Manchester City 3 – 1 Arsenal: Aguero hat-trick lifts the champions to give us the Sunday blues

The benefit of reviewing games a few days later is the healthy pragmatism that sets in after emotions have faded. Like most fans Sunday left me annoyed. Annoyed at Iwobi’s mistake for the first goal, annoyed at the Kroenke’s and the shadow that the Super Bowl seemingly placed over Arsenal’s significance, annoyed that we didn’t register one shot on target in the second half blah blah blah. The reality is, Manchester City are a frightening prospect and they can do that to any team in Europe. We simply are a team in transition and need to be patient.

The game

Emery lined up with the 4222 formation we used at Fulham earlier in the season. I am a big fan of this set-up but it asks a lot of the two advanced midfielders who are tasked with vast attacking and defensive duties. Kolašinac and Iwobi were deployed in these roles, but couldn’t provide, rendering the formation ineffective. Ironically, the first goal was nothing to do with tactics. Iwobi dallied and lost the ball on the edge of the box, then Laporte picked out the league’s deadliest poacher to make it 1-0. Our remarkable ability to architect our own downfall continues to baffle me. This trait plagued Wenger in his later years, and Emery must stamp it out before it becomes an incurable symptom of his era.

After a poor start we warmed into the game. Our two best players, the tenacious Torreira and Guendouzi were resolute without the ball and astute with it. Pep employed an innovative set up where Fernandinho would drop into defence without the ball, then swiftly advance into midfield when City regained possession. This allowed them to rapidly choke our attacks and gain more meaningful overloads down the wings. Luckily we managed to weather the early storm and pull a goal back through Koscielny who headed home a well worked set piece.

At 1-1 we remained competitive without being brilliant, and if we got to half time level, the pressure may have affected City’s fluidity. Devastatingly, the champions managed to regain the lead with a soft second goal for Aguero just before half time. Sterling played a quick one two on the edge of the box leaving Lichtsteiner perplexed before squaring to Aguero and in a flash all of our hard work was undone. Lichtsteiner and Mustafi have been playing at Championship level compounding the impact of losing Bellerin, Sokratis and Holding to injury. It would have been good to bring in defensive cover during the transfer window, but I understand reasons why we didn’t. It’s obvious we need to remove the bloat from our squad to be in a position to give new recruits the contracts they need. Emery needs to do the best he can with what he has got.

The second half was about damage limitation as City had already won the game. With Aguero on two goals you felt the hat-trick was inevitable and he managed to get it on 61’. The Argentine is now on 157 goals and is closing in on Henry’s 175. Denis Suarez was thrown into the lion’s den to make his debut, but understandably struggled. He will be pleased to know that it should get easier from here.

In summary, City were clinical and focused and fully deserved their three points. If Pep can keep KDB and Aguero fit then Liverpool might have to wait another year before they get their hands on a first Premier League title.

Full time: Manchester City 3 – 1 Arsenal

I still think 75 points will be needed for fourth. Can we get the eight wins and three draws we need from the last thirteen games? I think we can.

09 Feb Huddersfield (A)
24 Feb Southampton (H)
27 Feb Bournemouth (H)
02 Mar Spurs (A)
10 Mar Man Utd (H)
16 Mar Wolves (A)
01 Apr Newcastle (H)
06 Apr Everton (A)
13 Apr Watford (A)
20 Apr Crystal Palace (H)
27 Apr Leicester (A)
04 May Brighton (H)
12 May Burnley (A)