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Soccer-City's Arsenal curse brings memories of the dark days

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By Toby Davis

LONDON, Jan 11 (Reuters) - When Manchester City face Arsenal at the Emirates on Sunday, the Premier League champions will be looking to end a 37-year hoodoo and perhaps remove the last symbolic reminder of a period of tumultuous decline and fall.

The last time the blue half of Manchester's current Premier League duopoly tasted league victory in the red half of north London was on Oct. 4, 1975.

It would have been unforeseeable at the time that City, then one of the top-flight's leading clubs, would come close to financial annihilation as the first European trophy winners to be relegated to English football's third tier.

That victory at Arsenal, with City stalwart Tony Book at the managerial helm, was no great surprise at the time. League champions in 1968, City won the FA Cup in 1969 and the European Cup Winners' Cup in 1970.

After their 1975 Highbury win they went on to finish eighth in the old first division, to Arsenal's 17th, and also won the League Cup that season, the final trophy of the club's most successful period.

They finished runners up the following season but the following three decades were spent licking footballing wounds as Sunday's opponents Arsenal went on to add weight to an already heavily-laden trophy cabinet.

Twice relegated from the top flight in the 1980s and once in each of the proceeding two decades, 20 different men, with seven in the eighties alone, occupied the City hotseat after Book's first stint came to an end in 1979.

Their darkest hour came in 1998 when the club were relegated to the second division, or third tier of English soccer, the same year Arsenal won the double in the second season under manager Arsene Wenger.

PRESSING MOTIVE

Their subsequent rise from the ashes and a real threat of financial ruin to become world football's richest club under Abu Dhabi-stewardship that culminated in their first Premier League title last season, has not improved their fortunes against Sunday's opponents.

In the four years since Sheikh Mansour completed his takeover, City have lost two and drawn two of their Premier League visits to Arsenal's modern Emirates stadium, in itself a reminder of how much water has passed under the bridge since the teams met at Arsenal's Art Deco Highbury in 1975.

The present provides a more pressing motive for City, who could be 10 points behind league leaders Manchester United at kickoff on Sunday, to put an end to the 37-year winless streak.

"These records are made to be broken," goalkeeper Joe Hart told Talksport.

"We feel strongly that we can turn up anywhere and win.

"It has not happened at the Emirates. But it is not a case of us turning up and thinking we are going to lose.

"It is a great pitch, great atmosphere and it feels like you can go and express yourself. Hopefully that will be the case on Sunday."

City's visits to Arsenal have not been entirely fruitless. They did win a League Cup quarter-final there last season, but they have not scored a league goal at Arsenal since DaMarcus Beasley's effort in the 3-1 defeat in 2007.

"I wasn't aware it had been so long. Football is like that sometimes but 37 years is extraordinary and records like that are rare but there to be broken," City midfielder Gareth Barry told the club website (www.mcfc.co.uk).

"We have to go to the Emirates, play as well as we know we are capable of and see if we can put an end to our poor run of league results on their ground."

While City are still part of the race for the title, Arsenal's eyes are firmly fixed on finishing fourth and are currently four points adrift of Chelsea who currently occupy the final Champions League qualification place. (Editing by Alison Wildey)

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