What it is with The Gooners.

Okay, so here’s the context and the central beef. Arsenal have been criminally non-durable for years; which is why we all doubt them. Wenger’s beautiful but psychotic purism has left them vulnerable to the memory of boggy pitches, the assumption of intimidation, or real-world Bigger Blokes or teams playing with simply more passion. In an ideal scenario perhaps a Gooner title triumph might elevate the lot of us… but the bulk of us still suspect this is contingent on the absence of (say) Tony Pulis and Cheik Tiote from the Prem landscape. Because if the level of inspiration dips at all, that seductive, metronomic not to say metrosexual heartlessness of Arsenal is just not enough; we know that. Like we knew The Arsenal came up to the Etihad early in crunch-month, with games against principal rivals rammed together. This is tough – like life.

But Arsenal’s perennial weediness kindof gets on our nerves, right? How can it be that they remain, so endlessly, a side unprepared for inevitable, sinewy, earthbound onslaughthood? How can that flaw persist so? Through year after year of more or less successful butterfly meadows later sprayed out. Wenger, to his credit and to his detriment and ‘midst the gnashing of our teeth, produces teams that will not set their sights so low as to block or to crunch or to stifle with physical oomph when they need to –that’s all we ask! They look to outplay the opposition only.

Look he knows – we’ve been telling him for years – that in this bitterly anti-meritocratic universe that ‘quality’ alone ain’t enough; sadly. He may even know (but not accept) that the result of the Arsenal Concept’s near-perfect one-dimensionalism is there will be a slide into capitulation (to generally lesser talents) and that it’s looming now. Six weeks, maybe, in which that lead at the top is swallowed up and the likes of Ramsey return to planet ordinary. And we watch as the mood music changes, as Arsene turns from the pitch again, exasperated, cut further by the sheer unfairness of everything, the anti-perfectness, the No Santa-ness, his Arsenal shot down by a sequence of either worthy and slightly unfortunate defeats and/or that dispiriting leakage of points to opponents that might a month ago have been imperiously (or should that be impishly?) dismissed.

Naturally then, after an emphatic win for City, in a pret-ty fabulous game that Arsenal, as always, contributed to generously, the odds have shortened on this Wenger trauma revisiting. For me their chief real-life weakness today concerned the failure to press the ball around the 35 yard mark. (Mind you, City weren’t much better at this.) Despite the presence of Flamini, Ramsey and Wilshere, City had abundant time to play heads up football – to pick their runs, their passes – as they faced the Gooner defence. Toure and Nasri and Silva are all half-decent; you don’t need to be giving them time and space to consider things. And if Zabaleta ends up with acres to race into… lookout. This stuff happened, infuriatingly commonly for the Arsenal bench.

From early in the game City were allowed some comfort where for me it should have been denied. Without the ball, Arsenal dropped into two banks – midfield at about thirty yards out and Mertesacker’s posse on the eighteen yard line; give or take. It might have been nerves but for me they looked worryingly slightly like England in World Cup mode – faux resistant, unconvincingly solid – deep. Like England, they let the opposition play. Whilst this undeniably led to a hugely entertaining game – and some well-constructed goals – the policy of late (or non-)intervention demonstrably failed. Maybe the predictability of the concessions brought out the miserablist in me; I found myself forever tweeting about dreadful defending rather than glorious attacking. (Shit! Did I just sound like Alan Hansen and Morrissey in the same paragraph?!? HANG ME. Irrespective of whether I have a point on this…)

But lest I inadvertently take too much away from City a sentence or two about them – and their incontrovertible topness. Firstly – hey – they put six past Arsenal.  Secondly, they are surely the best-equipped side in the league – by some distance, perhaps – though this may not necessarily be reflected in the stats come the end of the season. They have that sureness, in particular going into the final third, where an intimidating mixture of power and movement is often irresistible and proved so again today. Thirty-five goals in eight home games is absurdly good going.

Aguero is close to sublime every week, Toure is often unplayable, Silva (even at 70% capacity) just class. And with Zabaleta unzipping defences on his own – nominally, from right back – no wonder they are pulverising anybody foolish enough to turn up at the Etihad. I expect this dominance to convert soon enough into stronger away form and for City to go on and win the Premiership –chased home, I imagine by Chelsea rather than Liverpool… with the Arsenal somewhere behind… (inevitably.)

Perhaps fair (to the other home keeper) to mention that the home keeper was Pants today and also that City like Arsenal were hardly error-free in their own half. But Pellegrini’s boys are candidates alright – not just for the Prem but at European level. So tangible was their superiority that it’s truly hard to imagine that they could finish behind Arsenal come May.

