By the time the afternoon was over, Arsenal were all too aware of what is required to harbour authentic title aspirations, and it hadn’t come from within but rather from their opponents Manchester City.
With a relatively comfortable 3-1 victory, Pep Guardiola’s side moved to within two points of Premier League leaders Liverpool. Arsenal on the other hand fell to sixth.
This was the type of performance that City needed at the start of a testing week. A visit to Goodison Park and an encounter with Chelsea over the next seven days represent tougher challenges than what a work-in-progress Arsenal could offer. Apart from a slight fight back midway through the first half, Arsenal were unable to stifle a City side needing the points.
City quick out the traps again
It is remarkable to consider that City have scored in the first minute of their past two league games. Like against Newcastle United in midweek, City were very quick to assert themselves on their opponents here. It was 46 seconds this time as opposed to 24 but nevertheless it was a dream start for the home crowd. This is clearly a game plan from Guardiola and surprisingly too few managers actually attempt to go for the kill so early in matches.
Though City’s opener wasn’t to be the decisive goal as within minutes Arsenal were level. There has been a trait developing for City of late that they are increasingly vulnerable straight after scoring. Their tempo drops almost instantly and at times complacency creeps in.
Guardiola is a perfectionist and demands nothing but the best from his players but he is also understanding and appreciative of the pressures on footballers. But even so, he will be annoyed that his side conceded so quickly after taking the early lead.
Aguero well supplied to secure another hatrick
City’s opener once again came from Sergio Aguero and this game ended up comprising of Aguero’s 217th, 218th and 219th goals for City. When he was substituted after the 80-minute mark, the Etihad stood as one to show their thanks to the club’s all time record goalscorer. It was his goals that ensured City got a rather comfortable win; they were very typical City goals too, all six-yard box one-touch finishes wonderfully created and presented on a plate by City’s plethora of creative talents.
The first came from Aymeric Laporte, who was playing at left back and managed to whip a well-paced ball into the area for Aguero to head home. If there was any vindication needed for Guardiola deploying Laporte in that position and moving Fernandinho into central defence then arrived in next to no time.
A quick succession of passes between Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan gifted Aguero the chance to double his tally, whilst it was Sterling again who played the decisive cross from the left for Aguero to complete his hatrick just after the hour. There were shouts for a handball but realistically Arsenal could not complain about such fine margins when there are so many bigger issues that they need to address themselves.
Arsenal’s defence continue to raise questions
Arsenal’s equaliser after 10 minutes was against the run of play but it was yet further evidence that it is in attack – rather than a pourous defence – where their strengths lay. Despite sitting sixth in the table, Arsenal are joint fourth when it comes to league goals scored this season. It was quite ironic that Laurent Koscielny was the one to score here following a cross from Nacho Monreal, it almost feels like Arsenal’s defence fancy themselves as attackers rather than defenders.
It is worth remembering that Arsenal have conceded more goals this season than Newcastle, Crystal Palace, Leicester and Watford; clearly it is at the back that’s letting Unai Emery down at the moment. Injuries are playing their part – with Hector Bellerin, Sokratis Papastathopoulos and Rob Holding all on the sidelines – and it is proving difficult to put out an obstinate defence.
It was all too easy for City to glide through in the opening minute, Laporte was given time to deliver the cross and Aguero was practically moving amongst a courtyard of statues before heading past Leno. Offering themselves for sacrifice is maybe too harsh a statement to be thrown at Arsenal but they seem to allows wilt when up against a fellow big-sixer.
Despite result midfield offers Arsenal confidence
Despite conceding early, and ultimately leaving beaten, there were positives for Arsenal; none more so than the partnership of Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira in midfield. Both showed the tenacity and aggression that for so long Arsenal teams have lacked. They were quick to press Kevin De Bruyne who was making his first home league start of the season, and tried their best to limit the onslaught that headed towards Leno’s goal.
They are both examples that wise spending can be priceless. At a time when transfers, wage bills and contracts have been big issues for debate around the Emirates, there should be credit given to the decision to bring in two effective central midfielders that didn’t cost an arm and a leg. It is a shame therefore that Sven Mislintat, the footballing director who brought both to the club, is being forced to leave the club; this only highlights once more that Emery is trying to coach this team with one hand behind his back amidst a rather complex political backdrop.
There is no such problem for City who are operating a slick footballing operation and are fast becoming the envy of many. It is with such a sure footing that Guardiola can push and demand so much from the players he has at his disposal; despite the few hiccups, there is little that can rattle City. It is now over to Liverpool to see if they can match City’s latest result and keep Guardiola’s side at bay for a little while longer at least.