Tuesday 21 August 2018

City's first-half blitz rips woeful Arsenal to shreds

Arsenal 0 Manchester City 3

Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson saves a second-half penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters
Manchester City goalkeeper Ederson saves a second-half penalty from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Photo: Tony O'Brien/Action Images via Reuters

Miguel Delaney

You could say this felt like the end, except that's partly the case because Arsene Wenger has been left feeling like this so many times before.

This was just another humiliating night to go with a catalogue of them, another Arsenal thrashing at the feet of a purported rival, another Manchester City masterclass this season. The gap between the sides was so vast that it was hard to say what was more influential: the Premier League leaders' abundant quality or Arsenal's atrocious lack of it. One thing was clear: Arsenal are bad, and in bad need of change.

Because, as grimly familiar as so much of this was - a Wenger side was 4-0 down at half-time to Manchester United in 2001 to lose 6-1; 4-0 down to Liverpool at half-time in 2014 to lose 5-1; 4-0 down to Chelsea at half-time a few weeks later to again lose 6-1 - this horror show still managed to fall to new depths.

It was the first time Wenger's Arsenal had conceded three goals by half-time in a Premier League home game, but that in front of a stadium that surely wasn't half full.

Joke

The official attendance of 58,420 was as much of a joke as the idea of Granit Xhaka as your only defensive midfielder.

Leroy Sane scores the third goal. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Leroy Sane scores the third goal. Photo by Shaun Botterill/Getty Images

Many of those that stayed away might have done so because of the awful weather, many because of the prospect of an awful defeat like this, probably a combination, but those that came still managed to come together for the loudest boos this stadium has yet heard. One of those was when the players were actually coming back onto the pitch by half-time.

It was one of many sounds and images that summed up the night, summed up the team.

As regards the pictures, there was Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang's feeble saved second-half penalty, Hector Bellerin just falling over as he attempted to challenge a City player for the second goal, or maybe the numerous times that Shkodran Mustafi was humiliated by the effervescent Leroy Sane.

The German's run for the second City goal, actually, that was the real indictment. Sane left Mustafi for dust but what was so galling was that he didn't even need to offer an actual trick or a feint for it. The cock of the foot was enough, the mere prospect of a trick or feint enough. Arsenal were that intimated by City, that cowed by Sunday.

Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Vincent Kompany and Bernardo Silva. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola with Vincent Kompany and Bernardo Silva. Photo: Nick Potts/PA Wire

That itself points to something else in the catalogue of criticisms for this team. On the rare occasions when two teams who meet in a cup final meet again in the next game, there has been a dynamic that the initially defeated side responds with a victory. The trophy winners tend to be temporarily sated, the losers stung into action with their pride hurt.

That didn't happen here. City just kept hurting Arsenal more, and more easily.

The gap between the sides was this time more visible in the actual play than the scoreline, since that ended the same as Sunday's 3-0 but really felt like a 6-0.

City were playing - and, really, gliding - on such a different level that single touches were instantly putting them into yards of space, while leaving Arsenal players literally falling over each other.

Deserved

That was especially the case for the brilliant break-away third goal, as Sane got the strike he deserved. He will rarely get one as easily. Bernardo Silva pushed the ball onto Sergio Aguero with one wondrous touch, the Argentine did the same for Kevin De Bruyne with another, and the Belgian then teed up Kyle Walker to square the ball for the German.

There is an argument that it was City's best goal of the season, but that is immediately mitigated by the poverty of opposition, as illustrated by Bellerin's fall.

There was also the painful reality that, when Arsenal attacked, it was still City that looked more likely to score.

They were left with that much space to so lusciously play, and that much time to do so, given how early the game was won.

Just like on Sunday, any Arsenal challenge faded after City went ahead, this time after just 15 minutes. There was barely a challenge for that first goal as Sane just ran right through the half to feed Bernardo Silva. Sead Kolasinac then seemed to show the playmaker onto his left, Silva saying "thank you very much" and gloriously curling the ball into the top corner.

It was difficult to know what was better, that finish or David Silva's touch for the sublime second.

At the other end of the scale, it's difficult to know what was worse: this Arsenal humiliaton, or any of the copious others you could put alongside it.

It has put Wenger in a worse position than he's ever been in at the club, and that doesn't apply to his future. Arsenal are now 30 points behind the leaders, who moved within five wins of the title. A Wenger side has never been this far off the pace. That should apply to his future. New depths, and time for a new manager.

Any sense of hope at this stadium was as barren as the stands by the time it ended. (© Independent News Service)

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