FA CupMatch report

Manchester City into FA Cup fifth round after win over Arsenal

League leaders rest a number of starters beaten as Nathan Aké's goal proves the difference

Manchester City 1 Arsenal 0

If the quality was dialled down in this heavyweight collision, there was still enough feints, jabs, punches and counters to fascinate. Manchester City administered the knockout blow. They were close to duff before the break, then came out and took the tie to Arsenal.

Pep Guardiola can be snarky about the timings of his substitutions but his introduction of Julián Álvarez on 58 minutes was a masterstroke. It was the No 19′s 20-yard effort that presaged Nathan Aké's winner: it crashed into a post and then Jack Grealish tookover and wove his magic.

A twist and a turn in the area bought time and space for an offload. Who knows why the defender was goal-hanging but Aké's cool finish with his weaker right was rolled beyond Matt Turner with aplomb to send himself, manager, team-mates and the home congregation into raptures.


Later, the lurking Eddie Nketiah might have equalised from Granit Xhaka’s cross from the left but Aymeric Laporte got in the way and cleared and so while City ended with the spoils, as a primer for the two league meetings to come between the champions and leaders this was a succulent taster. And, after all the chat about how the histrionic Guardiola and Mikel Arteta might clash, they were calm apart from when the latter had a pop at fourth official, Robert Jones, who seemed to warn he might be censured.

This lack of poise from the Arsenal manager was the inverse to how his team performed in advance of the interval. First up was Leandro Trossard who, on full debut, skipped along the left and fed Takehiro Tomiyasu whose shot was parried by Stefan Ortega.

At the other end Erling Haaland had already manhandled Rob Holding and when Manuel Akanji threaded into the No 9 the centre back faltered and Turner had to race out to block the lethal Norwegian’s effort. The ball ricocheted back, Haaland let go a misdirected overhead kick, and the Gunners escaped.

City were in their now quasi-familiar 3-3-3-1 shape with the ball, Rico Lewis tucking inside from right-back to play the “Philipp Lahm” auxiliary midfield role. This still did not allow mastery of territory and opponent and was indicative of Guardiola’s recent concerns about his misfiring team: an illustration came when Ilkay Gündogan smacked a simple pass straight past Haaland into Turner’s hands.

Arsenal were more potent. A second baring of teeth had Trossard the recipient of sharp ball-work from Bukayo Saka and Fabio Vieira: the Belgian blazed at goal and Ortega flew left to save.

City were AWOL. Kevin De Bruyne, who usually runs the show for them on home turf, had not been sighted but as the half-hour approached he was, drifting inside from the right and curling a left-foot effort at Turner’s goal: the crowd “oohed” but the American was untroubled.

Elsewhere the Haaland-Holding wrestling bout had another round when the latter elbowed the former in the head. Treatment was required and when the game recommenced Nketiah had his side’s third clear chance. Trossard, again, had a part – his cross went to the centre-forward and he missed from near-in.

Guardiola’s men, at this juncture, were about as fluid as cottage cheese. A vignette that had De Bruyne bundled over by Gabriel and Grealish committing a foul was a precis of their bitty mode. Even when Haaland later threatened, the shot ballooned wide, and the opening derived from a sliced Kieran Tierney pass, not via City’s usual geometric wizardry.

The overall verdict on the first half, though, also had Arsenal below their best in a contest that lost John Stones near the break due to what appeared a muscle injury.

It meant Aymeric Laporte joining the fray in an XI that in showing only two changes – Ortega and Aké for Ederson and the Frenchman – supported Guardiola’s stance that this cup is one of “beauty” to be claimed.

Arsenal’s 19-year title drought was surely why Arteta signalled that prize is the priority by making six changes. All were big names, led by his captain, Martin Ødegaard, so the Spaniard could be pleased with how those drafted were playing. Tomiyasu (for Ben White) was one and his harrying of Grealish right after the break would also have impressed Guardiola as it was straight from the Catalan’s playbook on pressing.

But his charges at last moved into higher gear via a rapid counter: De Bruyne zipped the ball to Haaland and was thwarted but was a sign City at last had the home crowd yelling encouragement and those in blue gave them more. De Bruyne, on the overlap received from Riyad Mahrez, pinged in from the right and a flailing Turner palmed the ball away from the lurking Haaland.

Gabriel Martinelli, on as a replacement, terrorised City with three late forays but they held on for a victory that may be of psychological import in advance of the league clashes. – Guardian