LONDON – Roberto Mancini has challenged his Manchester City stars to end the club’s woeful run at Arsenal as the Premier League champions fight to hold onto their title.
Mancini’s side heads to North London knowing it will be 10 points behind leader Manchester United by the time they kick off at Emirates Stadium on Sunday if its bitter rival defeats Liverpool in the day’s early match.
That would be an almost insurmountable gap even for a team of City’s class but, if history is anything to go by, there is every chance Mancini’s men will be in exactly that position by full time.
City has not won at Arsenal in the league for 37 years and was beaten 1-0 there in its last visit in April.
But Mancini is convinced City, which has looked some way short of its best for much of the season, can rewrite the history books with a rare victory on Arsenal turf.
“To play against Arsenal in London is very difficult because they play very, very well,” Mancini said.
“There have been a lot of years we didn’t win there. But we changed many things last year and it is a time now to change this situation.”
City’s sputtering performances this term have raised questions about Mancini’s future and the Italian is certain to face more criticism if his team flops this weekend.
There has undoubtedly been a lack of killer instinct from City, which have failed to win any of its meetings with United, Arsenal and Chelsea this season.
Yet Mancini retains faith that his expensively assembled squad has enough quality and spirit to overhaul United.
“Seven points is too much for me in this moment because I don’t think we deserve to be seven points behind,” Mancini said.
“But the season is long and very difficult. We have another 17 games. I think we can recover these points.”
City will have to end its Arsenal jinx with less backing than usual from its supporters after the club took up only two thirds of its allocation for the match.
Seats priced at £62 each did not sell well and City returned 912 tickets to Arsenal, sparking complaints about the cost of watching Premier League action.
“We are disappointed for this because we need our fans away,” Mancini added.
“We have fantastic fans and we have fantastic support from them. We are sorry for this.”
While City has little margin for error on Sunday, Arsenal is also desperate for three points as it looks to improve its prospects of finishing in the top four.
Another frustrating campaign for Gunners boss Arsene Wenger will be salvaged as long as the team meets his principal aim of qualifying for the Champions League.
To do that they will have to make up a four-point gap to fourth-place Chelsea, who they face in a crucial clash at Stamford Bridge next weekend.
With an F.A. Cup replay against Swansea before that, and league games against West Ham and Liverpool to come this month, Wenger admits January could define his side’s season.
“We know it is a vital period for us,” he said. “We are on a positive run, but we still lack a bit of confidence in some situations. I feel our team will be very dangerous if we have full confidence.
“We are not far from it, but we need another positive result in a big game to be completely confident and believe in our ability to come back.”
Mancini will have to do without Argentine striker Sergio Aguero as he recovers from a hamstring injury, while former Gunners midfielder Samir Nasri is suspended and Yaya and Kolo Toure are on Africa Cup of Nations duty with Cote d’Ivoire.