London, April 9
With Manchester City’s faint title hopes fading further, manager Roberto Mancini finally appears to have lost patience with Mario Balotelli after the petulant striker was sent off in 1-0 loss at Arsenal on Sunday.
The City manager has indulged Balotelli despite various indiscretions on and off the pitch during two troublesome seasons, but he finally conceded that offloading the flawed but talented player might be the only option after the defeat at Emirates Stadium.
Mancini even urged the English Football Association to retrospectively sanction Balotelli for a dangerous-looking, knee-high tackle on Alex Song that went unpunished in the 10th minute.
The Italy international saw red in the 90th minute when he was booked again for lunging at Bacary Sagna’s knee, three minutes after Mikel Arteta had blasted Arsenal’s winner.
With United eight points clear of City with six rounds remaining, Mancini is already looking to the future. It’s one that might not include Balotelli, who the manager said will "probably" be sold after the season.
Despite a note of uncertainty in his answer, Mancini claimed that he "was finished" with the 21-year-old player.
"I’m very sorry for him because he is losing his talent and his quality," Mancini said. "He is in a bad way for his future, and he needs to change his behavior."
Balotelli received a four-match suspension in January after his stamp on Tottenham’s Scott Parker was missed by the referee.
Despite conceding that Balotelli had created "big problems" for his teammates, Mancini joked that the media would miss a player whose antics are rarely out of the headlines.
"You should be happy if Mario stays here," Mancini said. "You can write one, two or three pages in your newspapers!
"I love him, he is a fantastic player … but he needs to change or he can lose everything. He is young and he continues to make mistakes."
Those mistakes have contributed to City throwing away a commanding position and a shot at a first English league title since 1968.
City had topped the table for most of the season, but Man United has seized on its neighbor’s collapse in the past two months to surge in front.
"They’ve done incredibly in the last two months," Mancini said. "But, in football, it can change. Ten days ago, we were one point behind. Today, we are eight points. This can change also for them.
"Clearly, they have more experience than us, so probably it’s difficult. But until it’s impossible, we need to hope."
Even United’s 2-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers earlier on Sunday provided no incentive for City’s players to attempt to revive the free-flowing, attacking football that was their hallmark earlier in the season.
Instead it was an ill-disciplined, sloppy display from a side that has been built with more than $1 billion of investment from Abu Dhabi’s ruling family.
Glory was all the sweeter for Arsenal with two former players—Gael Clichy and Samir Nasri—in a City team that was outplayed.
The win marked the latest step in Arsenal’s resurgence since overhauling Tottenham’s 10-point lead in third to now sit two points clear of its north London rival, which has dropped into the fourth Champions League spot.
"It’s really important for us as there are a few teams putting pressure on us for a place in the Champions League," Arteta said. "We dropped points last week so this was a massive three points. It was a good goal against a good team who have spent a lot of money."
Arsenal should have been in front before Arteta lashed home the winner.
In the first half, Robin van Persie’s header was heading into the net until teammate Thomas Vermaelen got in the way and diverted the ball onto the crossbar.
Song presented Van Persie with a golden opportunity after the break, but despite being clear in space the Netherlands forward headed against the post.
Arsenal squandered two chances in succession when Theo Walcott’s low shot was turned onto the post by goalkeeper Joe Hart and Vermaelen failed to bundle in the rebound.
City’s best chance came at the start of the second half, with Sergio Aguero heading over.
City could be without Yaya Toure for Wednesday’s match against West Bromwich Albion after being forced off with a knee injury after 15 minutes.