Forward Thinking: Strikerless Man City Outshoot Gunners To Pile Pressure On Arteta

There'll be tougher tests ahead but for now Man City fans would be forgiven for asking, “Cristiano who?”
14:35, 28 Aug 2021

Manchester City have seen their hopes of signing Harry Kane and Cristiano Ronaldo fade into nothing, but after today’s 5-0 win over Arsenal, do they really need a centre forward? 

After winning the Premier League last season without fielding a recognised striker in most games, City’s last two games have yielded nine goals. City named an unchanged side from their 5-0 win against Norwich City, and the Blues picked up where they left off with another exhilarating attacking display.

Gabriel Jesus once seemed like the natural successor to the departed Sergio Aguero, and for many years he was expected to take the Argentinian’s mantle up top. However, the Brazilian is carving out a place in Pep Guardiola’s team as a right winger, and his goal and assist today show that it might be a natural long-term fit for him. On the opposite flank, Jack Grealish was a constant nuisance, his pace and creativity frustrating the Gunners defence. The former Aston Villa man isolated Callum Chambers and left him standing in his wake as he set Jesus up for the third goal. 

Jack Grealish
Jack Grealish

Arsenal have now lost their opening three games of a league season for the first time since 1954, and carried little confidence into the game from their 6-0 demolition of West Bromwich Albion in the Carabao Cup on Wednesday. The Gunners looked bright in the opening five minutes, but saw their efforts erased when Jesus whipped an enticing cross in for Ilkay Gundogan to head home. The German midfielder found himself in the right position again minutes later, seeing a good header from a Joao Cancelo cross well saved by Bernd Leno. A central midfielder arriving twice in the typical area a central striker would occupy demonstrates the fluidity Guardiola’s team enjoy at the moment. On days like today, they actually seem to benefit from not boasting the orthodoxy a Harry Kane or Cristiano Ronaldo would bring.

Arsenal’s frustrations boiled over to their detriment when Granit Xhaka was sent off for a reckless two-footed challenge. There was also a previous booking for the midfielder, and another yellows for Cedric Soares and Sead Kolasinac for cynical challenges. Mikel Arteta’s side did perhaps have the right to feel aggrieved when Aymeric Laporte appeared to commit a foul in the build-up to City’s second goal. The perceived infringement was no excuse for Arsenal’s defending, as the ball into the box skidded past three defenders before finding Ferran Torres. A winger by trade, Torres usually finds himself in the nominal number 9 role, and two goals today, the second a classic striker’s header, will add weight to the argument that he belongs there.

City’s free-form frontline could also be credited with the Cityzens’ fourth goal. A rapid passing exchange ended with Rodri in possession just outside the box. The Spain international bent a precise low shot round the defence, and Leno, to finish a world-class attacking move. This exciting, improvisational approach will face tougher tests than an Arsenal side that played nearly an hour with ten men on the field. But this afternoon, the strikerless approach was scintillating to watch.

While the prevailing mood at City is optimism, in the red half of London it is pessimism. Fans were seen filing out of the Etihad in the 37th minute, after Xhaka had received his marching orders. The prospect of beating the queues was a more realistic one than beating the Blues.

Solace can be taken from the fact that after twin-humdingers against Chelsea last week and City today, the Arsenal fixtures list does let up. With all due respect, Norwich at home and Burnley away are both winnable ties, and six points will be vital to restore confidence in Mikel Arteta. His mentor Guardiola spoke up for him this week, but an A-list endorsement will do little to quell the disquiet among Arsenal fans. Arteta must deliver, and soon.

For City, there are reasons to be cheerful. While a blockbuster summer move for a centre forward did not materialise, in Grealish they appear to have a key piece of their attacking puzzle in place. They also appear to have perfected a strategy in which a recognised striker is not required. There will be tougher afternoons for this free-wheeling front three, but for now Man City fans would be forgiven for asking, “Cristiano who?”.

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