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Nathan Ake fires Manchester City past Arsenal in FA Cup dress rehearsal

Manchester City 1 Arsenal 0


Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah in action with Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte in their FA Cup clash. Photo: PA/Reuters

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah in action with Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte in their FA Cup clash. Photo: PA/Reuters

Arsenal's Eddie Nketiah in action with Manchester City's Aymeric Laporte in their FA Cup clash. Photo: PA/Reuters

The FA Cup is over this season for Mikel Arteta’s Premier League leaders, although they depart Manchester with a little taste of what they will have to do now to outpace the champions to the trophy that Arsenal want more than any other.

The first of three definitive games between these two clubs – the best in England this year – ended with a FA Cup fourth-round defeat for Arsenal, although it was close. Arteta had picked half a new set of outfield players and yet they still pushed Manchester City hard.

Nathan Ake’s second-half goal was the winner, but in the closing stages with Gabriel Martinelli, Oleksandr Zinchenko and Martin Odegaard on the pitch as substitutes, this was a different kind of Arsenal. More like the side that Arteta will hope he can pick at the Emirates on February 15 when City visit them in the Premier League, and then again when Arsenal return to east Manchester for the second league fixture on April 26.

This was Arteta’s side’s fourth defeat of the season, with only one in the Premier League. They are out of both the domestic knockout competitions, and even with a place in the last 16 of the Europa League, there is no disguising where the focus is now.

For City, who started with a stronger XI and have a bench of much greater depth, this will offer some reassurance in their pursuit of Arsenal for a fifth Premier League title in six years.

The strength of Pep Guardiola’s squad was brought to bear here. They came good eventually after a first half which was below par by their standards.

It was a ragged first-half performance from City, who were well-disrupted by Arteta’s players before the break. There was no fluency in the City midfield, where Arsenal occupied the spaces into which City’s most creative players like to drift. The chances that did come the way of the home side were mostly inflicted on Arsenal themselves by their own errors.

It has been almost 13 months since Arteta last faced his old coaching mentor, and the club at which he was once obliged to sit alongside Guardiola and listen to his many mid-game furies. Since those days, the Arsenal manager has been obliged to take some punishment from the club he left behind. At the start of last season, during Arsenal’s feverish August, they were beaten 5-0 at the Etihad when Granit Xhaka was sent off after 35 minutes.

Even as things stabilised for Arteta around the midpoint of last season, his side lost 2-1 at home to City and Gabriel Magalhaes was dismissed before the hour. This was a different start and a different Arsenal, even with six changes from the side that triumphed over Manchester United on Sunday.

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Arteta played his second-choice goalkeeper Matt Turner as well as changes elsewhere.

In came Rob Holding, Takehiro Tomiyasu, Kieran Tierney, Fabio Vieira and Leandro Trossard. Yet, even with the changes, this was a confident Arsenal side. They created chances – two big hits for Trossard that Guardiola’s goalkeeper for the night, Stefan Ortega, did well to get a glove on. It was a much more composed Arsenal performance than last season’s efforts against City. They got to half-time with a murmur of concern about the home team.

City lost John Stones to injury at the end of the first half, a simple strain from which he could not recover. The Englishman had been the focus of one of Guardiola’s intense touchline bursts of instruction and gesture, which look hard to follow for even his longest-serving players. He had again left out Kyle Walker and Joao Cancelo and opted for the teenager, Rico Lewis.

Before the break, Kevin De Bruyne sold Trossard with a persuasive right foot shape before dropping a shoulder and curling one with his left. Surely his Belgian team-mate had seen that one before? Erling Haaland bounded on to a ball from Manuel Akanji that Holding missed, but the old intensity was missing.

The changes began for Guardiola before the hour was up. Riyad Mahrez’s forgettable evening came to an end, and Lewis was summoned to the bench. It was time for some experience in Kyle Walker and it was from another of those two substitutes, Julian Alvarez, that the shot came which began the sequence for the goal.

The Argentine hit a low drive that came back off Turner’s post and was collected by Grealish. He turned back and forth more than a couple of times to shake off Tomiyasu and Bukayo Saka, but his ball cut back between the two defenders and was nicely placed for Ake. On his less favoured right foot, Ake, left-back on this occasion, picked out the inside of the far post beyond the reach of Turner.

A Cup tie at last. Arteta sent on the big guns, but Ortega helped City settle into a familiar pattern and to victory. 

Telegraph Media Group Limited [2023]

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