Defending yourself like this puts your chances of winning somewhere around zero. Mikel Arteta had claimed that Arsenal’s results fell short of the percentages on the eve of this tie, but will surely be exasperated by the ease with which Manchester City were able to approach their fourth consecutive Carabao Cup victory.
Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez, in particular, benefited from poor quality at the rear, while Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte were able to help themselves as well. Alexandre Lacazette had drawn for Arsenal, but they couldn’t even fully enjoy a spirited comeback from Gabriel Martinelli, who left with injury. The blanket of sadness around the Emirates remains as dense as ever.
Arteta had urged his team not to go into the game “feeling sorry for ourselves” and if anything could make Arsenal puff up their chests it was the perception that they have become specialists in ties during their reign. City were among those en route to last season’s FA Cup victory, while these quarter-finals were held in part because their players had won at Leicester and Liverpool. None of that has overlooked a chronic lack of wit in the attacking third, but Martinelli’s first start since injuring his left knee in June, one of eight changes, offered some hope for a morale boost.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, today they are better at reinforcing the ego of the opponents. The city’s relative lack of fluidity has been notable for most of the current campaign, and Jesus’ outspokenness in the attack has been a hot topic. This was a clear opportunity to lift his tail and he took it in 124 seconds.
Martinelli had just offered an early idea of their energy levels by pressing Rúben Dias on a charged punt, but City were unaffected when Foden found Oleksandr Zinchenko scampering down the left and Cédric Soares reacted slowly. Zinchenko’s cross was a peach and Jesus, throwing himself between Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel Magalhaes, nodded to Alex Rúnarsson. The home defense may also have been absent.
They were equally statuesque in allowing Fernandinho time to evaluate his options before shooting from range shortly after, the ball slightly deflected and deflected. Pep Guardiola had rotated a lot himself, retaining just four starters from the worker win at Southampton, but for half an hour Arsenal were chasing shadows. Jesus scared Mohamed Elneny and Mustafi with successive yellow cards and Aymeric Laporte, climbing high into a corner, headed slightly off the track.
Everything seemed too easy, but then Martinelli offered the spark that Arsenal were looking for. He’d been busy enough to seem involved despite his near-total lack of possession, but now, with the ball at his feet, he threw a right-foot cross that was somewhat unconvincingly parried by Zack Steffen. He was offered another try seconds later and, this time with his left boot, he made a tantalizing delivery through the six-yard box. A hunched Alexandre Lacazette greeted him firmly with a clever, angled header and City blinked in disbelief.
Against all odds, this was now a contest, although Rúnarsson, so far as nervous as Steffen, soon saved magnificently from Jesús after a Foden dummy had sent the striker. Then there was great concern for Martinelli, who fell in obvious pain after Steffen hit him by a narrow margin, and clear relief when he signaled his willingness to return after treatment.
However, it was surprising to see him risky after the break, and the insanity of that was, at first glance, exposed within two minutes of the second half, when he stopped and was replaced by Nicolas Pépé. A lower leg injury seemed to be the problem and Arsenal hope it is only a minor problem; Martinelli, in his zeal and positivity, set a score that put many of his teammates’ efforts to shame.
Normal service quickly resumed. Mahrez, brought down by Gabriel’s misplaced leg, licked his lips as he calculated a free kick slightly out of the box, but he could hardly have imagined the fate that would follow. His shot was on target but far from the best; Yet it was still, inexplicably, too hot for Rúnarsson to handle, and it slipped through his fingers before floating over the line.
The game was soon put beyond Arsenal and there was an element of clowning in Foden’s goal as well, given that City were able to break up after Dani Ceballos hit a pass attempt against teammate Joe Willock. Finally, Fernandinho played Foden for a trimmed finish beyond Rúnarsson, who had ventured out with hope rather than expectation. The VAR, absent here, might have ruled it off a bit, but sanity prevails in this competition.
However, Arsenal constantly remains on the brink of insanity, and was finished off when Foden crossed perfectly and Laporte converted a well-placed header. No one could argue with the numbers here.
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