Aguero does the trick yet again as City bounce back
Manchester City 3 Arsenal 1
In a match characterised by so many errors and such sloppy play, the difference was always going to be one of the Premier League players more adept than any other at punishing such flaws.
Sergio Aguero hit his 10th hat-trick in the competition to also make this the sixth successive season he's hit 20 goals, and give Manchester City yet another win over Arsenal, while ensuring Unai Emery has now gone 12 games without getting a single win against Pep Guardiola.
This win was precisely the response Guardiola would have wanted - and required - after the Newcastle United defeat in terms of the result, and especially in terms of keeping pressure on Liverpool, but wasn't always what was need in terms of performance.
Aguero's precision essentially compensated for another imprecise display from the champions, just not quite as imprecise as Arsenal's.
There were times when it looked like Emery's players didn't know what they were supposed to be doing, and it is such a far cry from the apparent focus of their early-season run.
They were never going to withstand someone as singularly focused on just scoring as Aguero.
And yet the striker's display also stood in contrast to his own team's, and his manager's.
Guardiola's surprising formation, with Fernandinho in midfield, suggested he had given a lot of thought to last Tuesday's defeat - maybe too much, to the point even of over-complicating things.
There were several moments when City made it more difficult for themselves than needed.
And they again had to recover from their own good start, which hints at something deeper in itself.
For the second successive game, City went ahead within a minute through Aguero.
Unlike against Newcastle, though, this wasn't so much down to their attacking strength as Arsenal's woeful weaknesses.
There were at least five separate instances of bad defending in that opening 46 seconds leading up to the goal.
There was, first of all, the fact that five Arsenal defenders gave just two City players in Aguero and Kevin De Bruyne so much space.
While the ball still just about came out to Matteo Guendouzi, he then badly dwelt on it to invite more pressure, before Alex Iwobi compounded it with the same mistake.
Aymeric Laporte was still left with enough time to almost methodically pick his spot, and Aguero was still left with even more space to easily head past Bernd Leno.
City were so good for the next 10 minutes that it appeared this game would serve as a mass exercise in getting their confidence up, only for it to instead display that some of the problems of this season might be much more ingrained than anticipated.
With Arsenal's first proper attack, Ederson's backline - if you could even call it that given the use of Fernandinho and how little defending they do - looked totally panicked.
It led to a corner, Sterling bizarrely marking Laurent Koscielny, and the centre-half scoring a goal almost as easy as Aguero's.
From there, City were again badly off in their passing and now looked as anxious going forward - as if trying to force it.
This was summed up when De Bruyne suddenly broke from a corner, but rather than immediately release that attack in the fluid manner you'd expect, he repeatedly checked back on himself and allowed the entire Arsenal team to get back.
They needed to recover that almost unthinking focus.
Just as well that Aguero has an abundance of it, and he is not the only one, as shown in the goal that really won the game.
It was telling that the next strike came from the one piece of play after the 10th minute where City performed almost as if by rote in a rehearsed move, so didn't need to think, but the wonder from it remains what was going through Koscielny's head.
He may have got that equaliser, but he wasn't having his best performance defensively.
A huge amount of space was again left for Aguero to tap in, although this came after a glorious interchange between Raheem Sterling and Ilkay Gundogan.
No mistakes there, no anxiety, just City doing what they should always be so confident of doing.
So they then went and did it again in the second-half.
Sterling was this time much more direct, just running at Arsenal, but it led to the same conclusion: Aguero getting the ball over the line from so close to it.
The striker may have actually got much more of his hands on the ball than Leno did, the goalkeeper haphazardly tripping up Koscielny in desperation.
That reflected Arsenal's display, and why they were never going to have the resilience to force a result in the way Newcastle did - they have a worse defensive record than Newcastle and that remains the biggest flaw in Emery's team.
It was just one of many flaws in this game that were ultimately resolved by the most fundamental thing in the sport: finishing.
Few are as good at that as Aguero, and it will make a difference no matter how good your team is actually performing.
Liverpool must now respond. A line from one of their greatest managers was prompted by this.
"If you're not sure what to do with the ball," Bill Shankly once told Ian St John. "Just pop it in the net and we'll discuss your options afterwards.'"
Aguero did it for his own manager here. (© Independent News Service)
Independent News Service