League Cup Champions! The first trophy for Pep Guardiola and the first title in what could be an incredible season came at the expense of an Arsenal side who simply did not belong on the same pitch as Manchester City.
It’s really difficult to place blame on the Arsenal team for such an uninspiring performance. For one, they are clearly inferior in talent and even perfect tactics cannot save mediocre players from making mistakes. And even if the talent is equivalent, very few people, if any, would bet on Arsene Wenger winning the tactical battle over Pep Guardiola.
Many City fans probably came into this game worried coming off the FA Cup defeat, with the possibility of squandering two competitions within a week looming over the team. But this match soon became an event of relaxation and enjoyment for City fans after seeing the quality of play and especially after the first goal by Sergio Agüero.
Arsenal just could not put anything together. At all. The one (and I mean ONE) chance that Wenger’s side created all game was off a quick counter attack with City’s full-backs caught up field. Both Danilo and Kyle Walker recovered well but Mesut Özil still found himself alone on the right side of the box with a chance to either shoot at goal or cross to Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. Özil chose to cross but Kyle Walker made a fantastic recovery tackle and Claudio Bravo was able to corral the loose ball. Not to mention, Aubameyang was clearly offside even though it was not called on the pitch, but even if he had scored it would have surely overturned with VAR.
Aside from Arsenal’s ineptitude with the ball, this game could easily be explained by the quality of each team’s center-backs. Wenger set his team up in a 3-man backline with Shkodran Mustafi in the middle flanked by Calum Chambers and Laurent Koscielny. Well, they were just bad, particularly Mustafi.
City’s first goal came off a goal kick in which Claudio Bravo ultimately picked up an assist! He booted it long to Agüero who was already behind Mustafi. Aguero held his ground and Mustafi proceeded to make one of the softest plays you will ever see a center-back make, slowly backing into the City striker and calling for a foul immediately. The foul wasn’t given, OBVIOUSLY, and Agüero was now through on goal with Koscielny and Chambers slow to react. Sergio’s masterful chip over Arsenal keeper David Ospina gave City the lead and they never looked back. And make no mistake, Arsenal’s backline had a hard time marking City’s attackers all game long.
Then you compare that group to Vincent Kompany and Nicolas Otamendi, who were as strong as ever. Kompany was a beast in this game and it is amazing to see him at his best. His injury history is clear, but it is also clear that this guy simply is City’s best center-back when fully fit. Every time Arsenal looked to have sparked an attack, Kompany along with Otamendi would immediately destroy the buildup.
A great tackle by Kompany on Aubameyang eventually resulted in a City corner that he scored on! Another example of poor defense by Arsenal by the way. They appeared to be either zonal-marking or doing the worst man-marking in the history of football, because Ilkay Gundogan was standing at the edge of the box without an Arsenal player near him. Kevin De Bruyne played a direct pass that Gundogan shot towards goal with his first touch. Kompany saw the ball coming in his direction and simply redirected the ball into the net.
Kompany’s celebration was amazing and I’ve probably watched it 10 to 15 times by now. It was just pure, genuine passion and excitement and you can really tell how much this club means to him. It was very appropriate that the three goals (the final scored by David Silva) were scored by the three veterans who have been through so much with this team.
Silva’s goal came not long after Kompany’s to seal the game’s fate, and it was a clear example of the flaw that playing with a 3-man backline and wingbacks can pose against a team that maintains good width like City.
The Arsenal backline was staying relatively compact in their defensive third in order to cope with crosses and runners into the box. It left the wing-backs isolated on wide players with little defensive cover from the midfield. But more importantly, a lot of space was created between the outside center-backs and the wing-backs that was easily exploited by a team of City’s quality. Pep had his side attacking this area all game and it is where Silva made his run for the final goal of the game.
All in all, this trophy came in a very satisfying final match for City fans and it’s probably just the first trophy in what is quickly becoming a historic season. With City now only having two competitions to focus on and a large lead in both the Premier League and the Champions League Round of 16, we may seem some squad rotation in the near future to make sure everyone feels fully ready to go for the Champions League quarterfinals as the quest for the treble continues.