Further notes from the Arsenal angle might include reflections on Walcott and Wilshere. The former was often ineffectual or absent then scored his second with a fabulous curled stroke for the far corner; the latter is buzzing less productively currently and was I think guilty of an offensive sign to the opposition support. Up front Giroud – who, for me has received lashings of praise more for being present in the line-up than being brilliant in it – was mixed again and Ramsey has understandably returned to mortal levels. Ozil jogged round.

On the plus side Arsenal rallied bravely after the catastrophic third goal had been conceded but the necessary withdrawal of Flamini left them increasingly open to counter… not ideal against the free-running Nasri and a Toure with licence. The Southern Softies had little luck with borderline calls from the officials but City simply had bigger and better gears with which to travel and they travelled with ominous purpose.

So, after a Match of The Season So Far which really probably was match of the season so far… this. Just as we feared or imagined. A Christmas unravelling and a statement of intent. The Wenger stocking still needs filling (as it were) with urgent physicality, whilst the Pellegrini equivalent looks short of very little. Unlucky, unlucky Arsenal.

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Unfurling.

Today’s real sporting drama – or maybe simply its purest – involved the kind of dreamy, sunny naivety unfurling only I suspect during exchanges of contestation between kids. That’s contestation of the generally gleeful sort then, with huge and honest effort and, wonderfully, almost no conception of those ‘bigger pictures’.

I know this because I was there, in the brightness and the stiffish wind, as young boys focussed with instinctive but often intermittent brilliance on a cricket ball; in fact the very first hard, cherry-red cricket ball they had faced in a competitive situation. (Because they are 10.) It was in a lovely sense a beginning, the outset for increasingly understood ding-dongs or drab tactical affairs which will be the rich tapestry of their sporting lives. Lives which might actually be richer if the ‘understanding’ receded rather than tightened as the years rolled on.

As these young’uns swung or bowled with more or less co-ordinated effect – more or less freedom, even?– I had barely chance to check my timeline for news from the Etihad, where the fare was altogether more worldly. In fact, though I was an interested party in this Manc-trauma-drama, it pleases me on reflection that quite frankly I didn’t give a toss about United or City until about ten minutes from the end – of their games and ours.

So I didn’t know (until very ‘late’) that City’s driving force, the powerhouse that is Yaya Toure, whom I had forecast with some confidence would be central to a deconstruction of a mediocre QPR defence, was crocked. I didn’t know that the twit-articulate moron Barton had stropped or punched or been drawn on his way to a barely believable early bath. And I didn’t know that United consequently were seemingly cruising to another title.

Word went round the boundary, was murmured through the cheese’n pickle that Rangers were 2-1 up after somebody notched with a diving header. And… some stuff about Barton. I wandered away from base camp within bawling distance of my courageous young batsmen – by now huffing and hoiking slightly inelegantly towards a stationary target that grew with each passing, dot-ball heavy over. From then on occasional sly looks at twitter joined the conceptually unlikely dots to the allegedly fully growed-up conclusion; one which we can choose to interpret as proof of a bought enterprise or a freewheeling romance. Whichever way, it was bloody incredible. And by now – our game also being over – I cared enough to really check out the absurd facts.

Of course this Premiership wasn’t just about City/QPR and Sunderland/United; it’s not, famously, a sprint. Memory suggests City beginning more like a fuzzily recalled Juantorena – ‘opening his legs and showing his class’ whilst serenely obliterating all-comers. For early in the season they were kindof lapping the opposition rather than merely beating people, it seemed. Silva skipped artfully about, dominating games in a way that had us purists purring. And on an extraordinary day for the city, a 6-1 victory at Old Trafford, only partly explained by interventions from the ref, seemed to bring the finish line racing towards City’s achingly medal-free chest.

Such was their pre-eminence then an impression remains that the Sky Blues were and are the best side in the league this season.  And therefore become worthy champions. I do however, register a recurring temptation to baulk at this ‘worthy’ – all things Tevez and/or appalling-bucketloads-of-cash-related considered. United have themselves flickered and stuttered but rarely seemed like a bona fide United side, somehow. Scampering fullbacks have been too rash; injured centre-backs have been too immobile or (perhaps crucially in the case of Vidic?) rendered unavailable. Rooney’s contribution – though often decisive – has lacked the fluency and consistency of Happy Day Rooneydom. In fact, despite his haul of goals, there have been days where he’s been awful; which worries me.

