Sergio Aguero scored his 10th Premier League hat-trick as Manchester City cruised to a comfortable victory over Arsenal, closing the gap on leaders Liverpool back to two points.
Far from a vintage display by the hosts, they raced into the lead after just 48 seconds after Arsenal were punished for dithering in possession.
Gunners duly punished for sloppy start
Alex Iwobi was dispossessed by Aymeric Laporte just yards away from his own box and with Shkodran Mustafi inadvertently playing everyone on side, the Frenchman’s cross was headed home by Aguero.
It almost worsened just four minutes later for Mustafi and Arsenal, as the centre-back was fortunate not to have given away a penalty. He tugged on Aguero’s shirt as the forward ran across him, attempting to latch onto a pass in the box. Referee Martin Atkinson felt Sergio was looking for it, though there was definite contact.
Moments afterwards, Laporte headed home from an excellent Kevin de Bruyne free-kick delivery to double City’s lead. Luckily for the visitors, he was correctly ruled offside – but it was a worrying sign of things to come for Unai Emery’s men, being seemingly pulled apart at will.
Then suddenly up the other end, Arsenal scored their first chance of the game. With 10 minutes gone, captain Laurent Koscielny equalised from close-range after Lucas Torreira’s inswinging corner.
Nacho Monreal evaded his marker’s attention and flicked the ball towards Koscielny, who reacted quickest to head home from a few yards out. It capped a frenetic start to proceedings for both sides, though City would have been aggrieved by Arsenal netting their first opportunity of the game.
They continued pressing with intent and if not for important tackles and interceptions by Torreira and Matteo Guendouzi, they could’ve easily regained the lead earlier than eventually did.
Guendouzi – who has settled quickly into life in north London – was their best performer once again on this occasion. Playing alongside Torreira at the base of their midfield, he regularly broke up attacks, was composed in possession and his decision-making proved impressive too.
Nicolas Otamendi had an effort saved, while Ederson’s razor-sharp positioning was called into action to intervene after Alexandre Lacazette’s excellent teasing pass toward Pierre Emerick-Aubameyang was effectively cut out.
David Silva caused problems with a cross at the byline before Sead Kolasinac stung Ederson’s gloves with a tricky effort from range.
City retake the lead with style before half-time
The game was being played at a relentless pace with both sides looking to counter – Torreira booked for a late challenge on de Bruyne before City restored their advantage on the stroke of half-time with a trademark finish.
Fernandinho switched play out to Raheem Sterling, who in turn exchanges passes with Ilkay Gundogan. Gundogan’s reverse pass was a delightful lofted ball and it allowed Sterling to tee up Aguero at the far post – who made no mistake with an easy tap-in. It was a beautiful, well-worked finish but you still had to wonder where Arsenal’s fullbacks were. Ball-watching.
Sterling almost turned goalscorer in the 45th minute, as de Bruyne fired a speculative effort across goal and the Englishman narrowly missed a tap-in opportunity to double their lead. If ever the Gunners needed half-time and an immediate response, it was here. City could smell blood – evidenced by their tactics both with and without possession.
Fernandinho, who was seemingly deployed as an auxiliary centre-back in place of John Stones, joined the backline when Arsenal had the ball. When City had it though, he roamed forward into his usual defensive-minded midfield role.
pep’s side continue their attacking onslaught as arsenal struggle
City started the second-half the same way they ended the first: on top. de Bruyne tested Bernd Leno thrice in quick succession, though the German was equal to his efforts.
Soon though, they got their reward – albeit in dubious fashion. Aguero completed his hat-trick with another tap-in for the Argentine, who bundled Sterling’s cross over the line with a combination of his midriff and hand. Raheem’s devilish pass evaded Leno and flicked off Aguero, trickling narrowly over the line. 3-1 down, Arsenal’s woes were compounded and a comeback didn’t seem likely.
Aguero’s bundled finish means he’s closing in on Alan Shearer (11), who leads the Premier League for most hat-tricks of all-time. Sergio now has 10.
Emery opted for a double substitution, with Juventus-bound Aaron Ramsey and January loan acquisition Denis Suarez coming on in place of Iwobi and Kolasinac. Neither had their desired effect though, as City did well to close out the game.
Mustafi, who was previously struggling with a back issue, went down once more. Replaced by Konstantinos Mavropanos, City supporters gave Aguero a standing ovation as he too was subbed – Gabriel Jesus on in his place. Leno made saves from David Silva and Jesus to keep the score respectable, though the result was long concluded before then.
City close the gap to two points, with Liverpool in action away against West Ham tomorrow. As for Arsenal, they’ve missed the opportunity to regain fourth place after both Chelsea and Manchester United won their respective fixtures this weekend.
Stats’ source: Opta