Man City move to within five wins of title as Arsenal flop on frozen night
LONDON -- Three quick thoughts from Manchester City's 3-0 Premier League win over Arsenal at the Emirates on Thursday.
1. Man City move to within five wins of title
Manchester City are five wins from the Premier League title, and performances like this are a reminder that, whatever the permutations, it is hardly in doubt. A fine first-half showing saw Bernardo Silva, David Silva and Leroy Sane put Arsenal to the sword, and a penalty save by Ederson from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang confirmed their supremacy over a dejected home side.
In front of a sparse, subdued crowd at a freezing Emirates Stadium, it was Arsenal who flickered first. Eight minutes had been played when Aaron Ramsey fired in a cutback from the right byline, and Vincent Kompany, City's hero in the Carabao Cup final, was mightily fortunate that Ederson stood between him and an own goal. Henrikh Mkhitaryan then shot straight at the visiting keeper, but the early optimism was short-lived.
Bernardo Silva's goal, curled past Petr Cech from 20 yards, was beautifully taken, but Arsenal's defending left plenty to be desired. Sane left three men in his wake before finding the Portuguese forward, who was shown directly onto his favoured left foot by Sead Kolasinac. The finish was one for the scrapbook.
Granit Xhaka went for a spectacular finish of his own but, from a free kick, was denied by Ederson. Ramsey then forced another decent stop, but in the 28th minute it was two. Sane beat Shkodran Mustafi with embarrassing ease before feeding Sergio Aguero, who slipped David Silva through. The Spaniard made no mistake, and five minutes later, the match was effectively sealed. A stunning move involving Aguero, Kevin De Bruyne and Kyle Walker ripped Arsenal to shreds, and there was Sane, appearing in the middle of the box, to squeeze home the third goal.
There was no way back for Arsenal now; the atmosphere turned mutinous, although they squandered a lifeline seven minutes after the break when Nicolas Otamendi fouled Mkhitaryan. Aubameyang's poor penalty, beaten away by the in-form Ederson, fit the tone of the night and from there City saw out their win in comfort.
2. Arsenal flop on frozen night
"You're not fit to wear the shirts," jeered a sizable section of the Arsenal fans upon their team's departure from the pitch at half-time -- and it said everything about how they perceive this downtrodden, disconsolate team.
Arsenal's home has rarely, if ever, been this empty for a league game since it opened in 2006, and to hide behind the Arctic conditions that have blighted London would be to mistake the local support's reasons for not turning out. Sunday's defeat to City at Wembley resembled a tipping point, a final straw for many, a last piece of definitive proof that Arsenal could no longer mix it with the very best. The cold snap in London may have swayed a few minds, but, for those who did turn up, the unfortunate truth is that what happened out on the pitch justified the apathy.
It was not that Arsenal did not put in the effort; they even started the game more brightly than City and, to credit their attitude, emerged for the second half with positive intent. Had Aubameyang converted his spot kick, then perhaps a contest may have resulted; the upshot, though, is that too many components of their team are not good enough. Lessons repeatedly go unlearned; Kolasinac and Mustafi, in particular, both looked far off the pace against a quicksilver City attack and, while Arsenal's own forwards are hardly blameless, the feeling of resignation upon their seeing simple mistakes undo promising work must privately drive them to distraction.
In the match's dying stages, Manchester City's travelling support burst out into a mocking chorus of "There's only one Arsene Wenger." That song used to reverberate proudly around the Emirates; prouder still around Arsenal's old home, Highbury. But times have changed, and nights like this confirm that Arsenal must, too.
3. Bernardo Silva's City career up and running
Bernardo Silva's Manchester City career has taken time to ignite, but nights like this will not do much harm. His finish was of the kind that lit up his time at Monaco and, while it would be fair to point out that Kolasinac in particular should have offered better resistance, suggested that he is becoming a key member of Pep Guardiola's squad at an important time.
Guardiola will be delighted given the continued absence of Raheem Sterling and the fact that, at Champions League level, the challenges facing City will only get greater.
Bernardo Silva looked comfortable here, linking up effectively with his fellow front men and frequently tying the lumbering Kolasinac inside-out. His was part of a scintillating attacking show from the visitors, who were clinical in the first half. Sane was electric, carving Arsenal apart single-handedly in the buildup to City's first two goals and posing a threat throughout; David Silva looks back to his best after a difficult winter, and De Bruyne, despite one or two misplaced passes, was influential again.
Once upon a time, this would have been a clash of heavyweights, but the truth is that City will face greater tests. Bernardo Silva's emergence is a huge plus, though: he has now scored four times since the turn of the year and at last looks the influential player he was purchased to be.
Nick Ames is a football journalist who writes for ESPN FC on a range of topics. Twitter: @NickAmes82.