For Manchester City, this weekend's game at The Emirates could be a defining moment in the title race. Despite roaring into a formidable lead earlier in the season, City's engine has spluttered in recent weeks, winning only 2 of their last Premier League away games, leaving them 5 points behind Fergie's men. Arsenal on the other hand have found a rhythm and belief that was almost entirely absent from their performances in the first half of the season, and despite a disappointing defeat against QPR last week, they will go into this match confident that they can get a result, which could see City falling 8 points behind United, surely an insurmountable gap at this stage of the season.
It's fair to say that Manchester City have become the team everyone in the league loves to hate. They have epitomised everything that's wrong with modern football this season: exorbitant wages, players who squabble on the pitch, behave like morons off it, not to mention the fiasco surrounding Carlos Tevez throwing his toys out of the pram in Munich, only to be reintroduced to the squad because he was sorry and promised never to do it again, ever. Watching developments at the Etihad this season has been at times akin to watching a Mexican soap opera: Mario Ballotelli is the pantomime villain, Roberto Mancini the greasy employer and Sheikh Mansour the evil oil baron pulling all the strings. If they did win the league, it would be a nightmare. For the good of the game, United must pip their rivals to the post.
However, we Arsenal fans began hating City long before it was cool. They have single-handedly changed Arsenal into a selling club, employing a ruthless transfer policy that has seen Emmanuel Adebayor, Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri swap the Emirates for the Etihad. Arguably Arsenal had the last laugh with Adebayor, given City have been paying from £200,000 a week to play for rival teams for the past two seasons, but the acrimonious nature of Nasri and Clichy's departure last summer, coupled with the calamitous way in which Arsene Wenger saw fit replace them on the final day of the transfer window has been a real cause for consternation in North London. Sure, Clichy had his problems at Arsenal, the complete absence of any competition whatsoever at left back instilling his play with more than a degree of complacency. However, Kieran Gibbs is the perennial "one for the future", while Andre Santos still needs to win over the Arsenal fans. As for Nasri, though he did struggle to settle at first, now he seems to be finding some sort of understanding with Yaya Toure and David Silva, seemingly just in time to sharpen his teeth and bite the hand that used to feed him.
What's really infuriating about City though, what above all else gets under our skin, is that they have behaved in exactly the way Arsenal should be behaving. Arsene Wenger's reluctance to splash the cash in the transfer market has seen them miss out on several big name targets. Last summer we were linked with Juan Mata, whose eventual move to Chelsea felt like the inevitable climax of a bad joke. A few seasons back we were linked with Liverpool's Pepe Reina and Xabi Alonso who at the time would surely have turned Arsenal into a side capable of mounting a worthy title challenge, but nothing came of it. Ah, the frustration of being an Arsenal fan. I'm already gearing up to see Lukas Podolski wearing a Tottenham shirt on the opening day of next season.
Simply put, for Arsenal fans this weekend isn't about the title race. It's not about the last champions league spot. It's about revenge. It's about showing Nasri and Clichy that we don't need them anymore. It's the game for Andre Santos to kick into gear and prove his worth. It's the game for Theo Walcott to prove everyone in the crowd that his frustrating past form is gone for good. It's the game for showing that Arsenal's philosophy triumphs over City's, and it's the game for Robin Van Persie to blast the ball so hard into Joe Hart's goal that he wouldn't dare get in the way of it. This may be another trophyless season for Arsenal, but if City's cabinet finishes empty too, then the pill will be far easier to swallow.
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