Mancini denies Balotelli row as City drop points
MANCHESTER - Agence France-Presse
Arsenal's German defender Per Mertesacker (L) vies with Manchester City's Italian striker Mario Balotelli (R) during the English Premier League football match between Manchester City and Arsenal at The Etihad stadium in Manchester, north-west England on September 23, 2012. AFP photoRoberto Mancini played down talk of another altercation with his volatile Italian forward Mario Balotelli as Manchester City's frustrating start to their Premier League title defence continued with a 1-1 home draw against Arsenal.
Laurent Koscielny scored a late equaliser for Arsene Wenger's team at Eastlands on Sunday.
After the final whistle, Balotelli was pushed down the tunnel by City manager Mancini after shouting in his direction as he left the field -- presumably discussing why he'd played just the final six minutes of the game.
"I don't know what happened, I don't know if he asked me something, but it's not important," said Italian boss Mancini, understandably concentrating more on the loss of two points. "Mario probably thinks it was important. Tomorrow I will ask him, next time I see him." Mancini had dealt with similar claims of a rift last week in which a report suggested he was unhappy with his star player's habit of smoking.
The City manager was also said to be unimpressed by allegations Balotelli had been spotted on a night out last Sunday, 48 hours before the Champions League defeat at Real Madrid -- a game for which the 24 million striker did not even manage a place on the substitutes' bench.
Balotelli has only played 175 minutes of football for City this season, spread over four games, and the Italian can now expect a prominent role in his team's League Cup third round tie at home to Aston Villa on Tuesday.
The manner in which Balotelli responds will be keenly watched although Mancini insisted before the weekend that "my patience is endless" when it comes to dealing with the temperamental forward.
Meanwhile Mancini was more concerned about City's failure to hold onto a lead secured by Joleon Lescott's first half set-piece header. Not only have City now failed to keep a clean sheet in their opening seven games but have thrown away the lead in three of those games already this term, although they have yet to end a game defeated apart from the Champions League trip to Real Madrid.
"We have this problem, we don't close the game and after that it's clear we don't take our chances," said Mancini. "We had the game under control, only for the last 10 or 15 minutes, I don't know why. We were too deep. The point is that we need to close the game when we have the chance to score. "I am frustrated but also the players are frustrated because if you want to win, clean sheets are important." There was little doubt that Arsenal manager Wenger, whose side host Coventry in the League Cup on Wednesday, could take far greater satisfaction from a performance that maintained the Gunners' unbeaten start to the season.
After a much-publicised barren spell of seven years without a major trophy, the veteran French manager said Sunday's gutsy display augured well for the remainder of the campaign.
"It's frustrating because we had room to do more," said Wenger. "We had early chances, late chances, I think of the one from Gervinho from the edge of the box. But, overall, I hope the game will reinforce our belief and our confidence and re-assure us about our potential in this league." Wenger could take additional pride in the performance of Koscielny, who only stepped into the starting line-up at late notice after Thomas Vermaelen succumbed to illness.
"Thomas has 'flu so we left him at home," said the Arsenal manager. "I believe Laurent Koscielny had a great game and stepped in very well. For me, we have three classy centre-backs and it's a very difficult choice now.
"Koscielny, (Per) Mertesacker, Vermaelen -- no matter who is left out can feel it is not right. So we will take them and choose a little bit considering the strikers we are playing against."