Football Features

The good, the bad and the ugly as Man City get over Ronaldo rejection by thrashing Arsenal

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 14:52, 28 August 2021

It’s been a strange 2021 summer transfer window for Premier League champions Manchester City who could have added Harry Kane, Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo to Pep Guardiola’s already star-studded first team squad.

If they had signed one it would’ve been a real psychological blow to City’s title rivals instead they remain slight championship favourites even with Ronaldo back at Manchester United plus Liverpool and Chelsea looking seriously promising themselves.

“I would say frustrated isn’t the right word,” he told BT Sport before kick-off. “We have an exceptional squad, I say thank you all the time to the club and the organisation for the future and the best players possible to compete. We aren’t frustrated, it’s good that a player like Cristiano Ronaldo is back in England for the Premier League. It’s good news.”

This afternoon’s visit of Arsenal proved Guardiola right. Setting up his starting eleven in an unchanged 4-3-3 shape; the rejuvenated Gabriel Jesus and £100m-man Jack Grealish sitting either side of Ferran Torres, who operated as City’s ‘false nine’ as they comfortably ran out 5-0 winners at the Etihad Stadium.

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Striker-less Man City still lethal in attack

Under significant pressure coming into this weekend’s showdown Mikel Arteta saw his Gunners side begin on the front foot, but old habits die hard, the Londoners found themselves behind with the game seven minutes old after City’s inspirational German midfielder — and captain for the day — Ilkay Gündogan nodded the hosts ahead from a brilliant Jesus cross (the Brazilian’s third assist in two home league games). It was their first meaningful attack. Things immediately went from bad to worse as the aforementioned Torres was first to react following a set-piece.

A year ago he was the club’s major signing and since joining the 21-year-old Spanish forward needed to be patient for playing time — particularly in England’s top division — given the level of attacking competition at the club. Torres nevertheless finished with seven goals across 24 appearances, which included a hat-trick against Newcastle United, with today’s strike his first of the 2021/22 season. Following his special moment at St James’ Park there was a hint from Guardiola that Torres was a strong option to fill Sergio Aguero’s big shoes. “He came as a winger, but he has to think about (being) a striker,” he said.

Being a ruthless outfit City weren’t going to hold back with a man advantage following Granit Xhaka’s moment of madness. Space suddenly opened up for Grealish and the most popular man in the stadium teed up Jesus to register his 17th top-flight assist since the start of the 2019/20 season. From this unassailable position that statistic of City never losing a Premier League he’s scored in was stretched to 43 matches. Having come to England as Aguero’s understudy, many observers naturally felt Jesus would smoothly become City’s ‘number nine’ following his departure this summer, but going forward it seems he will be regularly working from the right flank.

His goal aside, Jesus created no fewer than four chances, more than any City player bar Grealish (6), but he wasn’t involved when Rodri made it 4-0 early into the second half. The deep-lying midfielder sweeped a curling right-foot shot from distance into the bottom right corner, a goal Patrick Vieira would have been proud to have netted, speaking of the imposing Frenchman what must he and his fellow ‘Invincibles’ teammates think of this current incarnation. Even before going a man down the gap in quality between the sides was staggering. Raheem Sterling and Riyad Mahrez coming off the bench with half an hour left was Guadriola simply flexing his muscles.

Torres assisted his compatriot Rodri and City’s leader uptop rounded off a relentless man-of-the-match display with his second of the game six minutes from time. The result equally flattered and embarrassed Arteta’s men. City were capable of approaching double figures but understandably felt their statement was made.

What do Arsenal and Shrewsbury Town have in common?

The result equally flattered and embarrassed Arteta’s men. City were capable of approaching double figures but understandably felt their statement was made. As for England’s third most decorated club, where do they go from here? Arsenal have failed to win each of their opening games of a top-flight season without scoring for the first time in the club’s 135-year history. It was also the fourth time during this period the Gunners have started pointless after playing their opening three top-flight games.

It is also the first time Arsenal have conceded five goals in a single league game since 2018, when Liverpool beat them 5-1. But perhaps worst of all, only two of the 92 teams in the football league have played three or more league games this season and are yet to score. They are Shrewsbury Town and Arsenal.

“You just expect so much better from your most experienced player”

The contest was effectively over 10 minutes before half-time when the red mist descended on Granit Xhaka who brought Joao Cancelo down via a two-footed challenge. It was his fourth straight red while donning a Gunners jersey and no player has received more red cards in the Premier League than him since he joined Arsenal (four, joint with David Luiz). Whatever support the Swiss international had left from Arsenal’s impassioned fanbase — especially following the events of Autumn 2019 when he was jeered against Crystal Palace before the club stripped him of the captain’s armband — it was severely eroded this afternoon.

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“He’s just committed to that and we know this is the fourth red card since he’s been an Arsenal player. That’s 11 now in club football,” Keown said while on commentary duty for BT Sport.

“It’s crazy! It’s crazy why he goes off his feet at that point. You just expect so much better from your most experienced player.

“He’s been given one or two opportunities when people thought his career was over at Arsenal. He’s done it so many times. How many times has he done this in his career? I think it’s 44 yellow cards and four red now for Arsenal.”