Tuesday 21 November 2017

Pep juggernaut in unstoppable drive to glory

Manchester City 3 Arsenal 1

Sergio Aguero is congratulated by Leroy Sane after scoring Manchester City’s second goal. Photo: Getty Images
Sergio Aguero is congratulated by Leroy Sane after scoring Manchester City’s second goal. Photo: Getty Images

James Ducker

Pep Guardiola is convinced that Manchester City will be beaten this season - and he may well be proved right - but, for the moment, his side remain thrillingly unstoppable.

Arsenal were the latest to succumb to their bewitching brilliance and now trail the Premier League leaders by 12 points, although it did not take this game to recognise that Arsene Wenger's side do not hold a realistic threat to City's title ambitions.

Petr Cech of Arsenal reacts to conceding a penalty from Sergio Aguero. Photo: Getty Images
Petr Cech of Arsenal reacts to conceding a penalty from Sergio Aguero. Photo: Getty Images

Rather, it is the eight-point gap to Manchester United and Spurs that will most please Guardiola going into the international break.

"Last season, we were only able to win twice against the big teams, but this season by November we have already won three times (against Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool)," Guardiola said.

Slaughter

"If you want to win the Premier League, you have to win, especially at home, against Liverpool, United, Arsenal, Tottenham and Chelsea. Twelve points more than Liverpool and Arsenal is a lot in November, and eight more than Tottenham (and United)."

Arsenal were not the lambs to the slaughter some have been, but Guardiola will not have been the only one wondering how his wrecking ball of a side were not out of sight by the time Arsenal very briefly threatened to make things interesting.

Fernandinho of Manchester City and Sead Kolasinac of Arsenal battle for possession. Photo: Getty Images
Fernandinho of Manchester City and Sead Kolasinac of Arsenal battle for possession. Photo: Getty Images

In the end, though, all substitute Alexandre Lacazette's goal 25 minutes from time succeeded in doing was poking the beast and, before long, City had restored their two-goal cushion when Gabriel Jesus made it 3-1.

That's 38 goals in 11 league games now and 52 goals in 17 matches in all competitions, all but one of which have been won.

To put that into context, Wenger's 'Invincibles' did not reach 38 goals until early January in the 21st match of their unbeaten 2003/04 campaign.

Wenger complained, as he does, not just about that third goal which looked offside, but about the penalty from which Sergio Aguero had doubled City's advantage shortly after the restart, when he accused Raheem Sterling of diving, which he did not.

There was more than a whiff of a manager trying to mask the gulf in quality between the sides, no better showcased than by the majesty of Kevin De Bruyne's opening goal.

After all, Alexis Sanchez's longing to join City will only have intensified here, and on current form it is hard to see how he could force his way into this team.

There was much to admire about City, not least their ability to play with such intensity after a draining 4-2 victory away to Napoli in the Champions League, but there was little doubt where the game was won and lost.

City were superior in most departments - none more so than central midfield, where the sublime David Silva and De Bruyne systematically unravelled their opponents.

City had two excellent chances to take the lead before De Bruyne scored. Barely 90 seconds had elapsed when Aguero sliced a shot wide from close range and in the 12th minute referee Michael Oliver failed to spot a nudge in Sterling's back from Sead Kolasinac as the England forward attempted to turn in Leroy Sane's cross on the goalline.

Arsenal had actually equipped themselves pretty well between times, but once De Bruyne had pounced the first-half was one-way traffic.

After De Bruyne had a snap-shot saved by Petr Cech, Sane picked up the loose ball and gave it to Fabian Delph, who squared it to the Belgian.

There was nothing really on but the midfielder played a quick one-two with Fernandinho, then shifted the ball on to his left foot and drilled it low across Cech into bottom corner. That is what the best do, fashion openings from nowhere.

To try to grasp the extent of the demands Guardiola places on his players, it's worth watching the manager on the touchline.

It becomes apparent just how exacting he is when he angrily stamps his foot or wheels away in disgust at the smallest pass that goes awry.

Guardiola's fury when Sterling - looking to square the ball for Sane after being released by another awe-inspiring De Bruyne pass - overhit his pass in the 35th minute was more understandable.

If Sterling had got that right, with Koscielny outnumbered, it would effectively have been game over for Arsenal.

A couple of minutes before there had been another insight into Guardiola's unrelenting standards.

After Kolasinac's push on Sterling went unnoticed and Arsenal collected the loose ball, Guardiola was motioning frantically at Kyle Walker to be further up the pitch, ready to apply immediate pressure on Kolasinac, hands on his head in despair at the right-back's positioning.

These are the small details Guardiola lives by and what, ultimately, makes his side so hard to contain or counter.

Aaron Ramsey forced a good save from Ederson on the cusp of half-time but Arsenal were soon 2-0 down. Fernandinho's raking pass played in Sterling.

Monreal gave chase, but his challenge was clumsy and down went Sterling.

There have been clearer-cut penalties, but the contact was there, despite Wenger's gripes. Aguero converted the spot-kick.

And then City's tempo briefly dropped, Wenger brought on Lacazette and Arsenal suddenly had a spring in their step.

Their goal was well made and well taken; Alex Iwobi finding Ramsey who, spotting Laczaette peeling off Nicolas Otamendi, fed the striker who shot powerfully underneath Ederson.

But that was as good as it got for Arsenal.

After Cech had denied Jesus with a terrific save, City claimed a third when Silva, from an offside position, collected Fernandinho's pass and squared the ball for Jesus to score. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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