I’d like to dedicate this report to the late İlkay Gündoğan who now, after losing his battle with a cruciate knee ligament injury, resides in footballing heaven. What’s certain is that wherever the midfielder was watching from on Saturday afternoon, he will have been watching with a smile.
Gündoğan’s teammates paid homage by walking onto the field with his name strapped to the front of their shirts. There were no tears, no German national anthems, nor any 1894 Group demonstrations dedicated to the player, but the tribute did ever so slightly creep into the realms of ridiculousness. Nevertheless, a nice touch from the lads.
This clash between two heavyweights that have both had their mentality questioned in recent weeks was decided by an ever better a touch. A stupendously accurate hoof, in fact. If there was a Ballon d’Or for passes, Kevin De Bruyne’s 40-yard switch into Raheem Sterling would have collected the award with no competition at all. Not even the blistering run and fine left-footed finish that followed could distract attention away from that beautiful thing that had just flown from the right foot of the Belgian. It was a pass that deserved to be part of such an important goal.
Had Arsenal capitalised on their early lead, it’s possible that another loss to a fellow title competitor would have been a mental blow too difficult to recover from for City. The dour start to this game was all too predictable as Alexis Sánchez’s ball pierced City’s defensive line like a pin through a balloon and found Theo Walcott inside the penalty area. Walcott, a player who likes to sing ‘Oh I wish it could be City every day’ when no one’s watching, was never going to miss.
This defence are twig-like legs beneath a Zeus-like upper body. The imbalance is this City squad is a real worry. Catch a landscape view of these lads on the pitch and you see a real life, 3D version of the evolution of man timeline with Aleksandar Kolarov grunting on the left and Kevin De Bruyne displaying perfect posture on the right. When Pep Guardiola made the move to Manchester this summer, there were a few starry-eyeds tipping the Catalan to replicate the outstanding achievements of Arsène Wenger in 2003 when his Arsenal side went a whole Premier League season unbeaten. Guardiola has forwards blessed with the same ability Thierry Henry and Denis Bergkamp wielded 13 years ago, but Kolarov and Nicolás Otamendi are no Cole and Campbell. If Guardiola does not take the opportunity to strengthen his defence in the January transfer window then the result is simple; there will be no silverware for his team.
For now, though, Guardiola must rely on his front men. Kevin De Bruyne and Raheem Sterling responded brilliantly to the early set-back, coming together to create a guilt-edged chance in the sixth minute. De Bruyne’s cross was exceptional, Sterling’s run timed to perfection, but the winger cum forward could not head in from close range. City had pressed the self destruct button after missing a similarly golden opportunity against Chelsea two weeks ago. This, with a loss meaning a drop into 5th place, would be a real test of City’s resolve.
In the second half one team rallied and the other cowered. As impressive as City’s second-half performance was, Arsenal’s was poor and tinged with the same gutlessness that has become synonymous with Wenger’s team for the last ten years. Arsenal supporters represent the truly dark side of football twitter but one does feel a little sympathetic to their situation, watching this grumpy man constantly down the ear of the fourth official in that ridiculous coat.
Even if he is taking his time to settle into England, isn’t it refreshing to see such a comparatively charismatic individual in our own dug-out? Pep has received criticism for his refusal to train tackles and all that jazz but the next 45 minutes was proof that he actually does know what he’s doing. Just two minutes after emerging from a dressing room rife with unique hand gestures, City were level.
And the equaliser couldn’t have come from a more deserving player. Watching Leroy Sané’s scuffed shot trickle into the back of the net made me feel like a father watching his son graduate, even if the German was half a yard offside. Lurking behind the Arsenal defence, Sané collected an awesome clip from David Silva and rolled the ball past Petr Čech to net his first goal in City colours. The 20-year-old has had his not so fair share of stick this term but don’t tell me you don’t get excited whenever he gets his foot on the ball. Zaba, like myself, is a big fan: “We are 100 percent sure about his quality and what he can give to this team. I am so proud for him. He has played a great game today, so congratulations to him.”
Jamie Redknapp had written before the game in his Sky Sports column that Yaya Touré must step up in this game. The Ivorian duly obliged. City were dominant following the goal, with a new, streamlined version of Touré acting as orchestrator in the heart of the midfield. It’s trendy to talk about the midfielder’s power but perhaps his greatest asset is his range of passing and his ability to recycle the ball so efficiently. Touré finished the game with 90% pass accuracy, but his manager will be looking at the 12 times he gained possession for his team. Here was proof that Touré, or the Ivorian God Metronomous, is still a phenomenal player capable of commanding important games.
Guardiola could not afford this spell of dominance to go unrewarded with Chelsea taking a nine point lead at the top of the table on Saturday. His decision to rotate Sterling and De Bruyne as false 9’s ahead of Kelechi Iheanacho may tell you something about Guardiola’s opinion of the Nigerian, but it was a move that paid off as the pair combined majestically to seal the three points. De Bruyne’s cross-field pass couldn’t have been more perfect even if the ball had been attached to a drone programmed with coordinates and Sterling’s low finish was excellent. It’s fair to say a player with a weaker mentality may have hidden away after missing that header in the first half.
The long wait for a win against a fellow title contender is finally over and it will be interesting to see how the side go on from here fueled by the confidence this win brings. Unintentionally quoting the great Ice Cube at the end of the game, the gaffer echoed the feelings of all City fans: “Today is a good day.”