[dropcap]M[/dropcap]anchester City saw their Premier League title hopes suffer a dent last night as the Etihad Stadium outfit slumped to a 2-1 defeat away to rivals Arsenal.
Theo Walcott’s opening goal came somewhat against the run of play, while a lapse in concentration allowed the Gunners to double their advantage at a critical time just before the interval.
The result leaves Manuel Pellegrini’s charges in third place at Christmas, four points adrift of Arsenal and six behind shock leaders Leicester City.
However, there is every reason to believe that the Citizens have the ability to win their third Premier League title in five years with some fine-tuning.
The summer slurping on Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling has certainly added quality to the side’s options in the final third, which also include critical duo Sergio Agüero and David Silva.
That said, it is two of the club’s leaders that will play the decisive role in whether City finish in top spot or as nearlymen.
Captain Vincent Kompany and midfield talisman Yaya Touré have been substantial figures in the club’s rise to prominence in recent years, and despite the arrival of a host of other big-name signings, remain City’s two most important players.
It is my contention that if Pellegrini can get the experienced duo fit and firing, his side will be champions come May.
For the Belgian defender it has been a frustrating couple of months, with debilitating injuries impacting on the amount of football Kompany has been able to play.
The former Anderlecht and Hamburg man has not featured for City since the 0-0 draw against Aston Villa last month, but examination of the team’s results when he has played this season highlights his importance.
Kompany has started eight Premier League games in 2015-16 for City, with the title hopefuls winning six, drawing two, not being beaten and conceding just one goal while the Belgian has been on the pitch.
After last night’s fixture, in the nine games that the City skipper has been absent, Pellegrini’s side have won just four, losing the other five and conceding 18 times.
Kompany was a maligned figure last season after dips in performance, but an early return to pre-season showed his commitment to get back to his best, while his showings on the pitch this term have been nothing short of imperious.
Nicolás Otamendi has been a stubborn if at-times ill-disciplined addition to the club’s defensive ranks and looks destined to be the Belgian’s centre-half partner in the long-term.
Martín Demichelis is certainly showing his age, while the inconsistent Eliaquim Mangala was culpable for Arsenal’s decisive second goal last night and always looks likely to make a mistake.
Moving forward, Touré has always been the fulcrum of City’s midfield in recent years when fit and available, but at 32 is changing as a player.
When he first arrived in England it was his lung-busting box-to-box runs, physical dominance and brutish determination that quickly propelled him into the Premier League’s best central midfielder.
Fast forward a couple of seasons and those physical attributes are not looking anywhere near as imposing, but Touré remains a lynchpin in the City ranks.
It was the Ivorian that got his side out of jail with a late winner against Swansea and he that inspired his side to a potential comeback against the Gunners last night.
However, given his ability, there has always been a question mark over whether he should be deployed in central midfield to boss the collisions or in an advanced role to add to the side’s attacking menace.
With Fernandinho growing in stature and other options to play alongside the Brazilian in the holding role, Touré looks like a much more dangerous proposition when given a licence to get forward.
When he was unshackled last night it was his vision and crisp passing that had City on the front foot, his runs off the ball that worried the Arsenal rearguard and his exquisite strike that got the visitors back in the game.
Although there are the obvious options of Silva or De Bruyne to play in the number ten role behind a lone striker, allowing Touré to operate there, or ensuring he gets further forward from a central midfield role, has City as a completely different proposition.
Pellegrini has a job on his hands to juggle the star names at his disposal, but getting the right role for Touré to influence affairs seems like one of his biggest challenges.
If he can unshackle the midfield veteran in the final third and get Kompany back fit and in the team’s defence, City will still be title favourites despite last night’s defeat.
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