Premier League: Manchester City 3 Arsenal 0
- Credit: PA
Arsenal’s Premier League restart after a three-month break due to the coronavirus pandemic proved an ultimately harrowing experience.
The night began with players from both sides taking a knee to show support for the Black Lives Matters campaign – with the slogan also across the back of all shirts – and it ended with Arsenal on their knees, figuratively speaking, after a harsh lesson from the Premier League’s defending champions.
Having reportedly taken a 5pm flight up to Manchester from Stansted, Arsenal’s enlarged 20-man matchday squad at the Etihad had no place for Mesut Ozil, with Mikel Arteta saying he would explain the situation post-match.
But Eddie Nketiah had an early sight of the home goal when latching on to Bernd Leno’s long clearance, only to lob over the crossbar and then see an offside flag had been raised anyway.
And the young striker offered another glimpse of his prowess when connecting with a right-wing cross from fellow academy graduate Bukayo Saka after getting in front of his marker at the near post, but putting the ball wide.
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But Kevin de Bruyne had seen a fourth-minute free-kick tipped over by Leno and the Gunners suffered their first injury blow soon after as Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka turned his right ankle and had to be stretchered off, to be replaced by loanee Dani Ceballos.
Arteta was given another headache midway through the first half when centre-back Pablo Mari also limped off with an injury to his left leg, as Kyle Walker bore down on goal from the right, with fellow Brazilian David Luiz coming off the bench to take his place.
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But Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang curled a right-footed shot well over Ederson’s goal for the visitors, for whom Kieran Tierney was catching the eye at left-back, before City started to find their passing rhythm, with Leno denying David Silva and Riyad Mahrez at close range, before Raheem Sterling chipped another attempt over the crossbar.
And Arsenal could not hold out until half-time as Luiz miscontrolled a ball in from the right and Sterling got in to fire past Leno in the second of three minutes injury time.
The night went from bad to worse four minutes into the second half as Luiz pulled back Mahrez inside the box to concede a penalty, with referee Anthony Taylor showing a red card to reduce Arsenal to 10 men.
And de Bruyne ended City’s run of four missed penalties in the Premier League by sending Leno the wrong way to double the home side’s advantage.
With Luiz out of contract in less than two weeks, it could prove his final appearance for the club, and it was now a case of damage limitation for the Gunners, who had lost 3-0 at home in the earlier meeting between the two clubs in mid-December just prior to Arteta’s arrival at the Emirates.
There was a brief scare as Shkodran Mustafi was taken down by Sterling, but the German international was able to continue and Arteta made a triple substitution – making full use of the five now allowed – midway through the half as Nketiah, Joe Willock and Matteo Guendouzi made way for the fresh legs of Alex Lacazette, Ainsley Maitland-Niles and Riess Nelson respectively.
De Bruyne forced Leno into action once again after latching on to Sterling’s pass, with what proved to be his final act in the match as the Belgian made way himself for Rodri.
And play was stopped shortly after for the second water break of the evening, at which point Arsenal’s shocking record against top six clubs over the past five years was highlighted by Sky Sports, which read 25 matches played, 10 draws, 15 defeats and only one clean sheet.
Leno parried an effort from Ilkay Gundogan, who was picked out in space on the right of the box from a free-kick by Sterling, before Pep Guardiola threw on City’s all-time leading goalscorer Sergio Aguero for Gabriel Jesus in the last 10 minutes.
But Ederson then came out of his box to head the ball clear and cleaned out his own defender Eric Garcia, who needed lengthy treatment before being stretchered off to leave the hosts down to 10 men as well in the closing stages, which stretched to 11 minutes of stoppage time as a result.
City claimed their third goal in the first of them as Aguero swapped passes with Sterling and saw his shot come back off the post into the path of young Phil Foden, who sidefooted home.
And there could have been more as Silva cut inside and fired wide of the far post, before Foden found Aguero to shoot into the side netting.
Arsenal might have snatched a consolation when Nelson got to the byline in the 98th minute to tee up Aubameyang, but the Gunners skipper saw his scuffed effort from six yards deflected behind for a corner, which was comfortably cleared at the near post.
A first Premier League defeat in 2020 leaves Arteta’s men in ninth place, five points behind Manchester United in fifth with nine games remaining.
They head to Brighton, who are looking over their shoulders at the bottom three, on Saturday and will be hoping for much, much better.
Arsenal: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Mari (Luiz 24), Tierney, Xhaka (Ceballos 8), Guendouzi (Maitland-Niles 67), Willock (Nelson 67); Saka, Aubameyang, Nketiah (Lacazette 67). Unused subs: Pepe, Martinez, Kolasinac, Martinelli.