Arsenal 0-2 Manchester City: Raheem Sterling stars as champions coast to victory
A new dawn at Arsenal but the same old story as they fell to Manchester City for the fourth successive time, undone by two moments of magic from Sterling and Bernardo.
On a day of new dawns at Arsenal football club, it was the same old story as they fell to Manchester City for the fourth successive time. Neither team was at its sharpest, but the Citizens quietly dominated for most of the match and provided the sparks to see them pick up where they left off last season. Both teams were missing first-team players, but City’s strength in depth told.
For Unai Emery, the size of the task ahead of him will have been made abundantly clear. Arsenal started with vigour and seemed up for the fight — as were the home crowd — cheering on the players’ every move. City weathered any storm thrown their way however and soon took control. Their wide players were seeing plenty of the ball and were making full use of their pacey full backs.
It was of little surprise therefore when the visitors took the lead after only 14 minutes. Benjamin Mendy laid the ball off to Raheem Sterling, he dribbled inside past several Arsenal players before hitting the ball cleanly past Petr Cech from 20 yards. Cech seemed at least partially unsighted as the ball flew past him.
City had already gone close from Sterling — who forced a save from Cech after a beautiful lay-off from Sergio Aguero — and they continued to create chances after the goal, Aguero slicing the ball into the side-netting. Sterling was dangerous throughout the match, the summer scrutiny doing little to affect his club form.
The home side fashioned a rare opening when Hector Bellerin deceived Mendy but Ederson beat his fierce shot away, and Arsenal had Cech — who was having a mixed day — to thank as he made a double save, from a Riyad Mahrez free kick and the follow up from Aymeric Laporte.
City were not at their destructive best, as seen at the Emirates the previous season, but Arsenal were struggling to create good chances. Their day was summed up nicely when Cech almost stroked a back-pass into his own net.
The second half saw a concerted effort from Arsenal once more, but they were undone by a failure to beat the offside trap set by the visitors, and often chances came from City’s sloppiness more than their own neat play.
Alexandre Lacazette, on as a substitute in the 54th minute, spurned the best chance of the half, shooting wide from the edge of the area when in plenty of space and Arsenal were made to pay for that miss in the 64th minute.
Mendy drove forward down the left flank, and his cross into the area was met sweetly by Bernardo Silva, who rifled the ball home, bringing back memories of his curled finish the previous time City played at the Emirates. After that, the visitors saw out the game comfortably and got their title defence off to a perfect start.
Little to learn on opening days
Whilst this result seemed to confirm the balance of power between these two sides, Emery will not be drawing too many conclusions from possibly his hardest home game of the season. With players yet to reach match fitness and new signings yet to bed in, he knows the true tests lie ahead.
Of concern however will be the form of Mesut Ozil and Henrikh Mkhitaryan and how best to utilise the talent of Lacazette without weakening defensive solidity.
For Pep Guardiola — the ultimate perfectionist — the sloppiness on display at times from his team will have been irksome. But he too will be aware that the best is yet to come.
City did not start last season on fire and took a few games to find their rhythm. Guardiola himself commented after the match that City will improve, which is a worrying thought for their competitors.
A new defensive partnership for Manchester City
In the lead up to the start of the season, there seemed a consensus that Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi — City’s senior central defenders — were also City’s first choice defenders.
Otamendi is 30 years old, and was generally excellent last season despite his perpetual critics. This match however suggested that the future belongs to John Stones and Aymeric Laporte.
Their selection in a big game was telling, and both repaid this decision with excellent performances, especially January signing Laporte. If they both stay fit, Otamendi and Kompany could be reduced to a supporting role for much of the season.
Emery turns to youth
During the week, with two key defenders out injured and other players lacking match fitness, there was talk of Danny Welbeck having to play at left back against City.
That never transpired, despite him training in that position, and Emery turned to Ainsley Maitland-Niles instead, also picking the 19-year-old Matteo Guendouzi in midfield, ahead of new signing Lucas Torreira.
Maitland-Niles had a tough game up against the guile and pace of Mahrez and Kyle Walker and had to retire injured after 35 minutes.
Guendouzi too struggled to impose himself, but neither player was poor, nor any worse than their teammates, and it will be of interest to see how many more opportunities they get once the full squad is back and match fit.
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