There is an argument that the return of Scholes in some way reflects cultural problems as well as inadequacies in the engine room itself. Certainly United have been surprisingly over-run in midfield – particularly and memorably in Europe – but the Ginger Genius, let’s be clear, has been good enough to play in this team, this year, again. Evra’s lack of will or ability to defend and Carrick’s lack of personality have been more significant than Scholes’s superannuation, in my view. Bottom line, United’s defence has been decidedly average for most of the season, making it almost unreal they remained title contenders until the 94th minute of the last match. Ferguson will know all this – love him or hate him, you have to credit him – it took all his nous to get them this close. He will not, however accept another season of cobbling things together.

Mancini, likewise and maybe conversely, once recovered from his public melt-down today, may gather in some credit before writing another wish-list. (Please may I have… the best fullback in the world/the best wide player etc etc.) He has done outstandingly to keep this disparate and sometimes disunited City Show on the road, if not on the rails. He has – more obviously than in the red half? -that potentially explosive mixture of arrogance and greed as well as the extraordinary but ubiquitous sensitivity-bypass in the camp to contend with… or manage. He has players taking their greed out onto the pitch – even brilliant players such as Aguerro. Not that he’s the main problem; in fact his durability as well as his skill have made him a genuine Premiership star. Elsewhere lie the difficult ones.

But critically Mancini has Kompany and Toure and Hart. If he can keep them – I imagine only Toure to be of the perenially mercenary persuasion? – the force may again be Blue. Especially if one or two non-flamboyant good sorts of an elite playing capability are parachuted in for the next campaign. It may be crass to compare ‘like for like’ across teams but a broad comparison with United equivalents to the City backbone might be instructive here – in particular, perhaps, because the spine of Ferguson’s side is not that readily identifiable. Are we talking De Gea/Ferdinand/Scholes? Or who? The flawed Vidic might have been the stopper but who he(?) the driving midfield powerhouse for the Reds? The near National Treasure-status Scholes gave United a pulse, a massing point, but City had the gear-change, the muscle and the touch when they needed it; and they had it more often.

The Premiership Finale, I now have seen, was uber-epic in terms of excitement and drama. Vitally so. It may have enthused us as well as tormenting us in its steely, silvery clasp. It was flawlessly, appropriately but in the Northern colloquial mental. It was hallucinogenic hurly-burly. Earlier, for me, was in fact more beautiful and more real.

Climate Change?

It’s a Brit obsession we know. Because of its vagaries and its capacity to influence the otherwise pristine railways of certainty rushing magnificently towards the alleged termini of our lives. The weather. That shiny-glorious or insidiously SAD stuff that either comforts, clubs or inspires us through the winter/spring abstraction.

I say abstraction rather than say… interface because – and there’s many a post on this alone, right? – the notion of an allotted period of recognisably uniform(ish) weather gathering itself under a convenient heading juxtaposed against a different other seems suddenly rather quaint; that’s if we can use that term of a phenomenon likely reflecting the uncoupling of our worldly assumptions about water, light and …that other one? Oh yeh, CO2 (poisonous gas) concentrations.

Consequently I am bound, surely, by any understanding of what is significant, right and truly important, to write a coruscating analysis of our short-termist lunacy regarding the denudation of our magisterial globe; unless I am some kind of heartless, distracted moron? (Which I am. Sozz.) Because though I really may subject both of you sagacious readers to a treatise around and about THAT REALLY PRETTY HEAVYSTUFF again pretty soon, for now, I’m onnabout footie.

Footie it seems mysteriously de-wintered from that traditional slog through unaccommodating furrows of ankle-deep shite, wherein the undead bodies of Dave MacKay/Alan Ball/Billy Bremner as surreal examples still stand, frozen in that mix of worryingly heavy oil and chip-standing standard gravy. Viewed from that rose-tinted but manure-rich era when Menweremen and Wimminweremen, the current Premiership Stars enjoy Summer Football, do they not? In terms of the playing conditions as well as remuneration etc etc. your Silvas and your Balotellis are practically surfing a wave of Mablethorpesque good fortune. Immaculate clobber (changed at halftime,) green baize quality surfaces (finessed at half-time by squadrons of steel fork and spirit level-wielding groundstaffpersons) and crucially no wintergreen/Fiery Jack to destroy the accidentally contacted eye or scrotum. Eeeeeh. Sporting luxury.

Whether it be through Climate Change or TV-funded/stadia-improving ‘moving forward with the times’, suddenly – yes!! This week! – we have entered a summery universe wherein out there, beyond the twinkling daffs, some exhausting clamour for the Premiership line awaits. A red-blue confrontation; with knobs on; demanding/inviting a media colour-blindness to all but the Manchester truths. United – when lowest common denominated? – representing old school attackattackattackness compromised by some mediocrity and City some flashy new but often brilliant interloper into a previously unassailable 4-club scenario.

