Pep Guardiolas tactical switching at half-time was key as objectives from Leroy San and Sterling completed Manchester Citys comeback for a 2-1 win over Arsenal
There was a point in this match, with Manchester City losing, when the ball came towards Pep Guardiola and, attempting to control it by the touchline, one of the more cultured footballers of his generation slipped over in his shiny brown shoes, ended up on his backside and got back to his feet with white paint on his overcoat. His team were struggling, the crowd were anxious and City were in danger of a outcome that would have entailed going into Christmas outside the Premier Leagues top three for the first time since 2009 or, to put it another way, just after Mark Hughes had been sacked.
The turnaround in the second half was considerable and, by the end, it felt as if City may have reminded everyone they are not out of this title race just yet. Well fight to the end, used to be the soundtrack here under previous managers and, for the first time perhaps, City showed those qualities of endurance under the new regime.
Guardiola could be seen espousing Yaya Tour, a player he had previously ostracised, and City surely appeared better for their new training routine. They had, according to their administrator, dedicated two and a half hours of every conference purely on winning second balls, a tactic that played its part in their first objective of a hugely fulfilling victory.
Guardiola has been subjected to so much scrutiny it is only fair to report that his half-time switching was a prominent factor and well, whaddya know he does know what he is doing, after all. It was the fluency of Citys assaulting, including with regard to the interchanging of positions between David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne and the two scorers, Leroy San and Raheem Sterling, that wore down their foes. Each member of that quartet had a go as the teams most advanced central player. Yet City did not have an orthodox striker, preferring to operate with two men in broad positions and another two in the role of elusive No10s.
It was a blur of motion and the two pass to set up the goals one from Silva, one from De Bruyne felt like a reminder that winning for Guardiola is not enough. He wants to do it with panache, style and ascendancy and he could probably be excused that pithy little aside when he was asked about the tactics he had employed to counter Theo Walcotts early objective. Now weve won the trainer is a genius, right? Guardiola said. A genius.
In the process, it left Arsenal mulling over back-to-back league defeats for the first time since April 2014, leaving them nine phases off Chelsea at the top, with City moving into second posture, and Arsne Wenger talking about a horrible week, absolutely horrible borne in mind they had also surrendered a winning position against Everton in their previous match. Wenger was visibly angry with Petr Cech when, in the final seconds of stoppage time, the goalkeeper played a short free-kick rather than aiming it into the opponent penalty area and a distressing afternoon for Arsenal was compounded by Alex OxladeChamberlains hamstring injury, shortly after coming on as a substitute.
Oxlade-Chamberlain could not hide his anguish, hurling his shirt towards the dugout before heading straight down the passageway, whereas Wenger resorted to blaming the match officials, arguing both objectives were offside as well as noting: Referees are protected very well, like lions in a zoo. A nice line but it could also be said his own team had a few lions during the second half if we are talking about the variety from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, in need of some courage.
Wenger said his team fell physically in the second half and maybe we fell a bit mentally after Sans equaliser two minutes after the restart, and these were not hugely encouraging remarks for a team supposedly harbouring realistic title aspirations. Mesut zil, Alex Iwobi and Walcott caused considerable problems in the first half but they all tailed off. That, in turn, isolated Alexis Snchez, whose expertise had sent Walcott running into the penalty area for the opening goal.
As for the criticism of Citys aims, if San was offside it was by the width of a cigarette newspaper and an argument could be made either way about whether Silva was obscuring Cechs vision when Sterling let fly with the left-foot shoot that beat Arsenals goalkeeper at his near post. Yes, Cech would have been aware of Silvas presence but he still had a clear sighting of the shot.
Sterling had started video games in the void left by Sergio Agero but the experiment seldom run in the first half, most notably when he flashed a header wide from the kind of opportunity Citys suspended striker would take as a matter of routine. After the breaking, Sterling switched back to his usual right-sided role and, first, it was Sans turn to have a go across the middle. The 20 -year-old, signed from Schalke for 37 m, has taken his time to show why Guardiola induced him one of his priority signings but he had a fine second half, demonstrating great aplomb for the equalising objective and persistently troubling his foes thereafter.
Arsenal seldom threatened Claudio Bravos goal in the last 20 minutes and City duly completed their first win, having been behind at half-time, since November 2012.
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