Manchester City v Arsenal | Premier League | Saturday 28 August 2021

Manchester City saw their hopes of signing Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo fade away, but after today’s 5-0 win over Arsenal do they really need a center-forward?

After winning the Premier League last season without fielding a recognized striker in most games, City’s last two games have netted nine goals. City named an unchanged side after their 5-0 win over Norwich City, and the Blues picked up where they left off with another exhilarating display of attack.

Gabriel Jesus once seemed to be the natural successor to the late Sergio Aguero, and for many years he was expected to take over from the Argentine. However, the Brazilian is carving out a place in Pep Guardiola’s squad as a right-winger, and his goal and assist today shows that it could be a natural long-term solution for him. On the opposite flank, Jack Grealish was a constant nuisance, his pace and creativity frustrating the Gunners’ defense. The former Aston Villa man isolated Callum Chambers and left him in his wake as he prepared Jesus for the third goal.

Arsenal have now lost their first three games of a league season for the first time since 1954, and have had little confidence in the game since their 6-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. The Gunners looked brilliant in the first five minutes, but saw their efforts erased when Jesus whipped up an alluring cross for Ilkay Gundogan to come home. The German midfielder found himself in the right position again a few minutes later, seeing a good header from a Joao Cancelo cross well saved by Bernd Leno. A central midfielder arriving twice in the typical area a central striker would occupy demonstrates the fluidity Guardiola’s side are enjoying at the moment. Days like today, they actually seem to benefit from not bragging about the orthodoxy that Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo would bring.

Arsenal’s frustrations spilled over to their detriment when Granit Xhaka was sent off for a reckless two-legged challenge. There was also a previous reservation for the midfielder, and another yellow for Cedric Soares and Sead Kolasinac for cynical challenges. Mikel Arteta’s side may have been entitled to feel aggrieved when Aymeric Laporte appeared to make a foul in preparation for City’s second goal. The perceived offense was no excuse for Arsenal’s defense, as the ball in the box slipped past three defenders before finding Ferran Torres. A winger by trade, Torres typically finds himself in the nominal role of No.9, and two goals today, the second from a classic striker’s lead, will add weight to the argument that he belongs in that position.

City’s freeform frontline could also be credited with Cityzens’ fourth goal. A quick exchange of passes ended with Rodri in possession just outside the box. The Spain international folded a precise low shot around the defense, and Leno, to complete a world-class attacking move. This exciting and improvised approach will face more difficult tests than an Arsenal side who played almost an hour with ten men on the pitch. But this afternoon, the non-attacking approach was scintillating to watch out for.

While the prevailing mood in City is optimism, in the red half of London it is pessimism. Fans were seen exiting the Etihad in the 37th minute, after Xhaka received his marching orders. The prospect of beating the lines was more realistic than beating the Blues.

Comfort can be taken from the fact that after two-man games against Chelsea last week and City today, Arsenal’s fixture list is weakening. With all due respect, Norwich at home and Burnley away are both tied, and six points will be key in restoring confidence in Mikel Arteta. His mentor Guardiola spoke for him this week, but an A-list endorsement won’t do much to allay Arsenal fans’ concern. Arteta has to deliver, and soon.

For City, there are reasons to be happy. While a successful summer move for a center-forward did not materialize, in Grealish they appear to have a key piece of their offensive puzzle in place. They also seem to have devised a strategy in which a recognized attacker is not required. There will be tougher afternoons for this freewheeling top trio, but for now Man City fans would be forgiven for asking, “Cristiano who?”


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