The situation has now arisen whereby the psyche of individuals – most obviously the two managers but also I suggest the clubs themselves as beings clad with individuals – is to be publically tested in an appropriately(?) HD manner. The recent and now more open spat between various figureheads marks a kicking on or in to a sharper phase; one more full of elbows/spat asides/toxicity which – as we may have seen with another north-west enmity – may not be good. Things have been ramped up, challenges accepted, more in resignation to some inevitable looming bitterness I fear than in response to some sporty, cheek-tugging mischief. The contenders have swung back to their corners and will indeed come out fighting.

Things do develop of course. It may have been inevitable that City’s rise to parity in terms of playing staff enables a ‘proper’ rivalry; whatever that means. (I hope it doesn’t mean anything like the poison between Utd and Liverpool, though this seems entirely possible.) But the relationship with the Scousers is different because Liverpool remain irrelevant to the central challenge. On derby days the Pool are a snarling relevance but ordinarily, sadly, they are simply uncompetitive in respect of the title – a real cause for concern given the acceptance that this is manifestly not a strong United side. City however, can and are competing, legitimately and consistently and on merit. Which makes for a fascinating new breed of psycho-joust.

The football may become almost incidental should the verbals transgress that line from Premier League Wind-up to raw offence; and the industry to which I am contributing now will no doubt participate fully in the ensuing spitefest. Forgive us if ye can, for innocent or not, figuring the moods and meanings of the various soundbites forthcoming will be undeniably tempting. So what gives? Firstly, with the clubs themselves.

Look United were certainly strengthened in terms of (any?) perceived moral ascendency by the latest, predictably saddening lurch in the Tevez saga. Even City fans can’t claim that the reappearance of the unattractive Argentinian because they suddenly might need him has warmed the hearts of neutrals. Ferguson is almost certainly right that would Tevez have tried that routine at United – maybe, in a sense, he did? – he would never have played for him again. In other words, the desperation of Mancini in accepting Tevez back trumps (IMHO) foulsmellingly United’s, as described by Viera, for going back doe-eyed to Scholes. (I also concur fairly wholeheartedly with Fergie’s assessment of Scholes as arguably the best Premiership midfielder for the last twenty years, so no great shame in going back for more of that controllingly ageless ginger ease.) 1, perhaps 2 nil to United.?

However City began the season in such a prolific and even stylish fashion, with David Silva the darling of most informed opinion, that any claim United may have to being the key and perennial breath of attacking fresh air is compromised. With Yaya Toure gallivanting, Balotelli coolly extraordinary and Aguerro oozing predatory class, the sky blues were outplaying the entire division for some time. Only Tottenham played with as much swash and buckle and they lacked the physical presence of Kompany and Toure Y in particular. So City deserved to be top. (Draw.)

The two gaffers could hardly be more dissimilar. Ferguson’s passionately, simultaneously distracted-but-focused mastication, pitchside, somehow being in its brittle, spearminty aggression a symbol of his legendary drive. A hair-dryer of a sort, in its acceleratedly intense way. He really is The Boss; awesomely, perhaps brutally, always and without contradiction; from and with incontrovertible experience. SAF is a contradictory amalgam of father figure, football poet and bully; he remains unhomogenised, unsweetened and unbowed by the challenge of 24 hour exposure because he is tough, tough and football wise. His spirit is defiant and he has forged his career upon a kind of oppositionism – ie. thriving on the us-against-themness of competitive sport.

Mancini is something of a heart-throb, apparently. He looks dashing and to some degree image-conscious even whilst patrolling the touchline. (Or is that some faintly xenophobic slur?) He looks and is from a new generation of well-groomed Galactico-Managers headed by the Special One. Like Mourinho he is dapper and demanding and he may be spiritually tighter, more cautious then Fergie. There are plenty of stories suggesting Mancini is hugely driven and even fierce in his own, I imagine less hairdriery way. The question may be whether he is really tough or Designer Tough?

In a sentence I think the heart of this may be that Mancini has the better squad but Fergie the greater capacity to inspire. United have United players and City have Undeniable Stars. Given that motivation and levels of confidence under (huge) pressure will tell here, both managers have a massive job on. Mancini may be smouldering convincingly in the background – he really may. And he really may have a dressing-room intent upon his every word. Things have changed – the footballing climate has changed – because of what City have done in the last eighteen months. They now have a very powerful side; one ‘well capable’. I do wonder, however, if they are as one as the Red half of the city. And whether that may tell.

During his press conference the other day, SAF seemed jaunty and alive during the exchanges about Citystuff; not that he seemed ‘dead’ prior to that. It’s just that at the mention of City… and the title… and the challenge, the juices were visibly flowing. Because for Sir Alex, at times like these, they generally do.