Kevin De Bruyne produced a master class to see champions Manchester City return to winning ways with a chastening 3-0 triumph at rudderless Arsenal.
The Belgium playmaker thumped home a divine half-volley within 90 seconds, crossed for Raheem Sterling to tap-in a ninth top-flight goal of the campaign and then rifled a 20-yard effort low into the bottom corner.
This would prove the end of the scoring within 40 minutes as caretaker Freddie Ljungberg’s outclassed – and listless – hosts failed to lay a punch on the third-placed holders.
Here are the talking points:
DE BRUYNE WASN’T THE ONLY DIFFERENCE
It’s comforting in the wake of a rout to emphasise the opposition’s brilliance.
De Bruyne was otherworldly at Emirates Stadium. Only a stupefying stop from the athletic Bernd Leno prevented a first-half hat-trick of the kind even Lionel Messi would look mildly chuffed to produce.
This was also a fifth Premier League win on the spin for City versus Arsenal, plus the fourth time out of this quintet they’d recorded three goals.
The first quarter of these matches came when the Blues were staking their claim to be England’s finest-ever club outfit. They travelled this time, however, with a 17-point disadvantage to leaders Liverpool and with four losses already registered.
Apathetic Arsenal must ask searching question about why this City – deservedly beaten by promoted Norwich City, Wolverhampton Wanderers, Liverpool and Manchester United – still wiped the floor with them.
The visitors led the tackle count at both half-time (nine-eight) and full-time (19-16). Even at 3-0 ahead.
Only a week ago, United – fellow underachievers – detailed the blueprint of how to unsettle them. Arsenal, though, were not similarly brave in the tackle, or on the ball.
6 - Arsenal had just six shots in their 3-0 defeat to Manchester City - their fewest in a home Premier League game since December 2008 against Liverpool (also six). Limp. #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/sP8KkPZujx— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 15, 2019
The yawning chasm between the ineffectual defensive midfielders, Matteo Guendouzi and Lucas Torreira, and slapstick centre-backs, Calum Chambers and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, replicated the inarguable distance between the clubs.
City No2 Mikel Arteta must stay a fleeting visitor to these parts, rather than permanent resident for a second time. Leave the furrowed brow to Ljungberg.
Further confirmation about Arsenal’s unchecked slide towards mediocrity comes from the fact they now sit seven points away from both the top four and bottom three. The very definition of mid-table.
For City, the gap to top spot will still be in double figures by the time Club World Cup distractions are over for Liverpool. They have remained in the Reds’ wing mirrors.
FODEN REPAYS SHOW OF FAITH
Was a first top-flight start of the season for Foden proof of his growing value, or that Pep Guardiola treats a clash with Arsenal with the disdain of a Champions League dead rubber or early round of the Carabao Cup?
After a master class – yep, that word again – in midweek during the 4-1 dismantling of Dinamo Zagreb, this felt like something entirely different for the Under-17 World Cup winner.
Finally, the teenager has a bit of momentum behind him after 56 fine minutes in north London. A ceiling cannot be placed on where he goes from here, either in the light blue of City or the royal white of England.
Guardiola could have turned at the Emirates to the trusted hand of Bernardo Silva, or Algeria flyer Riyadh Mahrez with his quartet of both Premier League goals and assists.
Instead, it was Foden stationed, initially, on the left flank of the 4-3-3 formation for a first top-flight start since May – and only fourth in total.
The decision proved a masterstroke. The 19-year-old’s quick feet and sharper mind was essential to the counter that forced the second, while his lay-off inside sent De Bruyne clear to emphatically smash home the third.
There will not be a seven-month wait for his fifth start.
From a talent on the ascent, to one who continues to descend at haste.
Mesut Ozil’s most-emphatic contribution came when tempestuously volleyed his gloves when dragged off before the hour mark like a truculent teenager at Hackney Marshes.
The ex-Germany conductor repaid Ljungberg’s trust with one key pass, no shots, no dribbles, no tackles and no interceptions. In short, he’d been utterly anonymous in both facets of the game.
6 - Arsenal have gone six games without a win at the Emirates across all competitions (D3 L3), their longest run without a home win since between December 1994 and February 1995 under George Graham (eight games). Miserable. #ARSMCI pic.twitter.com/wMRqIMndSA— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 15, 2019
Starts in all four of the Swede’s games in charge have garnered one, solitary, assist from the Gunners’ record wage earner. The club has won one of these matches.
If this chasing sparks an expediting of the process to procure a long-term successor to Unai Emery, the temporary custodian’s questionable use of a fallen idol will have been key.
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