A more even feel in the build up to this game than recent years.
And the game would have been more even apart from the biased refereeing by Chris Kavanagh whose liberal approach aided the sly fouling by City, which restricted Arsenal’s counter-attacks – the shadow side of their ‘beautiful’ possession game. Stricter refereeing wouldn’t allow them to play the way they do.
But a 1-0 defeat is better than the usual 3-0. And shows progress. Arsenal could have drawn or won, had the refereeing been more even-handed and three good chances been taken. But City dominated possession in large phases of the game, particularly in the second half and were the most coherent unit.
Interesting combination up front for Arsenal with Pepe and Aubameyang on the wings and Willian in the middle – somewhat withdrawn. Xhaka was chosen before Partey, who was on the bench. Luiz came into the scene of his disaster earlier in the year, due to Holding’s tight hamstring in the warm-up.
City have spent £820m on transfers since 2018 – over half on defenders. Lesson for Kroenke?
Gabriel came in with a good tackle by on Augero in the first ten minutes. Mahrez pulled back Pepe about to break free as per City instructions to break up a counter attacks with fouls. He escaped without a booking.
Rodri pulled back Saka on a break soon after – and got a deserved yellow.
Foden clipped Willian on the achilles (as per instructions) and escaped a booking.
Mahrez cut Arsenal’s midfield out with a good pass. Aguero, who was finding space, ran on and set up Foden, who cut in on Bellerin, who should have shown him outside, and whose shot was parried by Leno – only into the path of Sterling who fired it in.
Saka, who was occupying a variety of positions on the left showed his neat footwork cutting inside and shot – parried by Ederson.
Willian crossed and Pepe headed past the left-hand post. But generally, the Brazilian was getting drawn into midfield, leaving Pepe and Aubameyang somewhat isolated.
Arsenal got caught playing out and Leno saved a goal attempt.
Rodri fouled Xhaka on a break – and should have been yellowed for a red.
A neat triangle between Tierney, Aubameyang and Saka set the 18-year-old free on goal, but Ederson came out and his shoulder saved an equaliser.
Soon after, Aubameyang found himself in a one on one against Ederson and the Brazilian coming out saved again.
Saka cut in again behind the City defence, but Diaz cleared.
From a corner Walker aimed his boot at Gabriel’s head. But biased refereeing by Kavanagh again – no penalty. And VAR didn’t deem it worthy of consideration as it was too close to the half-time whistle.
At the start of the second Aubameyang sent in a cross and Pepe headed straight at Ederson.
Tierney steered a twisting volley goalward – just over the bar.
But after the first ten, City showed their ability to keep possession. And closed the game down more.
Cancelo scraped his studs down Tierney’s calf. Kavanagh gave a yellow. Saka cut inside and was scythed down by Diaz.
Canceo dribbled to the byeline and David Luiz nearly scored an own goal.
Lacazette on for Willian was playing deep. But he laid off three bad balls in succession.
Aubameyang was set free but brought down by Walker. Pepe sent in a crap fee kick before going off.
Nketiah came on for Pepe and Partey on for Xhaka. Arsenal’s defensive shield looked more solid.
But it was creativity that was needed and Arsenal lacked urgency in the final ten – sticking too rigidly to their positions.
Luiz sent a great ball in from the right, but Aubameyang missed it. So Arsenal still await an away win to the big six since 2016. And an aggregate score of 18-2 in League meetings between these teams over recent seasons remains an unhealthy record and a reminder.
Raheem Sterling said it was an important win and said Arsenal are a tough team to play.
Guardiola said it was a tight game. “It was a good victory from problems we have. Ederson made incredible save. There were a lot pf players coming back.” He added that Mikel has created a very good side.
Mikel Arteta said he was upset. “We deserved more. I’m happy about the performance and our attitude and courage. We had three big chances have to score.
“To beat City everything has to be perfect. We have come along away. I’ve been in that dressing room.
“It was a different game the last time. If we have to lose games let’s do it like this.
“We learn how to read situations to correct them. We got better and better through the game. They are disappointed to lose the game.”
Bernd Leno said: “We are disappointed that we lost. We competed and had chances to win. We controlled the game and missed a big chance. The game was very close. We could draw or win it. We are on the right way. There are a lot of positive things to take from it and also still a lot of stuff to improve.”
Man City: Ederson, Walker, Rúben Dias, Aké, Cancelo, Bernardo Silva, Rodri, Foden, Mahrez, Agüero, Sterling
Substitutes: Stones, Gündogan, Steffen, Torres, Fernandinho, Delap, García
Arsenal: Leno, David Luiz, dos Santos Magalhães, Tierney, Bellerín, Ceballos, Xhaka, Saka, Pépé, Willian, Aubameyang
Substitutes: Lacazette, Rúnarsson, Maitland-Niles, Partey, Elneny, Nketiah
Referee: Chris Kavanagh