MANCHESTER, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 18: David Silva of Manchester City scores the opening goal during the Barclays Premier League match between Manchester City and Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium on December 18, 2011 in Manchester, England. (Photo by Alex Livesey/Getty Images)
In terms of their points value all wins are equal. Some wins, however, have a greater value attached to them and yesterdays 1-0 defeat of Arsenal carried that significance. Coming off the defeat at Chelsea the previous Monday - which of course ended City's unbeaten run to the season (and came so soon after Champions League elimination) - defeat to Arsenal would, whilst certainly not a crisis, would have created doubts within the squad that in many ways is still adjusting to life at the summit of the Premier League. So victory, and the manner in which it was achieved had a greater importance than the mere three points earned that saw City return to the top of the Premier League and leaves City in a good position heading into the hectic Christmas and New Year period.
The win was achieved on the eve of Roberto Mancini's two-year anniversary in charge at the club and whilst he has undoubtedly been aided by the riches afforded to him, the Italian can look back on his time so far with a great deal of satisfaction. It is clear now that this is his squad, having brought in key players and shipped those (either permanently or on loan) he saw as as being malcontent or a detriment to what he was instilling. There was a good piece from Jack Pitt-Brooke in Saturday's Independent (well worth a read)in which he looked back upon Mancini's tenure, in particular the progression and evolution to the side we now see before us. No longer is there apprehension resulting in a cautious approach, but a trust and freedom bestowed on the players which has resulted in the performances being witnessed.
There was plenty of style about City's performance (and that of Arsenal's too in what was a compelling game of football) but equally evident was that victory was achieved with a degree of substance. Questions would no doubt have been thrown from angles had City lost the game, particularly if the manner of the performance was questionable. But, amongst the silk there is a definite steel. Not just in terms of the obvious candidates such as Vincent Kompany, Pablo Zabaleta and Micah Richards, but also the more flair players: David Silva and Sergio Aguero for example, and Aguero's performance was particularly impressive. A little lost was the fact that it was his first full ninety-minutes in the Premier League and as well as the flashes and touches of skill was a tenacity and bite to his play. The lazy assumption to make is that City are a collection of disparate individuals, yet the reality is that this is a side very much pulling in the right direction.
The aspect that most impressed Roberto Mancini? It surely has to be the clean sheet. City's season to date has been typified with convincing wins, hitting the net with regularity as they have racked up 50 goals. One stat that was telling of late was City's failure to keep a clean sheet over the past eight Premier League games. This may, or may not have been the reason for the restoration of Kolo Toure (a move that saw Vincent Kompany switch to the left hand side) to the starting line-up but it was a move that paid dividends as City shut out the in-form Robin van Persie. The attack has served City well so far but over the remainder of the season the defence will surely play a part. There has been some interesting numbers around the value (in terms of points) in comparing clean sheets to goals and yesterday was a platform to build upon.
The victory was City's eighth in succession (maintaining their 100% record) and has seen them score 25 goals and concede just four in the process. Dating back to the start of the 2010/11 season, City have posted a record of W21 D4 L2 and it is home form that is the bedrock that title wins are built upon. Whilst City have played all the top six bar Arsenal away from home, they will host United, Tottenham, Chelsea and Liverpool at The Etihad Stadium - games which will go a long way in shaping City's title fortunes.