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Premier League in Focus: Manchester City’s title chances rest on Toure’s broad shoulders


Manchester City's Ivorian midfielder Yaya Toure. Photo - AFP

A Yaya Toure free-kick away from Wembley Stadium, Simon Cowell and Cheryl Cole were hosting auditions for the next series of X Factor on Sunday. It would have been interesting to see, in the sanctuary of the dressing room, if Manuel Pellegrini was as stinging with his criticism of his Manchester City side, who fluffed their lines in the season dress rehearsal on the same day, as music mogul Cowell famously is with talentless contestants.

There is no questioning the pedigree of this Man City side assembled by the millions of Sheikh Mansour but last season's Premier League winners were found wanting in terms of appetite and desire against a sprightly Arsenal side they routinely overpower, particularly at the Etihad Stadium.

The 3-0 scoreline, if anything, flattered City and although staunch supporters will point to the fact that Vincent Kompany, Sergio Aguero, Bacary Sagna and Pablo Zabaleta were given the afternoon off, Arsenal are also yet to integrate their World Cup winning German trio back into the fold. The Premier League clash between the two sides at the Emirates Stadium on September 14 will provide a more realistic indicator as to whether the seven points that separated the two sides last season will grow or shorten.

At 5ftt 6in, Santi Cazorla is among the smallest players in the league but he is developing a reputation for performing on the big stage. The midfield schemer nervelessly converted the winning penalty in the FA Cup semifinal shootout win over Wigan Athletic and then sparked the stunning cup final comeback against Hull by curling in a sumptuous free-kick.   

He was at it again on Sunday, setting Arsenal on their way to Community Shield glory with a crisp left-foot finish. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, his teammate, once said the Arsenal players do not know which is Cazorla's favoured foot as he is so adept with both. Watch closely and you will see him take delivery set-pieces with pin-point accuracy with either of his dexterous feet.

Walter Cabellero, the City goalkeeper, and Pellegrini should both be aware of Cazorla's ability with both feet from their time together at Malaga, but knowing about it and then stopping him are two different things. Both were powerless to prevent the Spaniard from unerringly finding the bottom corner in the 21st minute.

Regulars at Arsenal think Cazorla will be marginalised by the arrival of Alexis Sanchez and the rejuvenated Mesut Ozil, and it is hard to see how Arsene Wenger will squeeze all three, plus Aaron Ramsey, into the same XI.

For all their diminutive midfield maestros and fleet-footed wide players, Arsenal could still do with a midfield powerhouse like Patrick Vieira. Abou Diaby looked his natural successor but he has been bedeviled by injury while passport issues famously saw Yaya Toure slip through Wenger's clutches in 2003. Toure appeared determined to get another stamp in his passport this summer, the Ivorian seemingly agitating for a move by using the flimsy argument of City apparently showing him a lack of respect by not presenting him with a birthday cake. He is paid more than £200,000 per week. Talk about having your cake and eating it.

Toure always has a sluggish and lethargic look about him, and he was well and truly outmaneuvered by Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Ramsey on Sunday, but he is a player for the big occasion and he be will back to his marauding best once three Premier League points are at stake.

There are few more impressive sights in the Premier League than Toure in full cry and, pound for pound, he is probably still the best player in the league. City's chances of retaining the title and fending off a renewed challenge from Chelsea are likely to rest on his broad shoulders. .

The writer is a freelance contributor based in the UK. All the views expressed in the article are solely those of the author and do not reflect those of Times of Oman

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