Result: Manchester City 3-1 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 3rd February 2019
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Starting XI: Leno, Lichtsteiner, Koscielny, Mustafi, Monreal, Kolasinac, Guendouzi, Torreira, Iwobi, Lacazette, Aubameyang
Subs: Cech, Mavropanos, Elneny, Ramsey, Ozil, Suarez, Nketiah
Arsenal endured another chastening defeat on the road as Manchester City won 3-1 at the Etihad courtesy of Sergio Aguero’s hat-trick.
The Argentina international needed less than a minute to open the scoring and although Laurent Koscielny got the Gunners level, Unai Emery’s men never really looked in control.
Raheem Sterling laid on a brace of assists either side of the break as Aguero ruthlessly ensured our dreadful away record against the top six sides continued.
Having risen to fourth in the table in midweek, the result sees us drop to sixth, a point behind Manchester United and three shy of Chelsea.
In light of our injury crisis, the big question pre-game was how Unai Emery would set up the defence. Given the personnel selected it looked as though we’d line up with a back three, but in fact, the boss went for a 4-4-2 formation with Kolasinac and Iwobi playing on the flanks in front of Monreal and Lichsteiner.
In the absence of Granit Xhaka, ruled out with a tight groin, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira were asked to marshal midfield while Alex Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang both started. New boy Denis Suarez was kept in reserve alongside Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil.
Bruised by Tuesday’s defeat to Newcastle, Pep Guardiola’s were always going to be quick out of the blocks. The question was whether we could hold tight and grow into the game. The answer came immediately. No.
Penned into our own box, we failed to clear the ball a couple of times before Iwobi attempted to dribble it away from danger. On the right edge of the box, he was tackled by Laporte who quickly crossed for Aguero to head home at the near post. 48 seconds were on the clock. (1-0)
City went for the kill, piling on the pressure. They should have had a penalty when Mustafi pulled down Aguero in the 3rd minute, Sterling forced Leno into a save with an effort curled from 25-yards and Laporte put the ball in the back of the net only to be flagged offside.
Out of nowhere, we got level. With our first attack we panicked City into conceding a corner and from it, Koscielny, courtesy of a great flick on by Monreal, headed home from two yards out. It was old-school Arsenal, worthy of Adams and Bould. (1-1)
The game settled into a pattern of regular City probing and hurried, slightly desperate Arsenal clearances. On the odd occasion, we managed to put a couple of passes together, we were quite happy to slow things down. Half chances came and went for De Bruyne and Kolasinac.
Eager to help out defensively, Lacazette and Aubameyang dropped so deep that by the half hour mark they were effectively playing alongside Torreira and Guendouzi. The latter was in fine fettle, winning challenges, carrying the ball with confidence and making passes when others failed. A neat ball for Kolasinac allowed the Bosnian to sting Edison’s palms.
Having done well to quell the early onslaught it was so frustrating to concede again just before half time. A dinked ball by Gundogan over our defence saw Sterling escape Lichtsteiner and with all the time to pick out a blue shirt he rolled a first time pass to Aguero to tap in at the back post. (2-1)
The opening ten minutes of the second period boiled down to a duel between Leno and De Bruyne with the City midfielder three times testing the German. Our keeper stood firm but the fact the Belgian was able to so regularly get on the ball in and around our box was a real concern.
Only one side looked like scoring and on the hour mark, City duly delivered the killer blow. Albeit in controversial circumstances. Again Aguero converted a Sterling cross, although this time the ball seemed to come off the Argentine’s arm as he slid to the turf. Leno tried to claw the ball clear as it dribbled over the line but referee Atkinson signalled for the goal. Our complaints fell on deaf ears. (3-1)
Emery’s response was to bring on Suarez and Ramsey for Kolasinac and Iwobi. The debutant, facing his old club, lost the ball with his first touch. City broke, Bernado Silva shot, Leno saved.
For a ten minutes spell we briefly had more of the ball, but that was more symptomatic of City’s willingness to take a breather than a newfound sense of Arsenal urgency. We didn’t actually do anything going forward. In fact, we didn’t muster a single shot on target after the break, something we’ve not done in four years.
Back came City. Leno stopped Aguero from getting a fourth before Guardiola put us out of our misery by taking him off. An injury to Mustafi allowed Mavropanos to make his first start of the season. On a day of few highlights, the return of the Greek is at least a positive going into the final third of the season.