Tuesday, February 27, 2018

City's millions sweep Arsenal aside

GUARDIOLA BAGS HIS FIRST SILVERWARE AS ARSENAL STRUGGLE AGAIN

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal

Pep Guardiola has finally won a trophy in England, albeit the least prestigious, the League Cup. Yet no-one could begrudge the stunning improvement he has made to Manchester City this season.

League Cup Final: Manchester City 3:0 Arsenal
Etihad Stadium - home of Manchester City

The Blues are playing dynamic and flowing football week-in, week-out, garnished by a panoply of attacking talent, which rightly makes them the runaway leaders of the Premier League.

A bias for attacking has been rewarded, while Jose Mourinho's defence-first, deny-second, attack-third mentality resides in a distant second in the table.

The acid test is of course Europe and the prospect of a Champions League final between City and Guardiola's former kingdom of FC Barcelona is an exceptionally attractive one.

For every winner there is a loser of course and Arsenal did not just lose but took a brow-beating at Wembley. So comprehensive and numbing was their defeat that the fans probably wished they had been knocked out earlier.

The manner in which £35 million signing Shkodran Mustafi allowed Sergio Aguero to break free and open the scoring was truly the stuff of schoolboy football.

Domestic cups have been a tonic in recent seasons for Gunners fans coming to sorry terms with their gradual decline as a big club, last season's surprise F.A. Cup final win over Chelsea being a case in point.

But now Arsenal are out of both the League and F.A. Cup, having surrendered ignominiously away to Nottingham Forest in the latter. And with the North Londoners adrift again in the league, that leaves the gargantuan slog of this season's Europa League as their only hope.

That competition however has a stronger than usual lineup with Atletico Madrid, Borussia Dortmund, Atheltic Bilbao, Lazio, Lyon and Marseille in the last 16. Oh and Milan, whom Arsenal face next.

Nevertheless, for all the gloom in Highbury, for all the angst that Arsenal cannot put together a run of good results and all the frustration that the club's faceless owners cannot think beyond a manager clearly in decline, Arsene Wenger still has the ability to pull the odd rabbit out of a hat as the recent win over Chelsea showed.

Guardiola is in a sense the new Wenger, the cultured multilingual foreigner bringing novel and exciting ideas to a staid football culture. The irony of Sunday's defeat was that Guardiola was said to have been interested in taking over at Arsenal after coaching Bayern Munich, but Wenger was going nowhere.

Yet make no mistake that the majority of the Blues' meteoric rise from perennial unachievers to potential European champions is still down to its owners' deep wallets.

While the coach is an outstanding one, probably the world's best in fact, the glittering arsenal (no pun) of talent that has jetted in to the Etihad is the main reason for his team's success.

City's squad for the final was collectively worth £777 million in transfer fees, constituting the most valuable in the history of the game.

Yet the most startling pre-match statistic from Wembley is worth repeating and ruminating upon: In 21  months, Guardiola had spent more money than Wenger had spent in 21 years.

If there were ever a reason for enforcing some financial fair-play in football, it is that jaw-dropping, inconvenient truth.

(c) Sean O'Conor & Soccerphile

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