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January is a big month for Roberto Mancini. After a Champions League campaign that disappointed beyond all expectation, the feeling within the corridors of power must be that the retention of the Premier League title is a necessity to continue the club's forward progression. Standing still is going backwards, and other such appropriate clichés.
To achieve this aim, significant improvements are needed. Last season, City were able to rely on a slump from their neighbours to effect a dramatic (if geographically short) alteration in the location of the Premier League title. United dropped points at Newcastle, Chelsea, Wigan and Manchester City between January and May, but this season they have already taken maximum points from these exact fixtures. It is not outrageous to suggest that Mancini's team must win 15 of their 17 remaining fixtures, such is the form of their closest rivals. Twelve points have been dropped in as many games, effecting a negative ten-point swing on United, and a shift in mood is required immediately.
With this in mind, this run must start against Arsenal on Sunday, a club that have haunted City in the Premier League era. In their fourteen away games at Highbury and the Emirates, City have drawn four and lost ten. They have conceded 24 and scored just five. When you consider that DaMarcus Beasley is the club's last scorer at the Emirates, the hoodoo becomes evident. For the first time this season, City go into a league game as second favourites.
Oddly for City, they look a little light on the ground - a ridiculous statement when you consider their financial resources. Their first team squad contains 23 outfield players, but Sunday marks the first occasion on which the Toure brothers will be unavailable, called up to African Cup of Nations duty, potentially until mid-February. And then there were 21.
Players currently injured at the club include Micah Richards, Sergio Aguero, Aleksander Kolarov, Jack Rodwell, Maicon and John Guidetti. Samir Nasri is suspended, and will not face his old club. And then there were fourteen.
It seems remarkable that we could be discussing City's lack of available options. This is a club that has spent over £520million on transfers in five years, and there can be only one person to blame for the current issues. This summer, Roberto Mancini spent £54million on five players (Jack Rodwell, Scott Sinclair, Matija Nastasic, Maicon and Javi Garcia). They have started just 27 Premier League games between them, and centre back Nastasic accounts for almost half of these. When experience and familiarity is needed, that is precisely the trait lacking in City's current back-up options.
Until now, the manager has been coy on transfers. Whilst typically the club would be linked with the cream of European football, suggestions they will sign Wesley Sneijder, Edinson Cavani, Daniele de Rossi and Luka Modric seem nothing but weak paper talk. In fact, the strongest City links thus far in January regard the possible departure of Joleon Lescott and Mario Balotelli. These are uncommon times indeed.
This is a month in which City need leaders, and Sunday is a match in which this requirement will be crucial. Unfortunately, they must instead effectively resort to searching for bodies. It would be a brave man to predict maximum points in a Yaya-less January, and a repeat of last year's heroics looks a distant prospect.
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