Sunday, 15 December 2013

Manchester City crushes Premier League leader Arsenal

Manchester City's Fernandinho, centre, celebrates with team mates after scoring a goal against Arsenal during their English Premier League soccer match at the Etihad stadium in Manchester on Dec. 14, 2013. (DARREN STAPLES/REUTERS)

Manchester City produced another fearsome attacking display to overpower Arsenal 6-3 in a wild Premier League shootout on Saturday, leaving the leaders in range of the chasing pack in the title race.

Prolific strikers Sergio Aguero and Alvaro Negredo scored first-half goals while Fernandinho netted twice and David Silva and Yaya Toure added others after the break to keep up free-scoring City’s average of four goals per league game at Etihad Stadium this season.

Theo Walcott scored twice for Arsenal, the first to make it 1-1 in the 31st minute and then to cut City’s lead to 3-2 in the 63rd, but the visitors were dismantled by City, favoured for the title by many pundits.

Per Mertesacker was the other scorer for Arsenal, which went down to its third defeat of the campaign. City is now just three points behind Arsene Wenger’s side.

This was always going to be a testing afternoon for Arsenal, coming less than three days after a grueling Champions League match at Napoli and given City’s flawless record at the Etihad in seven previous matches at the Premier League.

And so it proved, with City — whose first-choice players were rested in Wednesday’s shock 3-2 win at Bayern Munich in the Champions League — sharper both in possession and off the ball and simply irresistible going forward. Manuel Pellegrini’s team has scored 35 goals in eight home matches this campaign, putting at least four past Manchester United, Tottenham and now Arsenal.

With their away form slowly improving, City appears to be the team to beat in what is proving to be an open, exciting title race. The only negative was the sight of Aguero hobbling off with what appeared a right calf injury at the start of the second half.

As for Arsenal, this was its third high-intensity match in the space of seven days, having drawn with Everton last weekend, and it clearly took its toll. Thankfully for the creaking leaders, they have a much-needed nine-day break before playing Chelsea next.

The last thing their tired backline needed was to deal with a sprightly Aguero and the Argentina striker continued his prolific scoring run by volleying in expertly in the 14th minute after Samir Nasri’s corner was flicked in at the near post by Martin Demichelis. It was Aguero’s 19th goal in 20 matches in all competitions

Arsenal was being pinned back and swamped by City’s fluid midfield but Wenger’s side is made of sterner stuff this season. Aaron Ramsey dispossessed Toure to play in Mesut Ozil for the team’s first incisive attack and the German’s cutback was met with a first-time shot from Walcott that took a slight deflection off Demichelis into the net.

Back came City, though, and after Negredo curled an excellent chance wide, the Spain striker guided home a cross by the galloping Pablo Zabaleta in the 39th. Worse for Arsenal, key defender Laurent Koscielny sustained a deep laceration to his left knee as he attempted to cut out the cross and was carried off on a stretcher.

Aguero’s movement in the first half had been too much for Arsenal’s defenders, so they would have been delighted to see the striker pull up injured moments after the restart before hobbling off.

That could be bad news for City in the long term but it didn’t hinder the Blues here, with Fernandinho making it 3-1 within two minutes after Mathieu Flamini failed to collect Ozil’s pass across the face of the area. The Brazilian seized on the mistake and curled in a fine finish from 25 yards for his first goal since joining City in the summer.

Arsenal came back into the match, with Olivier Giroud heading a good chance wide before Ramsey lofted a ball over the top to Walcott, who curled a brilliant shot past Costel Pantilimon from the angle.

An unlikely draw was now a distinct possibility for the visitors but their hopes were punctured by a fourth goal by City that was made in Spain, Jesus Navas providing the centre for Silva to deftly sidefoot in from close range in the 66th.

Fernandinho scored his second for 5-2 in the 88th, Mertesacker replied at the start of injury time with a header but Toure had the final say, sweeping home a penalty after James Milner was tripped by Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny.


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