After a delay in the Premier League due to the global pandemic, Manchester City returned to action against Arsenal at the Etihad Stadium.
Although this was a very different experience for Manchester City in many ways – there were no fans in the stadium, the rules were slightly different, there were socially distanced warm ups and celebrations – some things, such as the manner of the victory remained the same.
Much can be said of the inability of Arsenal to offer a tight defence, but to their credit they were at times compact and structured. The problems were obviously down to personnel, who may not be at the level required to undertake the task set by Mikel Arteta.
Pep Guardiola approached the match with the usual attention to detail and planning. Some squad players were held back from starting in anticipation of the travails ahead – notably Burnley on Monday evening. Therefore some of the more physically imposing members of the team sat out most of the game and instead the focus appeared to be upon swift passing and possession.
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Most of the first half seemed like a practice match. The empty stadium giving rise to a more laboured approach. Arsenal offered competent resistance but it became clear as the game went on that their game plan amounted to restricting City by packing the lines between our midfield and attack.
Of course this allowed a series of beautiful moves to flow as Ederson sprayed passes and quick interplay moved through the Arsenal lines. The surprise was that the first goal came on the stroke of half time.
A Kevin De Bruyne pass evaded the fumbling of David Luiz and Raheem Sterling slotted home his first goal of 2020. The Arsenal goalkeeper had a solid game throughout but his curious flail in the face of the Sterling strike could and should have been more.
The game was all but over in the opening minutes of the second half. David Luiz pulled back the rushing Riyad Mahrez in the penalty area and suffered the indignity of both a spot kick and a red card. De Bruyne dispatched the penalty with some venom and appears to have cemented himself as the new regular penalty taker.
Even before the penalty kick though there was never much doubt as to how the game would go.
City played neat football and the air of practice match kicked in amongst the silence of the Etihad Stadium. With 10 minutes to go Ederson came crashing out his goal to head the ball away and completely flattened Eric Garcia. A lengthy stoppage ensued as Garcia was stretchered off the pitch.
In the dying minute of the game, 2 substitutes combined to add a 3rd goal. Sergio Aguero struck a fierce shot against the bar and Phil Foden tucked in the rebound.
Burnley will be more committed opponents on Monday but this was a useful game to reset the levels of performance. City are back.