Manchester City and Arsenal resumed their usual roles in the Premier League even after a three-month layoff because of the global coronavirus pandemic, as two-time defending champions City beat the once-mighty Gunners 3-0 on goals by Raheem Sterling, Kevin de Bruyne and Phil Foden. Arsenal also played the final 41 minutes with 10 men after defender David Luiz was sent off early in second half.
The second (re)opening day game of the Prem’s “Project Restart” was easily its most anticipated. The match kicked off shortly after Sheffield United and Aston Villa’s scoreless draw served as a underwhelming yet welcome appetizer.
Here are three quick thoughts on City’s win, which keeps the 2019-20 title race open just a little longer by ensuring that league-leading Liverpool can’t clinch its first English title in 30 years until next week.
The world has changed, but the Prem’s pecking order remains
Like the Blades-Villa tilt, Man City-Arsenal also began with players, team staff and match officials taking a knee in protest of police brutality and systemic racism against Black people. Both teams wore “Black Lives Matter” on the back of their shirts in place of their surnames. Against the backdrop of an empty City of Manchester Stadium, it looked like anything but business as usual.
Some semblance of normalcy returned as soon as the whistle blew. While the lengthy hiatus meant both teams were far from sharp, the gap in quality between the hosts and Arsenal was plain to see from the start.
If not for four top-shelf saves from Gunners keeper Bernd Leno, the scoreline could’ve been far more lopsided before Sterling capitalized on a Luiz error and sent the Sky Blues on their way with the opening goal:
Almost everything that could’ve gone wrong for Arsenal did
You have to feel a little bad for the Gunners and their classy young manager Mikel Arteta, the former City assistant under Pep Guardiola who took over his former club earlier this season.
Arteta had Arsenal rolling before the season stopped cold. They had won three in a row. They were the only team in the Premier League not to lose in 2020. That momentum was long gone by Wednesday.
Facing City away from home is a tall task at any time, let alone following a 12-week break during which teams were mostly not permitted to train together. The hasty and profit-driven return had been concerning to many Prem players, not least because of the increased potential for injury. Indeed, Arteta saw two members of his starting 11 go down before the contest was 24 minutes old.
Dani Ceballos replaced fellow midfielder Granit Xhaka. Luiz only entered the match after center back Pablo Mari also had to come off. And Luiz was the culprit on City’s second goal, too, the Brazilian seeing a red card for clotheslining Riyed Mahrez and conceding the penalty that De Bruyne converted:
City’s win overshadowed by scary injury to Eric Garcia
Foden added the hosts’ third goal in the 91st minute. But the celebrations following the resounding victory were understandably muted as City youngster Eric Garcia had to be carried off the field after a horrific collision with his own goalkeeper Ederson.
Garcia was tended to by medical personnel for 11 minutes before being taken off on a stretcher, forcing Guardiola’s side to also finish with 10 men. There was no immediate update on the 19-year-old Spaniard’s condition, but with games coming thick and fast as the league concludes its season with a a six-week sprint, he figures to miss at least a few matches, at best.
City — which won the League Cup in early March and remains in contention for the FA Cup, as well as the Champions League trophy it covets more than any other — will return to action with a trip to Burnley on Monday.