Arsenal and Manchester City set for Beijing grudge match
For Arsenal and Man City fans, all eyes are on the 2008 Olympic stadium for today's culture clash
EDITOR'S NOTE, 15.10: First half goals from established first-teamers Pablo Zabaleta and Yaya Toure helped Manchester City to a 2-0 win over Arsenal in torrential rain at the Olympic stadium in Beijing.
IT'S BEING billed as a pre-season friendly but there's likely to be little love lost when Arsenal and Manchester City clash in Beijing's Bird's Nest stadium today. The match kicks off at 1pm UK time in what the China Daily newspaper describes as a "much anticipated" encounter with both sides competing for the Winoly Cup.
In reality, however, neither side will have the silverware in mind when they run out into the stadium that hosted the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Pride is at stake, with Arsenal in particular desperate to beat a club they regard as representative of everything that is wrong with modern football.
"I don't want to go into excuses," said Arsene Wenger in an interview last week when asked about Arsenal's lack of trophies in recent years, "but you want a business to be run properly and I believe that to lose £150 million a year, you don't deserve a lot of credit to win a competition."
The Arsenal manager added that Uefa's financial fair play rules couldn't come soon enough and will benefit a club like the Gunners while causing huge problems for those such as City who have made no attempt in recent seasons to balance the books.
The comments won't have gone well with City but then Wenger doesn't care. Furious with the Sky Blues for the manner in which they lured Samir Nasri from the Emirates last summer, he is now facing the prospect of losing another key player to City – Robin van Persie.
Although the Dutchman's future remains uncertain, his agent was allegedly spotted hobnobbing with City officials earlier in the year, leading to speculation that the Premier League champions were tapping up Van Persie. Earlier this month The Sun reported that Arsenal were considering making an official complaint to the Football Association.
Manchester City haven't responded to Wenger's attacks, other than to continue to lavish praise on Van Persie in the hope the Dutchman will choose the Etihad over Manchester United and Juventus, the other two clubs on his trail. Asked on Thursday for his opinion of Van Persie, City boss Roberto Mancini replied: "Van Persie is a fantastic player but it is difficult to talk about him because he is an Arsenal player."
Mancini then batted away questions concerning the possible transfer of Van Persie to City, saying this was a matter for the club's football administrator, Brian Marwood. "Speak to the man in charge," said Mancini. "I am not in charge of this. We have a man [Marwood] who works for this and we hope that they can do a good job."
Van Persie will play no part in today's clash at the Bird's Nest, and nor will Arsenal's new signings of Lukas Podolski and Olivier Giroud. However England stars Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain will feature, with the latter having a sly dig at City on the eve of the clash.
Asked for his prediction by local reporters, Oxlade-Chamberlain referred to the fact that City have a squad containing three former Arsenal players in Nasri, Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy. "The match against Manchester City will be very exciting. We don't know about them, but they know a lot about us, so it'll be a hard game."