Manchester City ensured Chelsea would not be runaway Christmas leaders as they topped Arsenal 2-1 at the Etihad on Sunday.
Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling netted in the second half as City completed a turnaround, having trailed early thanks to Theo Walcott’s strike.
The perfect response
Despite their frailties, City responded to a below-par first half performance with a breathtaking second half display.
The second 45 was everything which makes it look like Guardiola is having an impact on the way that the Sky Blues play.
Flowing, high-intensity football became the order of the day, and Arsenal had no answer to it. The pressing was intelligent and almost a role-reversal of the first half.
What a huge goal it could prove to be for Leroy Sane, too. His first in a City shirt was executed with the trademark composure that made him such a hot property at Schalke.
8 – Petr Cech has gone eight consecutive Premier League games without a clean sheet for the first time in his career. Breached.
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 18, 2016
That seemed to take his performance to the next level, as he became more central and got involved in City’s attacks more. He could have bagged a second himself, drawing a good save from Petr Cech.
When Raheem Sterling bagged the second, there was a huge sense of relief around the Etihad Stadium, as they had what in truth they deserved.
We need to see more of the second half, and not the first half, if City are to mount a serious challenge.
Breached at will
It is well documented that Manchester City have struggled to defend against good, creative attacking sides this season.
They had conceded 19 goals prior to Sunday’s match, just one goal behind Liverpool for the most allowed in the top seven.
The simple fact is, Pep’s ‘revolution’ will not gather momentum while he builds a defence around veteran full-backs. Starting with Aleksandar Kolarov in central defence is something which worked at first, but is now turning into a farce.
Arsenal took just five minutes to carve City open, and it wasn’t even difficult. Alexis Sanchez found a nice pocket of space in between defence and midfield while Theo Walcott stretched the back-line and slotted home.
The replays made even grimmer viewing. A back four absolutely at sixes and sevens fell victim to the most basic of runs from a winger with a tendency to cut inside. Sure, the execution was good, but the hosts made themselves far too accommodating.
It continued too, as Arsenal made themselves far too quick to catch with quick breaks. The defence seemed to press wildly as a four, and close on the ball as a four, and a second goal looked inevitable.
These are not the habits of title challengers…
Gunners shoot themselves in the foot, again
It was all sitting so pretty for Arsenal after 40 minutes. A goal in front, a dominant performance, and the majority of the Etihad Stadium wondering just how it had been allowed to happen.
Sound familiar? Cast your memory back to Goodison Park six days ago, and the comparisons become clear.
A confident showing seemed to transform over half-time into a hesitant one. Whether Wenger had told his side to sit back and preserve what they have, or if the team just gradually grew nervous, the away side collapsed quickly.
The 4 stages of watching Arsenal today.. pic.twitter.com/CscMyuVHj1
— Sunday League (@SundayShoutsFC) December 18, 2016
The Gunners went from putting City under pressure to allowing them the freedom to probe and establish their style, and it became very costly.
Ultimately, the hosts had way too much quality on the field to be allowed the time and space to work in the way Arsenal let them, and their goals were a testament to this.
The first one is very poor defending from the visitors’ point of view, as Sane is allowed in behind too easily, and although the turn and shot was good technique, it was also a product of naivety.
Arsenal grew tired pretty quickly after City came into the game, and players like Mesut Ozil and Walcott could be seen walking around the pitch, clearly out of breath.
Maybe they blew out too soon after such an energetic opening to the game, but questions are going to be asked once again of Arsenal’s capabilities.