Result: Man City 3-0 Arsenal
Competition: Premier League
Date: 17 June 2020
Venue: Etihad Stadium
Starting XI: Leno, Bellerin, Mustafi, Mari, Tierney, Guendouzi, Xhaka, Willock, Saka, Aubameyang, Nketiah
Subs: Martinez, Luiz, Kolasinac, Maitland-Niles, Ceballos, Nelson, Pepe, Martinelli, Lacazette
Manchester City coasted to a 3-0 win against Arsenal at the Etihad as David Luiz produced a nightmare performance on the Premier League’s return.
In a comically bad 27 minute cameo, the Brazilian, a first half substitute for Pablo Mari, made terrible mistakes that led to both of the home side’s goals and managed to get himself sent off in the process.
Just before half time, the defender let a through ball bounce off him which Raheem Sterling despatched past Bernd Leno and four minutes after the restart he hauled down Riyad Mahrez to concede a penalty. As he received his marching orders, Kevin De Bruyne tucked home to double the lead.
Phil Foden rubbed salt into the wounds in stoppage time, calmly slotting home a third.
After more than 100 days without football, it was a disappointing night for Mikel Arteta who cut a forlorn figure on the touchline on his first return to his old club.
Within minutes of Arsenal stepping off the team bus in Manchester, the big talking point was the absence of Mesut Ozil. Even with a 20-man matchday squad, the German was left at home. There was no explanation forthcoming before kick-off but we know he wasn’t injured. The other notable absentee was David Luiz. He was part of the squad but had to settle for a place on the bench. It meant a central defensive partnership of Shkodran Mustafi and Pablo Mari; the latter returning to his former club. Kieran Tierney, making his first start of the year, and Hector Bellerin took up the full-back slots. In midfield, Granit Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi were given the job of shackling City’s creativity. Joe Willock took the number 10 role with Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah making up a speedy front three.
After a minute’s silence to remember those who have lost their lives to Covid-19 and the taking of the knee in a show of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, the game got underway in eerie silence and pouring rain.
With the ball skipping off the wet turf, Pablo Mari flew into a rash challenge on the edge of the box which sent Raheem Sterling flying inside three minutes. Anthony Taylor pointed for a free-kick and hearts were in mouths as Kevin De Bruyne lined up an effort. He went high, around the wall and forced Leno to tip over.
Our haphazard start continued as Xhaka twisted his ankle before falling into Guendouzi. With less than seven minutes on the clock he was replaced by Dani Ceballos.
De Bruyne’s ability to play through the lines on the run was a constant threat in midfield and on a couple of occasions he sprung breaks that had us backpedaling. Eventually we settled down and heading towards the 20 minute mark we’d had an equal share of possession and looked bright building play on the flanks.
Another injury brought us further disruption. As Kyle Walker broke into our box, Pablo Mari pulled up clutching his calf. While we were thankful City couldn’t take advantage of the ensuing cutback, it was pretty depressing watching another player limp off when the ball went out of play. David Luiz came on for the Spaniard, who looked as disgusted as Xhaka at such a short cameo.
There were half chances for Nketiah, hitting a Saka cross wide, and Aubameyang, who fired over after a defensive mix-up, but nothing to seriously worry Edersen.
At the other end, Sterling cut inside Bellerin and tried to find the far corner with a curler but Leno parried clear. The German got down brilliantly again moments later to make a big stop with his left hand as City’s intricate football worked a chance for David Silva inside the six-yard box. He had to make a third stop with his feet to deny Mahrez at close quarters. A fourth big chance in quick succession fell to Sterling who tried to dink the keeper. His effort went just over. As you might have guessed, by this point, the home side were very much in charge.
It looked like we might just scrape through to half-time but then Luiz had a brain fart. Stuck in two minds about how to deal with a through ball, the Brazilian let it skip off him and Sterling, second-guessing the mistake, took advantage to race through on goal and hammer home. (1-0)
David Luiz’s evening managed to go from bad to worse inside four minutes of the restart. After Mahrez cushioned a header past the Brazilian to race through on goal, the Brazilian decided to pull back the winger inside the box. Not only did he concede a blatant penalty, he was also, quite rightly, shown a red card. VAR double-checked the decision. All it did was offer every Arsenal fan another opportunity to swear at the TV. De Bruyne took responsibility for the penalty and sent Leno the wrong way. There are 13 days left on Luiz’s contract, any confirmation of an extension is going to be awkward. (2-0)
At this point, playing against such an accomplished side, you feared for us. It really felt like a game of attack versus defence, with us sitting deep trying to minimise further damage. Tierney partnered Mustafi in our latest defensive reshuffle with Saka covering at left-back.
I’m not sure we made it past the halfway line for about 15 minutes, a state of affairs that left Aubameyang looking noticeably disgruntled. If there was a positive, it was the fact there wasn’t a packed crowd baying for blood. City, far from match fit themselves, seemed happy to take it relatively easy, knowing full well the game was won.
Taking advantage of the chance to throw on three further players, but having to do so in one go following the enforced changes in the first half, Arteta switched Willock, Guendouzi and Nketiah for Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Alex Lacazette and Reiss Nelson.
Leno denied De Bruyne a second goal of the evening with another decent save before Guardiola removed the midfielder with 20 minutes remaining. With no fans present, you could hear our players breathing a sigh of relief. The Belgian is a mighty fine player.
There was an injury scare for the home side when Edersen was involved in a nasty collision with youngster Eric Garcia that left the defender poleaxed. A lengthy delay followed as the medical team assessed him. He was carried from the pitch on a stretcher after six minutes.
In 11 minutes of injury time, Foden added a gloss to proceedings, finding the net after fellow sub Sergio Aguero had hit the post. (3-0)
The score might have been even worse had Bernardo Silva and Aguero not been profligate with further opportunities. In the end the final score flattered us.
So football is back. Arsenal are back. But many of the same problems remain.
On the plus side, there’s not much time to dwell on things. The squad return to London tonight and have two days before heading to Brighton on Saturday morning. We really can’t afford to drop any more points in the coming weeks, so they need to compartmentalise the disappointment of a very bad night against a very good team.