Please Wait . . .
It may have been 102 days since Arsenal last played a competitive game, but this was all worryingly familiar.
From the moment the team news was announced and Mesut Ozil’s name was not included, this could have been a throwback to any of the dismal days under Unai Emery during the early months of the season.
Mikel Arteta - back at the Etihad Stadium for the first time since leaving his post as Pep Guardiola’s assistant in December - could only watch on as his side pressed the self destruct button in classic Arsenal style.
It must be noted that they were unlucky as well, losing Granit Xhaka to an ankle injury after just five minutes and Pablo Mari to an apparent calf problem soon after , but what followed was yet another defensive horror show from the Gunners - with David Luiz at the heart of it .
The Brazilian was noteven in the starting XI, with Arteta preferring to go with a centre-back pairing of Mari and Shkodran Mustafi. But having replaced the injured Mari midway through the first half, Luiz endured a nightmare evening in Manchester.
He was on the pitch for just 25 minutes, and in that time he gifted Raheem Sterling the opening goal before giving away a penalty for a foul on Riyad Mahrez that earned him a red card.
It was the fourth penalty Luiz had conceded this season, equalling the record for the most amount of spot-kicks given away in a Premier League campaign.
He might not get a chance to break the record in his own right, as he will now serve a one-match ban which will rule him out of Saturday’s trip to Brighton.
And given he is out of contract this summer , if he does not reach an agreement to extend his stay in north London before June 23, he will not be allowed to play again this season. On tonight’s evidence, however, that would not be a bad thing. Arsenal need more, much more.
This was always going to be a tough ask for Arteta’s side. It has been five years since Arsenal won away at a team who were above them in the Premier League, and although they started quite brightly, they never looked like ending that run. But the Spaniard would have been hoping to see more from his side in their first outing since they beat West Ham 1-0 at the Emirates Stadium in March.
He made some big calls in his starting XI, leaving out the likes of Luiz, Nicolas Pepe, Alexandre Lacazette and Ozil - who mysteriously did noteven travel to the north west.
Eddie Nketiah again got the nod as the central striker, with Bukayo Saka starting on the right of the attack and Joe Willock in the advanced midfield position in front of Xhaka and Matteo Guendouzi.
Nketiah was lively in the early stages, causing the City backline some problems with his movement, but once the hosts started to settle they began to dominate, just as they have done in the fixture in recent years. Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva wrestled control of the midfield and Arsenal had no answer.
They ended the game having mustered just threeshots, none of which were on target. City, however, fired in 20efforts at Bernd Leno’s goal and hit the target 12times. Had it not been for the German keeper, the scoreline would have been far worse,
Xhaka had already been replaced by Dani Ceballos when Mari’s calf appeared to give way while trying to chase Kyle Walker after just 24 minutes. And once Luiz came on, Arsenal’s fate was sealed.
Before kick-off, Arteta stated that he had left Luiz out of his starting XI because of a "few things that have happened in recent weeks",and it certainly looked like there were some issues playing on the former Chelsea defender’s mind.
It was his error that giftedSterling the opener just before half-time, and he compounded his own misery five minutes after the interval when he hauled back Mahrez inside the box and was sent off. De Bruyne scored the resulting penalty.
At that point there was no way back for Arsenal and City would go on to wrap up the win with a third goal through Phil Foden in stoppage time
The defeat, Arsenal’s first in the league in 2020, leaves Arteta’s side ninth in the table and eight points adrift of fourth-placed Chelsea. They now head to Brighton on Saturday knowing nothing but a victory will do if they want to keep their slim Champions League hopes alive.
If tonight is anything to go by, however, those hopes may already have been dashed. Although there is perhaps one positive to cling onto:Luiz won't be involved.