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Friday, September 17, 2021

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Ferran Torres shines as Man City thrash shambolic Arsenal

Eyes down, everybody, and have your daubers to hand. It’s time for another round of Arsenal bingo. Who had diabolical defending with several different players at fault for the five goals conceded? What about insipid, over-complicated attacking play that produced only one shot at the opposition goal? Oh, and not forgetting the obligatory Granit Xhaka red card. Full house!

Ten years to the day of their 8-2 thrashing on the other side of town, Arsenal returned to Manchester and demonstrated how little has changed over the decade since. Pep Guardiola swept his apprentice Mikel Arteta aside, with Manchester City running out 5-0 winners. OK, so that’s not exactly 8-2, but City could have filled their boots if they wanted. Instead, they took pity on opponents who once again feel on the precipice of a crisis

And for all that was far too familiar about this debacle of a performance, Arteta’s side also hit depths not plumbed for generations. Arsenal have now lost their opening three fixtures of a league campaign for the first time since 1954-55. They are still waiting to score their first goal of the new Premier League season. It is only the third time in their 134-year history that they have failed to find the net this far in.

Arteta’s advocates – though shrinking in number – can point to several mitigating factors. Covid and injuries have badly affected preparations, with the nine-man substitutes’ bench filled out by a third goalkeeper. The return of Ben White and Thomas Partey cannot come soon enough and nor can a kinder run of fixtures. They may be the first team this season to be handily beaten by both City and Chelsea, the two favourites for the title, but they will not be the last.

Sometimes, though, the context of a defeat is less important than the manner of it, and for all the legitimate reasons why this might be as bad as it gets, it must also be pointed out that there was nothing remotely redeeming about Arsenal’s display. From the eighth minute, when Calum Chambers misjudged the flight of the ball and Bernd Leno failed to prevent the five-foot-nine-inches of Ilkay Gundogan heading City in front, you could start writing your match report.

Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City celebrates

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Gabriel Jesus of Manchester City celebrates

(Getty)

The defending for the first was bad. For the second, it was worse. The pre-match build-up at the Etihad had been dominated by the unveiling of Vincent Kompany and David Silva’s statues outside the ground. There were several more defending Arsenal’s six-yard box as the excellent Bernardo Silva’s cross came in, took a nick of Cedric Soares’ limp attempt at a clearance and ran through for Ferran Torres to tap in.

In the five minutes between those two goals, City played 56 passes. Arsenal played one. To be fair to Martin Odegaard, he completed it, but that is not the sort of difference that Arteta hoped his new £34m signing from Real Madrid would make. At least he and the majority of Arteta’s players were not actively hurting his team’s chances of a result, which has not always been true of Xhaka.

The two-footed, studs-up challenge while several inches off the ground was just the latest example of the Arsenal midfielder losing his composure at a time of crisis and only making things harder for his own teammates. Xhaka and some members of the Arsenal backroom staff tried to argue he had won the ball, but that did not change the fact it was a reckless, dangerous tackle and a deserved red.

Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is shown a red card

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Arsenal’s Granit Xhaka is shown a red card

(Getty)

And despite all that, Xhaka was in a way the player Arteta could least afford to lose, having taken the questionable decision of fielding him and him alone as Arsenal’s one recognised central midfielder. His dismissal granted City licence to run riot and the third quickly followed, with Ederson finding Torres with a laughably simple 35-yard pass into acres of space that Arsenal had vacated in the middle of the pitch.

Torres laid the ball off to Jack Grealish, who showed another glimpse of why City broke the British transfer record for their new £100m man. A mazy dance down the left teased Chambers into making a challenge he would not win, leaving Grealish with the simple task of rolling the ball onto Gabriel Jesus’ boot for another tap-in. With five minutes to go until half-time, many of those in the away end headed for the concourse and others for the car park.

City’s Ferran Torres celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal at the Etihad

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City’s Ferran Torres celebrates after scoring his side’s second goal at the Etihad

(Getty)

Arsenal once had a reputation for trying to pass the ball into the net. Rodri showed them how to do just that at the start of the second half, stroking into the bottom right-hand corner from the edge of the box after being put under minimal pressure by Arsenal’s block. After that, City eased off, with Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez introduced from the bench, but they still found space for a fifth. Mahrez’s late cross was headed against the post and in by Torres for his second, rounding off Arsenal’s humiliation and piling the pressure on Arteta.

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