Tuesday, November 7, 2017

MATCH NOTES / ARSENAL h

After an exacting week in southern Italy chasing Napoli out of their cultured stride, City were asked to play an Arsenal side keen to express their own ball-playing talents at the Etihad. In City’s history there have not been too many moments when a 3-1 defeat of Arsenal could be described as standard, low sweat, even a little below-par, but – on this season’s standards – this was at times a touch scrappy and inaccurate. It was also nonchalant in its dismissal of Arsenal's strengths and imperious in its delivery of three more points despite tired legs. It was more than enough to deal with this diminished Arsenal vintage, but nevertheless, it lacked some of the sparkle that City have sprinkled over this season's Premier League up to now. Perhaps that in itself is more reason for the likes of Long-ball José and the all-seeing Pochettino to worry. A weary, soft-focus City gobbling up fresh-legged Arsenal...  

When you are eight points clear at the start of November and have scored 52 goals in all competitions, the barrier is raised pretty high, after all.

What will have swiftly dawned on Arsenal was the need to be absolutely on top of their game. An inch wide with a pass, a second late with a run, a little dull on the peripheral vision and this City side will show you up immediately. Arsenal, for a while, were doing well enough, but - even with a side fresh and ready for action, they were often that inch, second and fragment of light behind their supposedly tired opponents. It was not to be nearly sufficient , however, and the question begs to be asked: on this form, can anybody contain this free-flowing City side?

Positives
After the afore-mentioned midweek exertions in sunny Campania, to be able to keep the ball off an Arsenal side that made 9 changes from their own midweek match (City made just two) spoke volumes for Gaurdiola’s side. Guts, spirit and togetherness saw them through, when occasionally the passes failed to find their target. With De Bruyne and Silva directing affairs through the middle, Arsenal were a step behind all the way through, desperately filling spaces with bodies, only to find City had moved and carved them open somewhere else seconds later. It was a little like watching an old man with a bucket of water trying to put out three different fires in different rooms of  his house. Listening to Arsene Wenger afterwards, clearly the old man's house had burned down and his testicles had been scorched in the process. 

Negatives
Slow out of the blocks for a change, as City were pinned back by a lively Arsenal start, withstanding three (wasted) corners in the first six minutes. Ederson did not have a save to make during this frisky opening salvo, but was brought into action later by the more lively Lacazette, who Wenger had inexplicably decided to leave on the bench. Time now to regroup and recuperate during the extended international break.     

Manager:
8 -- Chose to go with his strongest available side and risk burn-out later in what was sure to be a game featuring plenty of space to run into. It worked, but he will have to start thinking of conserving limbs for the long winter slog on four fronts.

Player ratings 
Ederson Morais, 7 – Committed his first error of the season, letting a shot slip through his hands and bounce behind him onto the line. Out quick to smother at Ozil's feet after 24 minutes and - right on the break - had a real save to make, diving low to his right to parry from Aaron Ramsey. Lacazette’s shot went straight under him for the Arsenal goal. Wonderful lofted ball out onto the head of De Bruyne, to set up Walker's late run down the wing. 

Kyle Walker, 7 -- Mostly stayed deep to track Alexis Sanchez for much of the first half, but first proper foray upfield brought slide rule pass in to the middle that Aguero almost touched in. Lovely sweep into the middle to chest down Bellerin's long ball and clear the danger. Still motoring up the wing at the end, as legs had not been through the 90 minutes of Naples.  

John Stones, 7 – Calm, authoritative and keen to advance through the middle as much as possible. The hub of City’s slick passing out. Paid very close attention to the thrusts of Sanchez down his channel, tracking him well and produced a flying block on Bellerin towards the end. Twice caught centrally in possession as he advanced with the ball, however, necessitating a scramble back to cover. Lot of space near him as Lacazette went through for the Arsenal goal.    
Nicolas Otamendi, 7-- Provides the crunching tackles to marry with Stones’ clever jockeying. Quick to get foot in at the first sign of danger and fond of the central pass out through the advancing forwards. Almost arrogant in his confident distribution out to Delph and forward to De Bruyne and Sane. Booked for a clumsy swipe at Lacazette, which will keep him out of Leicester away, but in his element at the moment.   

