London – Roberto Mancini insists Manchester City are still firmly in the title race after the champions closed the gap on leaders Manchester United to seven points with a crucial 2-0 win at Arsenal.
Mancini's side couldn't afford to leave north London empty-handed on Sunday after United moved 10 points clear with a 2-1 victory over Liverpool earlier in the day.
And they took the points, ending a wait of nearly 38 years for a league win at Arsenal in the process, thanks to first half goals from James Milner and Edin Dzeko after Gunners defender Laurent Koscielny was sent off for a professional foul on Dzeko, who missed the resulting penalty.
City still have a significant amount of work to do to overhaul United, but boss Mancini believes the memory of last season's dramatic title triumph will convince his players they can catch their bitter rivals.
When City lost at Arsenal in April last year their title hopes looked in tatters as they trailed United by eight points with just six games remaining.
But they reeled in United and beat QPR with two stoppage-time goals on the final day of the season to clinch the title.
Faced with a similar deficit but this time with nearly half the season still to play, Mancini sees no reason to panic, especially since his team have won five of their last six league games.
“United are really strong and in this moment they are playing very well, but the season is long. It is important for us to be close to them at the end,” Mancini said.
“We had some pressure (to win at Arsenal), but seven, eight or nine points doesn't change much.
“It is difficult to emulate last season but sometimes it can happen.
“I don't think we deserve to be seven points behind, but we are there and we need to play well. We have to keep strong if we want to have another chance.”
Mancini's hopes of catching United would be significantly improved if the club win their appeal against captain Vincent Kompany's red card.
Kompany was dismissed in the 75th minute for a foul on Jack Wilshere, but Mancini is certain referee Mike Dean got it wrong as replays showed he won the ball.
While City still harbour hopes of a successful end to the season, Arsenal are facing a stressful struggle just to finish in the top four.
Arsene Wenger's team are six points behind fourth placed Tottenham in the race to qualify for the Champions League and have a tricky trip to Chelsea next weekend after a midweek FA Cup replay against Swansea.
With Mikel Arteta facing three weeks on the sidelines with a calf strain and Koscielny now suspended, Wenger's players are in for a stern examination of their character.
Yet Wenger refused to criticise Dean for sending off Koscielny and instead admitted he was frustrated with the way his players started such an important match.
“It (the red card) is not really important, you have to deal with the decision. I heard it was a penalty. Was it a red card? I don't know,” he said.
“We started too timid and didn't have enough confidence or authority. When you play at home in a game like that you have to dicatate it and we didn't, especially defensively.
“It is frustrating because after that the team showed great heart and gave everything.”
Wenger believes the negativity shown by many Arsenal fans after eight years without a trophy makes his already-nervous players even more anxious.
“We are a bit too nervous to play in a serene way at home. I don't know if it is linked with that (the crowd) but it doesn't help,” Wenger said.
Although Arsenal are clearly struggling at present, they finished third from an equally unpromising position last season.
“We are in there of course and we have to fight until the end of the season,” Wenger added. – Sapa-AFP