| 11.9°C Dublin

Mancini: Van to drive us

Manchester City boss Roberto Mancini hopes his recent praise of Robin van Persie will spark his own strikers back into life.

Mancini claimed on New Year's Eve that he had been "very close" to signing Van Persie last summer, and that the prolific Dutchman was now the main difference between City and rivals Manchester United.

Those remarks came against a backdrop of recurring criticism from Mancini for his own forwards.

Sergio Aguero, Carlos Tevez and Edin Dzeko had all been quiet in front of goal but their latest performances have hinted at a return to form.

Tevez claimed this week that Mancini's comments had provided extra motivation and the Italian now wants them to build momentum.

So impressed has Mancini been with Tevez that he expects discussions over a possible new contract for the striker to be held in due course.

The Argentinian's current deal expires in the summer of 2014 and Mancini feels there is plenty of time to consider what might happen beyond that term.

Former Manchester United star Tevez said in a TV interview last August he was happy to remain at the Etihad Stadium until the end of his contract and would even consider extending his stay.

He added that the problems of last season, when he was embroiled in an infamous dispute with the club, were firmly in the past and no longer an issue.

Despite that, there has been speculation as to what might happen when his deal ends.

Mancini said: "I don't know what Carlos thinks about this. We have another 18 months and I think we have the time to talk with him about this.

"When Carlos takes his decision, he will talk with us."

On van Persie, Mancini said: "I continue to talk about Van Persie and other strikers.

"If we score two or three goals with our strikers, and if we talk about other attackers, I continue to talk.

"I hope we start to score with our strikers, this is very important for us.

"If Dzeko, Carlos, Sergio and Mario (Balotelli) continue to score, I think we can change this."

Prior to the December 29 trip to Norwich in the Premier League, City's high-profile frontmen -- including Balotelli -- had scored just one goal between them in five games.

Balotelli fell ill during that sequence but the barren run ended at Carrow Road as Dzeko struck twice and Aguero also scored.

That pair were also on target against Stoke on New Year's Day and Tevez got on the scoresheet in last weekend's FA Cup defeat of Watford.

Despite that, City have still scored 16 goals less than they had at the corresponding stage of last season's title-winning campaign.

Mancini said: "For every striker maybe there are some moments where maybe you don't score and you don't know why -- this is football.

"Last year we scored a lot of goals, maybe too many goals.

"This year we are missing maybe 15 goals from last year but it is important that Sergio, Carlos and Edin scored goals in the last two games."



Controversies

Balotelli has scored just three goals this season but continues to command headlines with last week's training ground bust-up with Mancini the latest in a long line of controversies.

Mancini has again backed the player who, after missing four games with a virus, came off the bench against Watford and then scored twice in an unexpected outing for the under-21s on Monday. Since then he has dyed his hair blond.

When asked if this was a fresh start for Balotelli, Mancini, speaking at a press conference to preview tomorrow's trip to Arsenal, said: "Next question! No, I hope.

"He went with the under-21s because he needed a game.

"After 40 days without a game, he needed one game. He trained well and I hope this year will be different."

Balotelli's future has been the subject of regular speculation with fresh reports claiming AC Milan are preparing to move for the 22-year-old.

Mancini, who has consistently said he will not be selling players during this month's transfer window, said: "No, it is not true. I am very, very happy (with Mario)."

Aguero remains sidelined after tearing his hamstring in the Stoke game.

Mancini said: "He continues to have treatment this week. I hope he can play against Fulham next game.

"If Arsenal was the last game (of the season), okay, but like this it is impossible."

City are also without midfield inspiration Yaya Toure due to the African Nations Cup while forward Samir Nasri misses the return to his old club through suspension.

City have not won at Arsenal in the league for 37 years and suffered what seemed a terminal blow to their title bid when they lost there in April.



Damaging

The damaging 1-0 defeat, in which Balotelli was sent off, left them eight points behind United with just six games to play but City managed to turn that around.

They head into this weekend's fixtures trailing United by seven points.

Mancini said: "To play against Arsenal in London is very difficult because they play very, very well.

"But we changed many things last year and it is a time now to change this situation. There have been a lot of years we didn't win there."