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 By Simon Curtis
Aug 10, 2014

Lethargic City have work to do

Manuel Pellegrini says his Manchester City side weren't at full strength after they lost the FA Community Shield to Arsenal

When the season starts with a host of people shouting things like Arsenal's 3-0 Community Shield win is "a victory for football," "City had players in the 1990s who cared more" and classically hilarious variations on the "City are a bunch of mercenaries," "They don't like it when we do the Poznan," "Samir Nasri deserves all the booing he's getting (what, by the way, has Nasri done to the Gunners' faithful to deserve such treatment other than make a simple transfer to try to gain some honours three years ago?)" themes, you wonder for a fraction of a second whether it was, after all, right to have spent the post-World Cup weeks pining for the start of the football season.

When Piers Morgan then gets in on the Nasri-baiting action via Twitter, actual real-time darkness can be felt closing in on us all.

So, whether we actually wanted it or not, 2014-15 is upon us, thrusting odd-looking new signings into the limelight, catching new supporters unaware as the folds haven't yet been flattened out of their replica tops and introducing us, beside other weird and wonderful things, to Arsenal's new kit, which appears to require players to be vacuum pumped into it by the same machine that puts sausages into their packets.

Luckily most of today's footballers follow a lifestyle that enables them to look like reasonably well-kept athletes, but all of this did not prevent one from wondering what the likes of bygone Gunners such as Peter Storey and Kevin Campbell might have looked like in similar attire. Sadly we will never know.

Man City's Premier League title defence is in danger of beginning with an under-prepared squad.

Whilst City's defence of Gael Clichy, Dedryck Boyata, Matija Nastasic and Aleksandar Kolarov stared at Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey doing their red and white frankfurter impersonations, Arsenal got on with playing as fluidly as their kit would allow.

That back line, makeshift in the extreme, might have been the most unbalanced thing to bestride a sun-drenched football pitch since Diana Ross kicked off the 1994 World Cup with a balletic toe poke wide of a spectacularly exploding goal. That Manuel Pellegrini later even managed the extremely unlikely feat of making his back four even worse, by adding Micah Richards in place of Kolarov, was worth the 93-minute watch in itself.

However, among the belly laughs at static defending and finger-pointing at ludicrous out-to-nobody clearances, a valid point came floating slowly to the surface for Manchester City: If this was only a semi-serious match, one that really means something is just seven days away and not a single minute's game time this preseason has yet been given to either of their planned central defenders, Vincent Kompany and the hitherto unsigned Eliaquim Mangala.

Whilst Clichy has spent the entire preseason playing on the wrong side at right-back -- and spectacularly unsuccessfully in Sunday's instance -- only Kolarov, on the opposite flank, has had a decent run of games in a position where he just might start the season in earnest.

With a solid start needed this year after last season's pantomime early away defeats at Cardiff and Villa, setting out for the North East to play Newcastle with a defence which will be playing their very first minutes together, either competitive or non-competitive, smacks of another medium-sized bout of ill-preparedness.

- Brewin: Three Points -- Arsenal vs. Man City

All in all, City began with just four players -- Nasri, Kolarov, Yaya Toure and Edin Dzeko -- who were part of the side put out when clinching the title against West Ham last May.

If Clichy was the main culprit at playing clearances straight to Kieran Gibbs (at least three times in the first half alone), Boyata looked his usual nervous self (his career sum total is six City appearances and no competitive game since last January, when he did an impersonation of a rabbit stuck in the headlights), Nastasic was wobbly and Kolarov was left to pound the left flank in search of the grazing Toure and the wobbly-legged Fernando.

The Brazilian was part eager runner and part accident-waiting-to-happen on his first senior outing for the club and ended with a booking and a slice of luck that he did not give away a penalty for a handball, which would also have seen him dismissed on his debut.

Further forward, Dzeko and Stevan Jovetic ran merrily into culs-de-sac and Jesus Navas only registered his presence on the pitch after 26 minutes, whereafter he saw plenty of the ball but continued to spoon it into the waiting arms of Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal.

By the time City, sort of chasing the game in an idiosyncratic kind of way, forced some late chances, Arsenal had all but lost interest. Shots cannoned back off legs, corners drifted in like falling balloons before one final snapshot of the game came in the dying seconds.

Slow-motion replays showed that it had been a combined "header" from Boyata and Richards, City's unlikely lads at the back, who had sent the ball apologetically wide of the post. It seemed somehow apt that it should end this way, but also a little disturbing that that was all City had to offer in the last friendly match before the big kickoff.

Simon Curtis

Euphoric miserable Northerner, glass both overflowing and half-empty, Simon Curtis writes for Down the Kippax Steps, which according to The Guardian is the "best City blog around," and the Manchester City programme. Follow him on Twitter @bifana_bifana.

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