Arsenal knew that nothing but a win would do on Sunday afternoon as the London side were already looking at a nine-point gap between themselves and Manchester City. While they did their best to win the match by taking the game to City on multiple occasions, they were outclassed and outplayed by their far better opponents.
For Pep Guardiola’s team, they have now picked up 31 points from a possible 33, blowing away all before them. Goals from Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus were enough to eclipse Alexandre Lacazette’s strike, and the Gunners were consigned to their fourth defeat of the season. The London side are now 12 points off the top.
The first-half was a lesson in class from City as they kept the ball superbly and carved Arsenal open over and over again. The blot on their copybook was their inability to score a second goal despite their dominance. It took the second goal from City for Arsenal to wake up, with Arsene Wenger throwing on Alexandre Lacazette, which worked well as he smashed home.
For Arsenal’s resurgence though, they always looked vulnerable at the back, and they were caught yet again as substitute Gabriel Jesus slotted home from a David Silva cutback after the midfielder had appeared to have been offside. While the 3-1 scoreline perhaps says that it was a close game, it will go down as a match in which Arsenal were lucky that City were uncharacteristically poor in front of goal.
From the game, what five things did we learn?
A midfield masterclass
It must be the biggest regret for the people at the top of Chelsea right now that they let one of, if not the best midfielder in the world right now leave. Kevin De Bruyne has taken his Chelsea rejection and built upon it, and he is now the heartbeat of Manchester City’s midfield. His goal was a sublime individual effort as he picked the ball up from outside of the box and used his close control to keep the defenders guessing before he fired in a left-footed shot from one side of the goal to the other, beating the sprawling dive of Petr Cech in goal.
However, it was not just the Belgian that was instrumental today, and indeed in every game. David Silva has been in Manchester for so long that he is often overlooked in the team because he so often just does his job with meticulous skill. Against Arsenal he was superb as he picked up the ball in more advanced positions, allowing the Spaniard to dictate the game for those ahead of him.
Playing in the middle of a Pep Guardiola side is probably the hardest job in the team as the manager wants his midfielders to be all action. This means they have to drop in and help defend when necessary, while they have to pick up the ball in all positions across the pitch and use it intelligently. In conjunction with this, the two must have a scoring touch, with chances aplenty for Manchester City this season.
Against Arsenal, the two were outstanding and gave their visitors absolutely no chance by keeping the ball and playing neat passes that forced Arsene Wenger’s men into chase shadows. While many teams opt for a defensive midfield by utilising the 4-2-3-1 formation, Guardiola’s use of a predominantly defensive player in Fernandinho alongside De Bruyne and Silva make up a midfield three that is dominating all in their way.
Arsenal are too passive in defence
It has been an accusation levelled at Arsenal often over the last few years and it reared its head yet again on Sunday. Their vulnerable defence was their Achilles heel against City as the league leaders tore through the Gunners all too often. Sergio Aguero, Leroy Sane, De Bruyne and Silva gave them no end of problems with their blend of pace, technical ability and vision, and it proved too much for the London side in the end.
Arsenal’s problems were most evident in City’s first goal. De Bruyne was able to work his way into the box without a single challenge being threatened from the Gunners’ defence. This allowed the Belgian international to fire into the bottom corner and set up a win for his side.
Wenger has to find a way to create a strong defence that can also stand up in the biggest games then. They are often left in awe of the situation in the biggest games, meaning they are very passive at the back, which is why De Bruyne was able to score so easily.
Francis Coquelin was utilised as a centre-half in the game and he summed up Arsenal’s problems as he struggled massively against the most prolific scoring side in the league. While he was withdrawn in the second-half, the fact he was played at the back shows the defensive crisis that Arsenal are once again suffering under. Something needs to change at the back for Arsenal as they were once again hamstrung by their sub-par defence.
