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Is a title challenge possible for Man Utd?

Manchester United
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Arsene Wenger's hidden gem

Arsenal
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Desire for glory sees City progress

Just as 1966 is the standout year in any analysis of the England team, 1976 plays a pivotal part in Manchester City's history. But, increasingly, not for the right reasons. The world's richest club have gone three decades since they last won major silverware and while their wealth is a comparatively new phenomenon, the mockery that their lack of success has brought is not. Thirty-four years of hurt is an issue.

• Manchester City 3-0 Arsenal
• Semi-final draw

In the circumstances, qualification for the last four of the Carling Cup, which drew a matter-of-fact reaction elsewhere in Manchester 24 hours beforehand and a sense of disdain from the Arsenal manager on Wednesday night, brought a sense of euphoria, albeit before City discovered their first semi-final in this competition for 29 years will be against United.

But validation for Mark Hughes and his regime can only come through two methods: winning a trophy or finishing in the top four. A drawing habit has rendered the latter more unlikely. So this mattered far more to one club than the other. As City had already beaten Arsenal's first team 4-2, it may seem a pyrrhic victory to defeat the reserves.

Instead the manner of it meant that City's two finest results of the season have come against the Gunners. "It was important today we made a statement," said Hughes. "That's the way we need to play. We need to be in a domestic semi-final. We have treated the competition with the respect it deserves."

His counterpart, Arsene Wenger, drew a comparison between the two stances towards the tournament. "They have played their full side and we didn't; that's the difference. We play in the Champions League; they don't. To play in the final of the Champions League or the semi-final is ten times more difficult than winning the Carling Cup. We have not won a trophy since 2005 but I do not consider if you win the Carling Cup you parade around say: 'We have won a trophy'."

City were content to ignore that implied criticism, to concentrate on a rare triumph and to savour three terrific goals. Carlos Tevez had opened his City account in the Carling Cup - one indication of its importance to Hughes; another is that Joleon Lescott debuted for the club in their second-round tie at Crystal Palace - and his glorious opener was followed by a stellar strike from Shaun Wright-Phillips and a crisp finish from Vladimir Weiss.

The Argentine's was just his fifth goal for City. One of the criticisms of Tevez is one that used to be levelled at his manager: he is a scorer of great goals, but not a great goalscorer. This was, at the least, a very good goal.

As with much Tevez does, inspiration came from the perspiration. He hassled Tomas Rosicky to win the ball, collected Craig Bellamy's pass and scooted inside Emmanuel Eboue and Alex Song before thumping a shot in off the underside of the bar.

Wright-Phillips' finish was still more emphatic, the winger accelerating before hammering a shot in from outside the penalty area. He was outstanding, running fearlessly at the Arsenal defence. The typically spiky Bellamy adopted the same approach and provided the third goal, surging between two defenders before supplying Weiss.

Speed allied to a forceful finish, it was City at their best. Arsenal had a neat passing game, but this was precision against pace and power. Wenger's preference for the technical over the physical has long been apparent. Hughes favours the blend of the two that he displayed in his own playing days.

While Arsenal amassed six bookings, the more aggressive attitude was provided by the costlier players. "I do not want to speak about money because there is no equilibrium there," Wenger added.

It does account for much. There are those who think he errs in his reluctance to use his established players for such ties. Perhaps he does, but Wenger explained: "You cannot say we develop players like [Jack] Wilshere, [Fran] Merida and [Aaron] Ramsey and then never give them the game."

His policy is set in stone. His record permits it. The Emirates Stadium is financed in part by his frugality in the transfer market. And that, in turn, is a consequence of his youth system.

The latest crop to emerge from the production line looked slight and slender when dwarfed by such imposing physical specimens as Micah Richards. If Wenger bristles at suggestions that Sunday's defeat to Chelsea was men against boys, a glimpse at the two teams' respective birth certificates should confirm this was just that. And this Arsenal side are far too young to remember Dennis Tueart, or to recognise his role in City's past.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Craig Bellamy - Just shades it from the equally impressive Wright-Phillips. Bellamy perhaps should have scored in the first half, steering a shot narrowly wide, but did superbly to set up Weiss for his goal. It is instructive that the Welshman, who rarely plays three games in a week, was left out against Hull on Saturday to permit him to play tonight.

MANCHESTER CITY VERDICT: After an even first half, City were terrific after the break. Excellent going forward, their defence should receive a rather more thorough examination when Chelsea visit Eastlands on Saturday. Against Arsenal, they appeared unconvincing at times.

ARSENAL VERDICT: Much of the passing was typically accurate but, though Fran Merida hit the bar in added time, Wenger's junior players did not find the finishing touch that has eluded the first team in the last couple of weeks.

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