By end of lop-sided League Cup final, 3-0 scoreline almost seemed mercy on limp Londoners
Pep Guardiola relies on seniors to win first Manchester City trophy as Arsenal are beaten in League Cup final
The 27 points that separate Manchester City from Arsenal in a Premier League table less than three quarters of a season old do not exaggerate.
By the end of a lop-sided League Cup final, a 3-0 scoreline almost seemed a mercy on the limp Londoners. Arsenal might privately acknowledge that had City played at their vintage best, the damage might have been twice as bad.
It was not the most compelling of finals for the neutrals but Pep Guardiola, the victorious manager, will not mind trading that for his first trophy in English football. His next one, City’s imminent league title, will be cheered as a celebration of brilliant, mould-breaking football.
As for Sunday, the plaudits are shared by a trio of senior players, men who have seen City go through their expensive upgrades over many years. The goalscorers were the long-serving trio of Sergio Aguero, captain Vincent Kompany, whose outings are limited by injury concerns, and David Silva, eight years a City sophisticate.
Billed as a contest between the two English clubs who most consistently aspire to fine, passing football, it had been legitimate to hope that two eminent managers with a respect and appreciation for stylishness - Guardiola and Arsene Wenger - might provide an exhibition.
But by halfway through the first half, the pair were exchanging angry words on the touchline. The reason for the dispute across technical areas appeared to be the lead-up to the opening goal.
It was not a typical City goal at all, except that it featured the sure finishing of Aguero. The assist came from Claudio Bravo, who as the No 2 keeper, has the opportunity to play in the domestic knockouts and will be pleased, after last Monday’s defeat against Wigan Athletic in the FA Cup, to have shown here why his distribution with his feet is so admired.
He struck a goal-kick, long and straight. Aguero waited for it just beyond the halfway line, and after holding his ground as Shkodran Mustafi stood with the Argentine, zipped clear of Mustafi, who was already appealing in vain for a foul, to chase the bouncing ball. He lobbed it gently over David Ospina.
Route 1 had led to 1-0.
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In truth, nothing more elaborate had threatened a goal. Neither Mesut Ozil, not Kevin de Bruyne, the leading artists, were at their finest in a scrappy first hour.
Arsenal merely had a couple of openings on the break, Kyle Walker stifling Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang when the Gabonese striker appeared to have a clear, close sight of goal, and, more alarmingly for the pacey Aubameyang, when the veteran Kompany kept up with him when he broke.
Kompany enjoyed his day immensely.
His fitness did not let him down, which is not something guaranteed these days, and it was he who turned the outcome safely City’s way. He had been on a safari upfield when he skillfully won a corner. De Bruyne took it, low and hard to Gundogan on the edge of the Arsenal penalty box, and in a rehearsed routine, Gundogan - unpoliced - struck it first time, and Kompany diverted the ball past Ospina.
Arsenal, largely penned into their own half, had no significant answer. City may not have been at their most fluent but they produced a neatly worked goal to turn a secure scoreline into an emphatic one.
Danilo’s subtle pass invited Silva to cleverly gain a yard of space on his marker, Calum Chambers and Silva’s left foot shot, angled, accurate and firm, passed sentence on the destiny of the season’s first major prize.