Freewheeling City already look streets ahead of the rest
Even without hitting top gear, Pep Guardiola’s side easily brushed aside Arsenal
Manchester City 3 Arsenal 1
It is surely still too early, with the leaves falling from the trees to think nothing can possibly go wrong for Pep Guardiola’s freewheeling side and assume this season’s Premier League title will be a procession. But it certainly feels like a strong possibility when Manchester City are playing this way, the goals are flying in from every angle and they are on course to smash just about every scoring record in history.
Arsenal did manage to bring down City’s almost implausible goals-per-game ratio a touch – now a mere 38 goals from 11 league fixtures – but this still registered as another thoroughly demoralising experience for Arsene Wenger’s side and a stark reminder of how far they have slipped behind.
This is the first time since 1981 Arsenal have lost four of their first six away games. It leaves them sixth in the league, 12 points from the top, and it could conceivably have been an even more painful ordeal had their opponents been more ruthless during several long spells of near-complete superiority.
As it was, City made do with a goal apiece from Kevin De Bruyne and the substitute Gabriel Jesus and, in between, a penalty for Sergio Agüero on the day the Argentine was presented with a “Blue Boot” trophy for becoming the club’s all-time record scorer. Shaun Goater, Niall Quinn and David White were among the line-up of City greats for the pre-match presentation and this was another occasion to remind everyone how the club has changed since their days wearing blue.
The scariest part for the other teams with title ambitions is that Guardiola’s men might actually regard this as a slightly scruffy performance at times. Heck, there was even the sight here of David Silva misplacing a few passes and Raheem Sterling might wake in a cold sweat when he thinks back to that two-on-one breakaway in the first half when his mind was filled with uncertainty and he made an absolute pig’s ear of his pass to Leroy Sane. Guardiola’s reaction on the touchline was reminiscent of a man fighting an invisible swarm of bees.
Ultimately, though, City were still the better side by some distance and there was only one brief spell, after the Arsenal substitute Alexandre Lacazette had made it 2-1, that they looked vulnerable. By the end, there were olés from the crowd, shortly after the announcement that the brilliant, mesmeric De Bruyne had been named the game’s outstanding performer. Those cheers are becoming the soundtrack to what is shaping up to be a record-breaking season.
Arsenal, on the other hand, look like what they are: a side that has been drifting for too long. “He wants to be blue,” the home fans sang about Alexis Sanchez but, on this evidence, he might find it difficult to get a game and, unfortunately for Wenger, the experimentation with Francis Coquelin at centre half was no way of stopping their opponents.
Coquelin always looked out place in a new 3-4-2-1 formation. It was not until Agüero’s penalty had made it 2-0 that Wenger brought on Lacazette and it was the Frenchman’s diagonal right-foot drive, set up by Aaron Ramsey, that briefly raised the possibility of an Arsenal comeback.
Instead, back came City, swarming all over their opponents before Jesus soothed any gathering nerves by turning in Silva’s pass while the Arsenal defence waited for an offside to be given. The flag should have gone up but it was a marginal decision and it was startling to see how much time Jesus had to pick his spot.
De Bruyne’s goal was beautifully taken, playing a one-two with Fernandinho before drilling a left-foot shot past Petr Cech. But that, again, was aided by the reluctance of a single Arsenal player to make a tackle or close the players down.
Agüero’s penalty, three minutes into the second half, went in off the post, after Sterling had gone down under Nacho Monreal’s challenge, and by the end it was easy to understand that, yes, it was probably true about Sanchez, trying and failing to spark an Arsenal side that is becoming a distant speck in the distance.