LONDON, ENGLAND - NOVEMBER 29: Sergio Aguero of Manchester City scores their first goal during the Carling Cup Quarter Final match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on November 29, 2011 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Reading into the game on the grand scheme of things it is difficult to take too much away given the number of changes both sides made. When the two sides meet in little over two weeks time the make-up of both will be vastly different. The game was at times anonymous (particularly during the first half) with neither side truly dominating over long periods and the expectation was the game would likely result in penalties. City certainly looked a better and more fluid side following the introduction of Sergio Aguero than they had up to that point, with plenty of debate as to whether this tactical or enforced. Arsenal certainly tested Costel Pantillimon more, but what has been City's hallmark for the most part this season has been their clinical nature and when they finally carved out a clear opportunity (tellingly in a game with so many fringe players fashioned by the three players on the pitch who have featured most this season) it was executed and sent City through to the semi-finals.
The FA Cup win (and Champions League qualification) last season of course ended the long trophy drought but in doing so helped foster the start of a winning mentality at the club. As a collective unit having now lifted a trophy the club has an expectation to it. No longer is a trophy or success something hoped for but something expected. Two years ago when City reached the semi-finals of the Carling Cup (and, in fairness, perhaps because of the hype surrounding it with having drawn United) it felt an achievement in itself, part of the progression of the club. This time at the same point it has been achieved with minimal fuss and City will go into the semi-finals (no matter who they draw) as confident as any of the remaining sides as being able to win the competition.
For all the quality showed in the goal, the work by Edin Dzeko in terms of creating the move shouldn't be underestimated. His play (particularly his work rate) was impressive throughout and hinted at a return to some of his early season form after cooling off of late. He, alongside Costel Pantillimon, were probably the pick of the players last night on an evening that highlighted the squad depth available to Roberto Mancini in that with both sides resting so many ‘first choice' players City were able to call upon a starting line-up that was older and more experienced.
Two players who featured last night - Nedum Onouha and Owen Hargreaves - made rare appearances having been sidelined for contrasting reasons (favour and fitness) but their appearances are of interest. In Hargeaves's case, he returned after being out with a minor muscular injury (to be expected) and, like his previous appearance in the Carling Cup, suggested promise for the long term. The difficulty he may face moving forward though is in getting enough consistent minutes to aid a fully-fledged return. With Onouha, his performance I thought was a reminder of the qualities he possesses but is it enough to resurrect a career at the club that looked over with him being left out of the summer tour and losing his squad number. The frustration is that Onouha has the attributes to challenge for a starting position but has never - the latter half of Mark Hughes's first season aside - had a consistent run in the side, something that at this point looks further away than ever.
Ahead of the game, Mancini bemoaned the build up of fixtures that City face, particularly the relentless nature in December and January. This viewpoint is unlikely to garner much sympathy but does he have a point? Looking at the fixtures in these two months shows that City play six fixtures in 23 days in December and seven matches (eight if progression from the 3rd round of the FA Cup is achieved) in 30 days throughout January now there will be a two-legged Carling Cup semi-final to contest. This will be no easy task in managing but is the reason why Mancini has brought in quality cover across the squad. With ambitions of contesting for competitions on all fronts it is something to be navigated and these two months either side of the New Year will of course shape the position of strength City find themselves in as they head into the crucial stage of the 2011/12 season.