Football Features

“He is the main man in the Man City attack” – Winners and Losers as master beats apprentice at the Etihad

By Muhammad Butt

Published: 19:52, 17 October 2020 | Updated: 9:44, 30 March 2021

In a superb night of Premier League football, Man City beat Arsenal 1-0 at the Etihad Stadium.

It was a fantastic game of football in Manchester as two high quality sides went at it for 90 minutes. Here are the winners and losers.

Winner: Raheem Sterling

Raheem Sterling led Man City out against Arsenal with the captain’s armband on his shirt. After an inconsistent start to the season City knew they needed a big result against the Gunners to get their season going, and they had to get it without their star man Kevin De Bruyne.

Yet with Sterling leading the side literally and figuratively, City turned on the style. He scored the only goal of the game with a sharp finish and was a constant menace to Arsenal with almost every touch of the ball.

Sterling has now scored four goals in his last three games for City and looks like he could finally become the goalscoring presence the club need. Guardiola said “he’s our best striker” after the match, and he wasn’t wrong. Sterling is the main man in the Manchester City attack and he is finally delivering as they need him to.

Loser: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang

Beyond one sublime reverse pass through for Bukayo Saka, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang did not have a good game for Arsenal. Compare this to his performance in the FA Cup semi-final win where he ripped City to bits on the break. In that match at Wembley he was playing left-wing, but today? Striker. And playing in the middle of the pitch meant he couldn’t find the spaces and angles he usually thrives with.

Sure once Alexandre Lacazette came on in the second-half, Aubameyang shifted further out wide, but by then the damage to his rhythm had already been done. City contained him with relative ease. He had just 26 touches (the fewest for an Arsenal starter, even less than goalkeeper Bernd Leno) and despite being their main man, had zero shots for the whole game. Zero! Aubameyang still hasn’t scored a goal since he “signed the ting” and Arsenal might be starting to get concerned.

Winner: Ederson

For the last few months, Ederson has been on shaky ground for Man City. The Brazilian goalkeeper has been as superb a passer as ever but his displays in actual goalkeeping have been staggeringly average. He’s made so many small mistakes — and even a few big ones — that he has often been what causes City’s high-wire act to topple over into nonsense.

But today against Arsenal, Ederson was back to his very best. The Brazilian was in an imperious mood, rushing off his line and spreading himself to block opponents whenever they got a sight of City’s goal. His point-blank save from Bukayo Saka was a thing of beauty and the type of commanding effort that Man City will need at the back if they want to mount a serious assault on the title.

Loser: Liverpool

It was already a bad day for Liverpool, what with being held by Everton and losing Virgil van Dijk to injury. But that day just got worse with Manchester City’s win over Arsenal. With the way City have been shooting themselves in the foot so far this season, and with how well Arsenal have been playing of late, the Reds must have been hoping that the Gunners could do them a favour.

Alas, there was no favour forthcoming. And now City are three points adrift the Reds with a game in-hand. And worse, City kept a clean sheet, which will boost their defensive confidence tremendously. And if their defence can start playing as well as their attack, well, the last time that happened they won two titles in two years with 198 points across both seasons.

Winner: Pep Guardiola

Pep Guardiola can often overthink his tactics for big games. At Barcelona this worked because he had the greatest team of all-time, full of legends who were adaptable. At Bayern Munich he had a side that had unparalleled confidence in their superiority. At City he has none of that and as a result his side freeze in the headlights.

The examples are too numerous to mention, but today they took a complex Pep system and delivered it superbly. Guardiola sent City out in a 3-1-4-2 where Joao Cancelo played a fluid role that was at times wing-back, at times defensive midfielder (aka Dani Alves). Walker was the right of a back three, Aké was left, but then out of possession Rodri would drop into the defence to make a four as Walker and Aké pushed out to become actual full-backs.

In midfield Bernardo Silva, Raheem Sterling, along with Cancelo, would keep the ball moving forward with fluid, rotating positions. In attack Phil Foden and Riyad Mahrez were wide and held that width, stretching the Arsenal defence out. And Aguero was obviously the focal point of the attack in terms of keeping the ball and bringing team-mates into play (it was the kind of role you could see Leo Messi slotting into had he managed to join Manchester City as he wanted to this summer).

City couldn’t maintain the tempo for the whole game, but the shape allowed them to be more solid defensively when they weren’t at their best. Walker was constantly nullifying Aubameyang, Ruben Dias was solid, Aké quality too. And it allowed them to spring forward into attack with beautiful, fluid football. City’s goal was a Guardiola masterpiece, building out from the back through Arsenal’s press, working the ball to the right, then to the middle and then finally out to the left where Foden should have scored (but Sterling mopped it up).

Guardiola often overthinks things, today his mind was crystal clear.

Winner: Mikel Arteta

Yes Arsenal lost, that’s obviously not good, but did you see how well they played? That sounds patronising but honestly, Arsenal were excellent and forced City to up their game to a frankly absurd level in the middle of the first-half.

That 15-20 minutes of dominance was breathtaking from City and Arsenal couldn’t live with it. They scored one, should have had two, and could even have had more if they were a bit sharper. But, that was it in terms of their dominance.

For the rest of the game, Arsenal were just as good as their hosts, if not better! Their press was immaculate, they retreated superbly and when they attacked they did so with gusto and forced several amazing saves from Ederson.

Guardiola has been in charge of City for four years plus, Arteta’s not even had a whole year in charge of Arsenal and already he’s got his side able to compete with City as equals. That is a tremendous boon to the Spanish coach and a true sign that Arsenal are heading in the right direction under his guidance.