Fabian Delph, 8 -- Pressed back by Hector Bellerin’s lively presence down City’s left. Storming run forward after 21 minutes and a shot blocked six minutes later, as he revelled in the extra space. Taken to Guardiola's passing out style remarkably well, but still happy to produce a haymaker (44 m) when necessary. Finished first half holding groin after an uncomfortable fall but kept going and covered a huge amount of ground in the second half, on one occasion losing possession, winning it back immediately, cutting inside his opponent and advancing to make successful pass. 
Fernandinho, 8 -- Poor start with several over-weighted passes and a rash of fouls on Sanchez, but settled to play the critical one-two with Kevin De Bruyne to free the Belgian to shoot in for 1-0 and produced a beautiful lofted pass to Sterling, which led to the penalty. Lost possession in the unsteady early phase allowing Ozil to shoot and hit two or three passes straight past their intended recipients. Despite the lack of customary accuracy, was a step ahead of anything Arsenal's midfield could challenge him with.      

Leroy Sane, 7 -- First ball across the box needed just a touch from Raheem Sterling, but went millimetres past his toe end. Although well marshalled by Laurent Koscielny, started to stretch Arsenal down left towards half time. Scorching run up the right when he switched wings before half time but held onto the ball too long and was dispossessed. Volleyed a high ball from Sterling straight up Bellerin's shorts and was replaced by Bernardo after 86 minutes.
Raheem Sterling, 7-- Fantastic speed in very first minute to let Arsenal know what they could expect from him. Just too slow onto Sane’s cross, as he seemed to put his wrong foot forward and made an inexcusable mess of returning the favour, neither crossing to Sane for what would have been a certain second nor shooting for goal himself with a kind angle to goal. Brought down for the penalty after cutting across Nacho Monreal, a collision which brought out some of Wenger's most infamous character defaults. Clever to cut across defender, but impact caused was a penalty. Wenger's claims afterwards that Sterling is a diver anyway rank alongside his financial doping diatribe for childish petulance. The Arsenal manager is 71. 

David Silva, 9 -- Usual array of short and long balls, pirouettes out of trouble and forays out to the left. Owner of the central midfield space as bodies tired around him, dancing through one tackle after another. Often the intricate cog in the move that - three passes further down the line -- end up with City in front of goal. Also supplier  of his own defence-splitting through balls, one for Sterling after 27 minutes and danced down the line to set up Jesus for the (offside) third goal. Drew a yellow for a highly frustrated Ozil at the end, as he paraded through the middle like a man in the park with his dog, then did the same thing on the right wing with four Arsenal men in his wake. 
Kevin de Bruyne, 8 -- Nonchalant brilliance, author of first goal, cracked in with his left foot, seconds after a volleyed attempt with his right had been parried away. Specialist of the short, round-the-corner pass, curled with end of foot around any obstruction, but not able to get the longer balls of same style working properly on this occasion. Work rate, like many of City's so-called stars - is incredible, chasing Coquelin all the way back towards the Arsenal box, to harry him into an error, which duly came with a wild hack into touch. No-look pass to Silva resulted in a cross into the six yard box and released Sterling after 33 minutes with another sublime touch. One touch with the outside of the boot steered him clear of a flying boot to open up a run down the right for Sane. Simple, easy, effective and still the Premier League's second highest assist-producer after Silva.

Sergio Aguero, 7 -- Honoured by guard of honour but given less space to express himself by Arsenal’s defence. Working back really deep to be part of the action and drag Koscielny and Monreal out of position. Was inches away from the opening goal with City's initial attack after one minute, but hit it just too high. Lovely flick to put in Sane, ending with Sterling's early chance. Penalty in off the post takes him clear at 179 career goals for City and to top of Premier League goals chart with 8 for the season so far.    

Substitutes:
Gabriel Jesus, 7 -- On for Aguero after 61 minutes. Rasping shot somehow saved on the line by Peter Cech, then a simple tap in from Silva’s industry down the by-line. To be seen chasing Ozil back down the pitch as late as the 94th minute.
Bernardo Silva, NR -- Arrived as a 86th minute replacement for Sane and immediately found himself needed to hack the balla way from his own area..
Ilkay Gundogan, NR -- Replaced Sterling after 76 minutes to add energy to a tiring midfield.

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