep favourites and their ace at bay
Sergio Aguero hasn’t scored this week. Yet. You have to go back to August to find consecutive Manchester City games in which Aguero played the full 90 minutes and failed to score.
He hasn’t scored this week yet because on Tuesday night Aguero watched all 90 of City’s win at Bayern Munich from the bench. Even though City needed just one more goal to top the group and Aguero warmed up on the touchline, he went back to his seat.
It turned out that Manuel Pellegrini and the rest of the City backroom staff didn’t know the score.
In the old days this kind of error would have been laughed off as “typical City”. Joe Royle invented a word for it: “Cityitis”. Alan Ball would have been mocked if it had happened to him . . . Again.
Perhaps because he exudes a natural gravitas, Pellegrini does not attract the same sniggers, but it’s been noted. Someone nicknamed The Engineer should be riveted to the details and if Monday’s last-16 Champions League draw goes badly, Tuesday night in Munich will resurface.
It just adds that little spice of extra pressure when City line up against Arsenal this lunchtime.
The gap between the two is six points: if there is a winner that means it will either be three or nine. Even before the halfway stage, it feels like a possible turning-point moment in the Premier League season. And this is where Sergio Aguero walks back in.
There is a growing assumption post-Wednesday in Naples, that Arsenal are facing the sort of physical timetable and public scrutiny that will see them crack.
Mikel Arteta has moaned about Arsenal being forced to play Sunday-Wednesday-Saturday and is one of those Gunners suddenly referring to today’s 12.45 kick-off time as “Saturday morning”. Then he says: “We have to be ready, no excuses.”
Defiant? It is a curious development: there is so much widespread admiration for Arsene Wenger and goodwill towards his teams; yet there is palpable wariness. City are six points behind Arsenal, have lost four away games already, yet are shorter odds with the bookmakers to win the title than Arsenal.
Prior to last Sunday’s 1-1 draw with Everton, Arsenal had kept four consecutive clean sheets. The centre-halves, Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker, received a spurt of praise from fans and pundits as a consequence. And yet.
Obviously holding Hull, Cardiff, Marseilles and Southampton at bay it not the same as neutering Manchester City in Manchester – City’s home record in the league reads: P7 W7 F29 A2. But if Koscielny and Mertesacker are as resilient as some say, then even the prospect of Aguero should not be making Arsenal quake.
However the faith in Aguero scoring is greater than in Arsenal withstanding. The brilliant Argentinian striker has swept off the collective City haze of last season and has 18 goals in 19 appearances, five in his last five, 14 in his last 12. It’s rat-a-tat-tat form and Aguero has already scored one more goal than last season.
Diego Maradona may have recently called Aguero “a wimp” but that came in the wake of Aguero’s split from Maradona’s daughter. One of the impressive aspects of Aguero is that he is far from wimpish – a different character would have chosen to go down in the penalty area against QPR rather than stay on his feet and score the goal that won Man City the title in May 2012.
Upbringing on street
Aguero’s indefatigability, as well as his skill, he attributes to an upbringing and sporting schooling on the street. Some might not relish a childhood in a rough part of Buenos Aires, not Aguero, he has called it “a great start”.
One wonders what he makes of the lavish treatment of Academy youngsters at City and elsewhere because Aguero has said that playing on the street “teaches you the spirit that’s necessary to become a footballer and be a winner. Every year there are fewer of us street guys, and I think something is lost from the game.”
He is correct. The streets of Buenos Aires have given Aguero tough agility and, as he says, spirit.
He has added “improvisation” to the qualities he learned. His previous City manager, Roberto Mancini, did not get everything right but when he said Aguero is “a photocopy of Romario”, you understood immediately that he was identifying low-gravity menace.
In Arteta, Wilshere, Özil and Ramsey, Arsenal do not lack streetwise creativity themselves but, in attack, Olivier Giroud is no Aguero and in defence we are about to see how welded together Koscielny and Mertesacker really are.
In reaching the top of the league Arsenal have altered perceptions. Now, if they can resist the irresistible, Arsenal will change things again, how they see themselves, how we see them. At a push, maybe even how we see Sergio Aguero.