An embrace with his staff, a handshake with the losing manager, and then a celebration with his players – Pep Guardiola carried the air of a man who was perfectly accustomed to these kind of occasions at the final whistle. His first trophy as Manchester City manager may not be the biggest but as Pep said himself, it was an ‘important win.’ The first of many, one assumes, even if it won’t constitute a quadruple this season. The treble is still on, however, and a second trophy is guaranteed given the way they have turned this season’s Premier League into a procession. Guardiola’s side will have to play better than they did here if they are to add their name to the list of Champions League winners but everyone knows what they are capable of.
This was a very bad afternoon for Arsenal and their manager Arsene Wenger with his side appearing weak and fragile as they simply couldn’t cope with City’s attacking power, intensity, and energy. City improved as the game progressed but throughout they were far too good for Arsenal who once again find themselves in an angst-ridden period of self-reflection as another season lurches into disappointment. As Gary Neville said on Sky Sports commentary, “they do not even play good football anymore – there are three or four teams that play better football than them now.” As much as Wenger has achieved during his time at Arsenal, there is no question that his position is becoming increasingly untenable – the stale feeling at the club continues to grow.
The old guard at City, however, had a great day; Sergio Aguero, David Silva, and captain Vincent Kompany all long pre-date Guardiola – and in the case of Kompany, even the Qatari owners and their millions of pounds – and each of them were on the scoresheet.
Rather ironically given the joyous and pure football that City have displayed throughout the season, their opening goal was scored through a route one hump down the pitch by goalkeeper Claudio Bravo. It seemed simple enough but the ball sailed over the head of Shkodran Mustafi who then forlornly appealed that he had been pushed by Aguero, who ran on to lift the ball over goalkeeper David Ospina and into the net. The Arsenal players ran to the assistant referee whilst Wenger angrily argued with Guardiola before the pair shook hands. None of the excuses could cover up the weak and woeful defending of the German defender.
In a first-half that was stop-start and featured as much attractive football as a Sunday-league match, Arsenal could have taken the lead early on when Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was put through on goal by Mesut Ozil but the striker delayed his shot, allowing Kyle Walker to make a superb recovery tackle and Bravo to smother the ball.
Aguero certainly appeared to have the beating of Mustafi and just before half-time he out-smarted him again before crossing towards the far post where Laurent Koscielny hooked the ball away but only to Kevin De Bruyne who volleyed into the side-netting.
More challenges and tackles came – Nacho Monreal went down too easily in the penalty area before Fernandinho produced a nastier challenge on Jack Wilshere but once again referee Craig Pawson was unmoved.
Fluency from both sides was missing in the first-half but after the break City did increase the pressure and intensity. The increase in tempo, though, brought about more mistakes; Bravo rushed from his goal to clear a long punt forward towards Aubameyang but the Chilean missed his kick and was fortunate that Aubameyang was foolish enough to pull him back for which he was rightly penalised. Chris Waddle, as ever, summed the situation up perfectly on BBC Radio 5 Live, “If ‘Carry On’ did a football movie this would be it.”
More goals did follow, and once again it was the Arsenal goalkeeper that was beaten. De Bruyne played a corner back to Ilkay Gundogan whose low shot was turned into the net from close-range by Kompany who celebrated like he had just scored his first goal for the club. The City fans who he ran towards were in just as much of a state and it showed just highly they regard each other. Again the Arsenal defence was questionable, or should that be woeful.
Minutes later, the embarrassment deepened. Arsenal were being overwhelmed with Wilshere again losing the ball – it was not a good match for him – and Danilo slipped a pass through to David Silva who was too sharp and nimble for Calum Chambers as he turned and fired a low shot back across Ospina and into the far corner. This contest, if there had been any doubt, was over. The Arsenal fans left early – the exodus was emblematic of a fire drill – and so did the Arsenal players. Then again, it is questionable as to whether they turned up in the first place.