Make no mistake about it, this pulsating Manchester City win over Arsenal is gargantuan both in its timing and its context in what is now a race to catch Chelsea. Teams pursuing top four spots have also been getting too close for comfort. A large amount of the damage done in failing to put away 4 teams consecutively when well on top at home has been clawed back with two crucial wins in Manchester inside 4 days. Opportunity knocks now to build some real momentum over the festive season, firstly at Hull with Fernandinho on board and secondly with a revved up Aguero at Liverpool.
Yet it could have been very different. City were as disappointing as we have seen them of late in a first half that again saw them dominate and again find no end product in front of shocking defensive ineptitude. Our defence is a complete and utter mess, let’s be clear about it. Again they afforded an opposing team an early advantage with a criminal lack of collective effort. To be brutally frank, no matter what combination Pep throws at it they are a non-communicative, scattergun shambles. Runners were again not being picked up in that first half today with snail’s pace ball watching manifest.
Absolute credit has to go to Fernando and Touré who despite any support or calls nor direction from behind them in what had become a hushed stadium, fought like tigers to repel Arsenal’s pace. Those two alone provided the axis that reduced The Gunners to one shot on target all game and constructed the platform for a stunning second half fightback. Pep needs to urgently address a situation that allows high class forwards to waltz right through a back line that allows the ball to be passed into the net.
Up front, we were nowhere near direct enough or created enough in that opening 45 despite the tremendous efforts of City’s attacking midfielders who badly missed a spearhead in a six yard box they weren’t flooding. A stifling Groundhog Day feeling had descended across The Etihad. Continue in this vein across the team and there would only be a result similar to Arsenal’s 2 nil win here two seasons ago.
But then something clicked as the sides came out for what became a scintillating second half.
Warrior captain Zabaleta had been run ragged and Pep Guardiola made the type of Plan B bold decision our squad has lacked for 3 seasons in hooking the flagging Argentine for the much fresher Sagna. Almost immediately we saw finally what is expected of a Guardiola side and how the system is supposed to work. Relentless high pressing and defending from the front reducing the opposition to hopelessly stretched bystanders unable to settle. The ball was relentlessly pursued taking lorry loads of pressure off a defence which all too frequently carries some players who appear incapable of playing the way Pep wants.
But when all is said and done, at the end of the day etc, City were unstoppable in that second period. Silva, Sane, Sterling and above all of them, De Bruyne were simply sensational. Some of their interchanges with the whole side pressing high behind them were wonderful to watch giving a side previously unbeaten for months until entering Lancashire a few days ago no chance of showing up. This really was Pep’s definition of ‘I want the ball back.’
And then there is Arsenal. VMC’s flagship correspondent Pedmachine christened the London aristocrats The Ashburton Grove Bottling Factory a few years back. It is a fitting description. When the going gets tough Arsene Wenger’s men go missing, today being a classic example. Their side holds some wonderful footballers but today, out-passed and outfought, they would have been guaranteed the type of mardarsed Emirates booing their entitled fans have become legendary for every time their men end a half of football in arrears. In time honoured tradition under Arsene Wenger’s renowned petulence their discipline went completely at the close when they knew it was curtains. Some of their reckless challenges and dissent were embarrassing. Quite how referee Atkinson inexplicably saw fit to book 4 City players from 9 fouls to Arsenal’s 2 from 13 is beyond me.
However, this is a sweet victory indeed coming almost 3 years to the day when City last beat Arsenal and similarly to the gloating, ‘we’ve won the league by Christmas’ roasting we shipped off their fans in London this time last year. Take it, take it! (With due acknowledgement to the legendary Walter Smith of bluemoonrising TV).
Right. Let’s go to Hull now and really stick it to the rag led table propper-uppers and set up that New Years Eve clash at Candlefield. Well done today to an under strength City for finally exorcising the failure to beat any top sides last season…BUT for crying out loud Pep, get that defence on message and in attackers faces.
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