March, late March. That looks to be when Manchester City will wrap up the title this year.
If their two 3-0 wins against Arsenal at Wembley and then the Emirates in the space of five days in late February were the definitely maybe and morning Glory of last years title win, two classy, flawless, staggering performances today was the be here now.
A swaggering, beguiling and at times messy piece of work that firmly cements where City are now.
The passing triangles, the dizzying movement, the zip, the fizz on the pass, the mazy runs and the flicks around the corner were all on show from the start. Manchester City are already at last years level with Chelsea and Arsenal already comfortably beaten. Last years centurions started with no Sane, David Silva or Kevin de Bruyne, and still comfortably outclassed their hosts.
Kyle Walker and new signing Riyad Mahrez took it in turns to bully Maitland Niles in oceans of space down the right hand side, when the young left back was replaced through a mixture of mercy and injury. Walker and Mahrez tormented Lichsteiner, there were one-twos galore on the edge of the penalty area as the defending champions surrounded and suffocated Arsenal into their own 18 yard box, like a python slowly crushing a weak gazelle.
Finally Arsenal folded as Mendy fed Raheem Sterling who easily danced through Bellerin and drove a shot into the net from the edge of the area. In truth, the shot was a long way inside the corner of the goal and Cech’s cursory wave at the ball suggests it won’t be long before new signing Leno is a regular starter. Cech did manage to beat out another Sterling shot and a Mahrez free kick but also nearly passed the ball into his own net as Arsenal’s panic set in quicker than an Indian batsman on a swinging pitch.
Arsenal, who started without Lacazette and handed a debut to young French midfielder Matteo Guandouzi, were overran, and apart from a five minute spell on the stroke of half time, were never in the game. A Mendy error let in Bellerin for a shot which Ederson comfortably beat away and Aubameyang fizzed a shot yards past the post. The City centre back pairing of Laporte and Stones were so comfortable the whole game they could afford to let the more expressive side of their games flourish, a worrying development for the rest of Europe if their ball playing potential is reached this season.
The Champions weren’t perfect and a 20 minute spell either side of half time saw City a bit ragged, the introduction of Lacazette after half time increased Arsenal’s threat dramatically if briefly. City went from calm and composed to dozy for a spell that even saw them time wasting on the hour mark.
City were rattled and even Aguero was suffering; when through on goal he should have squared it to the open second half substitute de Bruyne, instead the Argentine forward drilled straight at Cech. City pulled clear moments later as the irrepressible Mendy pulled back for Bernardo Silva to curl into the top corner.
The remainder of the game was played out at a leisurely pace with only Ederson’s lapses of concentration providing any entertainment.
And while it is harsh to judge Emery and Arsenal on today’s showing against arguably the best team in Europe, if Arsenal wanted to fold easily against the top sides did Wenger need to leave? Next week sees them visit Stamford Bridge where Sarri seems to have already implemented a new system fairly seemlessly. Sarri and, a league lower, Bielsa have shown how quickly a new philosophy and identity can be implemented.
Emery so far looks like a new boss at an underperforming office who, after trying to change the way things work, is merely met with shrugs of indifference and claims that “this is just how it is here”. The 4-2-3-1 formation doesn’t bring out the best in Xhaka, Ramsey or Ozil, accentuates Mkhitaryan’s luxury player tendencies and leaves Aubameyang so isolated he might as well been back in Dortmund.
Guardiola now sees his team play the last six promoted sides in a row, four of which are at home. Their dominance and early title win will not be good for the Premier League but it is going to be damn fun watching it.