LONDON, ENGLAND - APRIL 08: Mario Balotelli of Man City clashes with Bacary Sagna of Arsenal during the Barclays Premier League match between Arsenal and Manchester City at Emirates Stadium on April 8, 2012 in London, England. (Photo by Michael Regan/Getty Images)
Don't be fooled into thinking Mikel Arteta's goal to win the game for Arsenal was the blow that floored a reeling Manchester City. With the minutes ticking down on the game City's title aspirations were already as good as gone; Arteta merely added the exclamation mark on their slide from contention. And what a slide it has been: in the space of just five games City's (admittedly slender) two point lead has evaporated as United have blown by to establish a seemingly unassailable eight point lead.
It was performance that lacked so much. With United again winning earlier in the day, City went into the game in 'must win' mode (although you could argue victory was the requisite regardless) but it was a performance not only bereft of energy and substance but, crucially, bereft of ideas and energy. There was a failure to shift the cloud that has hung over recent (primarily away from home) performances and the second half saw Arsenal taking a greater degree of control of the game with City showing little inclination for change, finding the space to create that City couldn't before Arteta pounced on Pizarro's errant touch to give Arsenal a deserved win.
Top sides have a habit of peaking at the crucial stages of seasons. Unfortunately City have done precisely the opposite and the focus inevitably fell upon Roberto Mancini post-game as the search for culpability began in earnest. In many ways Mancini has a huge six games ahead of him. There is no reason to believe that a managerial change is even being considered but there have been suggestions that the Italian does have difficulty rousing top players. It is conceivable that with the title all but gone City could go into freefall and he now has a big challenge ahead of him to lift sagging morale. If he can't, he may pay the ultimate price.
City completed just 223 of 297 (75%) of their passes and just 60 in the final third - season lows of course and indicative of their lack of ability to retain any sort of possession. In attack, the pairing of Sergio Aguero and Mario Balotelli completed only 18 passes and had 69 touches between them; also being dispossessed nine of the 20 times City lost the ball. Their six shots was also their lowest number of the season and they failed to register a single shot on target (three blocked and three off target).
Mario, Mario, Mario. In a season of headling grabbing incident this may have been the biggest of all. Lucky to still be on the field, he finally saw red when he was handed a second yellow card for a(nother) late challenge which led to more questions after the game. Mancini provided plenty of answers, hinting that he could now have played his final game for the club. Balotelli gets plenty of attention and criticism; some justified, some not but the danger you now have with him at the club is that he has possibly travelled a road too far - and the reaction of certain players following his sending was very noticeable. He could well have a Eureka moment at some point over the summer but even if he did suddenly morph into James Milner in terms of possibility is the focus on him so great and so much of a distracting force that the positives he brings are far outweighed?