Arsenal were never really favourites to beat Manchester City at the Etihad on the first day of the Premier League being back in action, but the manner of the 3-0 defeat does leave somewhat of a sour taste.
Coach Mikel Arteta organized his team initially in a 4-4-2 shape, with Shkodran Mustafi joined by Pablo Mari in the heart of defence, flanked by Kieran Tierney on the left and Hector Bellerin on the right. Granit Xhaka partnered Matteo Guendouzi in central midfield, with Bukayo Saka and Joe Willock in wide roles. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Eddie Nketiah were given the task of causing danger in front of the defending champions’ goal.
And it seemed to work for a while. Though City dominated possession from the start and dictated the flow of the game, the Gunners mostly managed to slow them down and limit the impact of their most creative players, and when the hosts did break through, Bernd Leno was impeccable in goal. At this point, it seemed quite possible for Arteta’s men to take advantage of some potential moment in the course of the game and, using the pace of Saka and the attacking prowess of Aubameyang, nick a goal. But on the other hand, it was also obvious that if City scored, the match would become extremely difficult.
Even when Xhaka went off injured after only eight minutes and Dani Ceballos came on, it changed practically nothing.
However, the injury of Pablo Mari and the introduction of David Luiz from the bench in the 24th minute changed everything. In just over 20 minutes on the pitch, the Brazilian managed to gift-wrap an opener for City’s Raheem Sterling, and then concede a penalty and get himself sent-off in the process. Two goals and a man down, it was hard not to feel sorry for the rest of team, as well as Arteta, who had mostly done what they could not to get in such a position against the obviously superior opponent. Just like that, Luiz undid it all.
Arteta’s decision to employ a 4-2-3 shape after that seemed rather brave, but with 10 men on the pitch the Gunners couldn’t press high or produce the level of intensity needed to at least try and change things around. All City now had to do was stay patient and that’s exactly what they did, eventually wrapping the points up with a third goal.
Arsenal have often suffered due to individual defensive mistakes in recent years, and the 33-year-old’s performance in this game brought on a strong case of ‘deja vu’. Arteta has reportedly asked the club to extend his deal for a further year, but despite the early optimism inspired by the arrival of the former captain to the dugout, these clangers will certainly leave the fans wondering if that’s the right way to go.