Well, that was unexpected, said no one ever. Arsenal went into the Etihad desperately needing a win on the back of three consecutive draws against a side that hadn’t lost at home since Gutenberg invented the printing press and failed. Man City did what Man City does, namely, amassing enormous squad depth through entirely legiitimate methods and cake-walking past anyone who dares to stand in their path. Much the of the pre-match chatter focused on how Arsenal would bottle it, but, really, how can you bottle something that no one saw you having a chance at bottling in the first place?
Yes, it’s true that the 4-1 scoreline flattered us considerably. We’ve known all along that City are the better squad; they’d proved it twice already in head-to-head clashes, having won the previous fixtures by an identical 4-1 aggregate score. Anyone who suffered any delusions about which squad was better was disabused over these 90-ish minutes.
This squad constitutes a well-oiled machine, and, yes, I do intend the double-entendre. We’re simply not on their level yet, and one suspects that we might be a sold 113 or so breaches of PL rules behind Pep’s squad when it comes to competing for a Prem title. Remind me again how they signed Erling Haaland, one of the most-coveted strikers in the world, for a mere £51.2 million? I don’t mean to accuse our rivals of any improprieties. After all, they’ve been formally charged already.
We’ve been down this road many times before. This Man City side is so deep that its bench could probably challenge for a Prem title. Is it any surprise then that a club whose starting XI has been among the youngest, if not the youngest in the Prem, fell short?
The real bottle-job has been the fact that we’ve been top of the table for ’round about 90% of the season despite our youth, our thin bench, our novice manager, and so on. The real bottle-job has been Man City’s, with their most-expensive squad in Prem history, their most-experienced but not at all coddled manager, their fathomless wealth etcetera etcetera. We’ve gone toe-to-toe with the kind of titan that would make actual, literal Titans kneel down. Speaking of kneeling down, how might it have changed the outcome if Ruben Dias had seen red as he should have after kicking out at Ben White in first-half stoppage time? We might as well ponder the origins of the universe.
So it looks like Man City will, in all likelihood, win the Pem yet again. Yawn. This would make it five times in six years. Pep is playing FIFA while the rest of us peasants are plying more of a yeoman’s trade. I’m almost at the point of wishing Man City go on to Champions League glory if only to see Guardiola sod off to some other league, maybe Serie A or Ligue 1.
In the end, I’m angry. I’m furious – not at our manager or our players, despite their shortcomings, flaws, or decisions. I’m livid at the fact that Man City have bought themselves yet another piece of silverware that will hardly register in the memories of any of their goldfish-brained, band-wagoning legions of fans. They’re flat-track bullies, and I’m disappointed but not surprised that we couldn’t stop them.
If we could arrange a competition in which Arteta and Guardiola were given identical, cloned squads, Arteta would win four out of five, maybe nine out of ten. Guardiola has coasted through life with his squads handed to him on a silver platter. Arteta has built this squad on a fraction of the budget Guardiola has ever had; Arteta has brought this squad to the brink of Prem title without having more than one or two world-class players; Arteta has nurtured young players to the brink of stardom.
We may have succumbed at this late stage, but there’s no shame in that. There’s still a chance, however narrow, that we can set things right. Should we end up “settling” for second place, that’s still a far cry further than anyone, friend or foe, would have foreseen from way back in August.
We learn. We improve. We fight. This is not an end. It is only a beginning.