Ederson keeps his concentration but goalkeeping problems are still alive
Last season, Manchester City were too often caught at vital times, whether it was at the start of the game, just before or after half-time, or in the closing moments of the contest. Teams would know that the concentration of their opponents would waver, even if it was just one player for one second.
Too often it was Claudio Bravo that let the side down. The goalkeeper would get caught on his heels as the opposition would steal a vital goal that would knock the stuffing out of City. While it is still up for debate as to why Bravo struggled so much, it should not be discounted that his concentration deserted him at the crucial moments.
For Ederson, there was no such problem before half-time. Alexis Sanchez did very well from a long punt downfield and he set up Aaron Ramsey in the box, and his firm shot threatened to squeeze in, but Ederson was there to apply a firm hand to deflect the ball away from the goal, despite being a spectator for much of the game.
Many have questioned whether the young goalkeeper would be able to provide a solid figure between the posts that could also pass, but he was there when his side needed him at the end of the first-half.
However, the second 45 began and Ederson was facing a routine shot from Alex Iwobi that was straight at him, but he let it slip through his fingers, almost leading to a comical goal. The situation shows the almost Jekyll and Hyde nature of goalkeepers for City. Of course, it should be noted that this was his first real moment of worry this season, meaning he is a far safer bet than Bravo.
City still look suspect at the back
Despite all of the goals Manchester City have scored this season, they have looked shaky at the back when asked to defend. Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones are very good on the ball, and they have proved to be menacing in the opposition’s box when it comes to corners. However, for all of their technical ability, the two have their deficiencies when asked to defend their own goal.
Following Lacazette’s goal, Arsenal entered into a far better period as they hustled and harried City giving them far less time on the ball. Stones and Otamendi, along with wing-backs Kyle Walker and Fabian Delph, seemed tentative when tackling, while they were ill at ease when Sanchez was on the ball, with the Chilean looking to utilise his pace and low centre of gravity to take the game to their hosts.
While City have improved markedly at the back in comparison to their last campaign, they are still giving the opposition chances in their games. Whether it is a slack pass at the back, a misjudgement by a defender, or a poorly timed jump, Guardiola will be all too aware that his side are not perfect yet, and for all of their creativity and incisive play going forward, they will struggle to beat the very best if they do not rectify their defensive vulnerabilities at the back.
Arsenal started without a real striker and paid for it
With the likes of Olivier Giroud and Alexandre Lacazette to choose from to start up front on Sunday, it seemed the biggest decision Arsene Wenger would have to make would be which would start the game. However, the Frenchman decided against utilising either of his countrymen, instead opting to play Alexis Sanchez at the point of the attack. Sanchez struggled massively in the game as he had to try to deal with Otamendi and Stones, a task that was too much for him in the end as he struggled to impose himself in the first-half.
This false-nine formation did not work, and makeshift centre-half Francis Coquelin was sacrificed for Alexandre Lacazette, allowing Sanchez to play out wide, where he is far better, while it gave Arsenal an out-and-out striker, and it paid dividends in the end. Lacazette was given time and space to drive into the box and he smashed home through the legs of Ederson to get the Gunners back into the game at 2-1.
Questions must be asked whether Arsenal would have benefited from starting with a real striker in the game, but, unfortunately for Wenger, they will never know the answer to this.
Manchester City: Ederson 7 – Walker 6, Otamendi 6, Stones 6, Delph 6 – De Bruyne 8, Fernandinho 7, Silva 8 – Sterling 7 (Gundogan 6), Aguero 7 (Jesus 7), Sane 7 (Bernardo Silva 6).
Unused subs: Bravo, Danilo, Mangala, Toure.
Arsenal: Cech 7 – Koscielny 6, Coquelin 4 (Lacazette 7), Monreal 6 – Bellerin 6, Ramsey 3, Xhaka 5 (Giroud 6), Kolasinac 5 – Ozil 5, Iwobi 5 (Wilshere 6), Sanchez 6.
Unused subs: Macey, Debuchy, Walcott, Elneny.
Referee: Michael Oliver.
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