Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal: Guardiola’s men outclass Wenger’s visitors
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Manchester City brushed off a weak Arsenal performance to completely eclipse them at the Etihad on Sunday.
The scoreline may have read 3-1 to Pep Guardiola’s impressive men but the reality was simply a question of how many the home team wanted to score.
A first half strike from Kevin De Bruyne put the Citizens 1-0 up at the break before Sergio Aguero made it 2-0 from the spot. Substitute Alexandre Lacazette pulled a goal back for Arsene Wenger’s side before Jesus scored for the home team to make it 3-1.
Arsenal were unhappy at the penalty awarded for Nacho Monreal’s challenge on Raheem Sterling, with Jesus and David Silva seeming to be offside for City’s third but in truth Arsenal simply didn’t deserve anything from the game.
Whatever you might think of ‘tiki-taka’ an essential component of that ethos is pressing. And City’s workrate in pressuring their visitors – from the forwards Aguero and Sane all the way back to the defenders was simply breathtaking.
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Arsenal didn’t have a second to settle on the ball and once City had possession their creativity – through David Silva, Leroy Sane, De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling cut the belagured visitors apart again and again.
An important factor in Guardiola’s ethos is having two full-backs who can push forward to supplement attacks that invariably started from having a ball-playing centre half in John Stones.
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If only Arsenal worked as hard in denying the City backline time and space.
Wenger opted for the power of Sead Kolasinac against the attacking threat of Guardiola’s City. He may have trained despite being substituted with a thigh niggle against Swansea City at the Emirates last weekend but doubts remained about his fitness.
Alex Iwobi was picked instead of Alexandre Lacazette with Alexis Sanchez up top.
There was a nice touch from City before kick-off as they assembled familiar names from their history to honour Sergio Aguero becoming City’s record goalscorer.
Mike Sheron and David White, not to mention former Arsenal man Niall Quinn, among other luminaries might not mean an awful lot to those tourists who bought the infernal ‘half and half’ scarves outside the ground in the shiny new complex called SportCity.
But these servants of a great club recall the days before the money flowed into south Manchester from the Gulf. Judging by the warm reception they all received City – like Arsenal fans – don’t forget their heroes.
Nor too do most in this country, as the impeccably observed minutes silence for the fallen of the two World Wars ahead of next weekend’s Remembrance Sunday, proved.
Football hero Aguero almost put City ahead in the first minute after a flowing move up the pitch following an Arsenal corner. The sweeping attack involved neat interchanges between De Bruyne and the Argentine before the 29-year-old fired wide of Petr Cech’s near post.
The moment was notable not so much for the 178 goal man’s miss but for the fact Arsenal wouldn’t again set foot in City’s half until well after they went 1-0 down.
But before Arsenal conceded Raheem Sterling nearly grabbed the opener after another free-flowing move cut Wenger’s beleaguered men open. This time it involved Fernandinho and Aguero freeing Leroy Sane who cut the ball back across Cech’s goal-line with the wideman from North-West London narrowly failed to make contract.
The irony was even at 0-0 it seemed a matter of how many City wanted to score.
The deadlock was broken in the 19th minute after Cech parried a low shot from De Bruyne from outside the area. Arsenal were not quick enough to regroup and City recycled the ball to De Bruyne who ran at the defence before unleashing a low left footed drive across Cech’s left hand and into the far post to make it 1-0.
The goal was as deserved as it was well-crafted through a pressing game that was a joy to watch. It was no surprise to learn it was also City’s 50th of what could be a special season for them.
One vignette prior to the goal was a moment when Wenger and Guardiola both stood motionless in their technical areas watching the play. If ever there was to be a caption for that image it should surely have read: ‘The Future and The Past’.
City could have doubled the lead if they had been more clinical as Sterling got behind the static Arsenal backline and found himself in space. However upon finding himself in such luxury he was caught in two minds and his ball to Sane was too strong to find him and the chance was lost.
There was a muted atmosphere at the Etihad, as if the scalp of Arsenal wasn’t seen as a big enough prize to get excited about any more.
There was barely a murmur of dissent when the City fans packed into the stands next to the 3,000 travelling Arsenal fans started singing: ‘Alexis Sanchez – he wants to be Blue…’
Guardiola’s men did make it 2-0 when referee Michael Oliver deemed Nacho Monreal coming together with Sterling moments into the second half to be worthy of a penalty.
The official did take a while to rule on the action – rather like an umpire deciding a strong LBW appeal. Aguero made no mistake with the penalty, firing to Cech legside as the keeper went wafting on off.
The ineffectual Coquelin was hooked on 56 minutes by Wenger. The Frenchman admitted to this correspondent in an interview at London Colney last season his exceptional performance to help Arsenal win 2-0 at the Etihad in January 2015 effectively saved his Arsenal career.
As he walked dejectedly off the pitch with City in complete control you couldn’t help but see his performance that day recede further into the rearview mirror.
Lacazette did pull a goal back on 64 minutes after a neat interchange between Iwobi and Ramsey freed the former Lyon player who slotted home past Ederson to make it 2-1.
City simply scored a third after a simple cross from Silva from the left on 74 minutes.
Not content with replacing ‘God’ in Aguero, Guardiola’s substitution meant Jesus scored for City.
As the clock ticked down it was left to the City fans to articulate in earthy terrace humour that the visitors weren’t very good – or words to that effect.
On Sunday’s performance against the mighty City it was hard to disagree.