Mikel Arteta opted for a surprise 4-3-3 formation – something he has been tinkering with in his short time as Gaffer. It also led to a few surprise call-ups.
Pablo Mari was named alongside Shkodran Mustafi, with David Luiz on the bench. In the midfield trio, it was Granit Xhaka alongside Matteo Guendouzi and Joe Willock – who had impressed in our friendlies last week.
Up top, we had the effervescence of Bukayo Saka on one flank, with Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang on the other. Eddie Nketiah once again kept Alexandre Lacazette out of the lineup as the youngster took the sole striker spot.
The first half played out strangely, in-keeping with the strange setting of an empty stadium. The first twenty five minutes were tepid if anything, with no real glaring opportunities for either side – and no shots on target of note.
The only thing worthy of mentioning was our rotten luck, with Pablo Mari and Granit Xhaka both coming off through injury, with David Luiz and Dani Ceballos as their replacements.
Then, with about twenty minutes to go, City got into their groove. Kevin De Bruyne began to pick up spaces, with our midfield and defence struggling to decide who would pick him up. It led to a flurry of chances for City, but Sterling and Mahrez were both denied by some wonderful goalkeeping by Bernd Leno – one save in particular from Sterling down low to his left was very impressive.
With minutes ticking down on the first half it looked like we would hang on for parity – but City profited from a David Luiz error. The Brazilian looked to have De Bruyne’s chipped pass under control, but he let it squirt off his knee. Sterling was lurking behind him and he lashed it home with plenty of space to spare.
That was it for the first half, and the second half heaped even more woe on our side.
Less than ten minutes after the restart – and a couple of warnings from City – Luiz was the culprit again. A pass forward by Ederson was headed back into the mix from out wide. It led to a race between Luiz and Jesus into the box, with Luiz clearly holding back his fellow Brazilian on his shoulder. Jesus went down, the referee Anthony Taylor pointed to the spot while issuing a red card for Luiz.
De Bruyne made no mistake from the spot, sending Leno the wrong way and we were two down – with ten men.
The outlook was bleak. City are masters of keeping the ball and with a deficit in numbers, we were going to be chasing shadows.
A raft of subs saw Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Reiss Nelson and Alexandre Lacazette come on, but the pattern of the game had emerged. Pep Guardiola was kind enough to take off David Silva and De Bruyne – and the tempo of the game dissipated. City were still testing Leno at times, but the impetus had gone.
Then, a horrific collision between Eric Garcia and Ederson led to a lengthy stoppage – and because City had made all their subs – it was suddenly 10v10. The third official signalled for eleven additional minutes – and we had a sniff of a chance.
That was until Fernandinho played out from the back wonderfully with a long ball out wide. Walker passed to Aguero who carried forward and after an attempt ricocheted off the post, it fell to the running Phil Foden, who rifled home to make it 3-0.
The depressing thing was this was completely deserved. We had showed hardly any desire to match City. Our gameplan of springing Saka and Auba from deep never delivered. Instead, we couldn’t touch City when they got going. With a few minutes of the game left, we had had two attempts to City’s 19.
Was there anything Arteta could take from this game?
We have better options for defence than Luiz
The Brazilian has made a few errors at the back, but he was trusted by Arteta. Still, with Chambers, Holding, Saliba, Mustafi and Pablo Mari for choices, you would have to say Luiz’s days are numbered.
All talk, no action
Arteta has said all the right things and we must understand it will take time to get us where he wants us to be. But this game showed the disparity of where we want to be versus where we currently are. We were poor, our counter-attacking plan failed to materialise and the football we used to be known for is but a distant memory for now. We have talent, but we are seriously far from delivering what we could right now.
Guendouzi needs to concentrate
The young Frenchman has plenty of potential, but his positioning is woeful. Especially when uder the cosh, Guendouzi failed to cover adequately. Listen to your coach Matteo, or fail to grow.
Our next game is versus Brighton on Saturday. Win or bust.