Having strung together an eight-game unbeaten run dating back to December, there were hopes that Mikel Arteta’s squad might build on their promising pre-coronavirus form to at least avoid defeat against Pep Guardiola’s reigning champions. Instead, old issues, mostly in the form of David Luiz, made an unwelcome appearance.
It didn’t help that Mikel Arteta had to make two injury-enforced substitutions within the opening 25 minutes. First Granit Xhaka twisted an ankle and then Pablo Mari went down clutching his calf. The loss of the latter and the subsequent introduction of Luiz brought mayhem.
In the dying embers of the first half, the Brazilian misjudged the bounce of a De Bruyne through ball, allowing it to skip up and off him into the path of Raheem Sterling who lashed home past Leno. Just four minutes after the break, he followed up with more cataclysmic defending, tugging down Riyad Mahrez in the box to concede a penalty and earn a red card. De Bruyne tucked home the spot-kick.
Down to 10 men and forced to reshuffle the defence a second time, this time with Tierney playing as a centre-back, Arsenal played the kind of timid football you’d expect from a side fearful of taking a serious bottom paddling. In stoppage time, Phil Foden added a third for the hosts.
Even after making his first start in six months, Tierney had little positive to say about the occasion.
“We’ve worked so hard the last few months and to have such setbacks so early on in a game is never easy, especially against a team like Man City,” the Scot told Arsenal.com.
“Another disappointment is that you’ve not got fans out there either, so it’s always a miss when there’s no fans.
“Nothing really went to plan. That happens in football and you need to deal with it. Tonight we gave everything we could and things just went wrong at the wrong times. We just never recovered.
“It was hard. I thought in the first half, up until the goal, we were coping well with it. Obviously the goal right before half-time kind of deflates you a little bit. Going in at half-time at 0-0, you’ve got every confidence.
“Even at 1-0 we still had belief, and then the red card makes it harder as well. When people are moving positions, it’s hard. A team like Manchester City are going to punish you with the ball.”
Luiz was quick to apologise after the match and seemed to suggest that he’d not been in the right mindset in the last few weeks having struggled to bring clarity to his contract situation. The 33-year-old’s current deal ends in less than two weeks. With a two-game ban to serve, if he doesn’t pen an extension, this will have been the last we see of him in an Arsenal shirt.