Despite a sloppy performance, Guardiola's Manchester City start the new year with all three points after a thrilling 2-1 victory over Arsenal – a game which had a bit of everything, ended with an unexpected goal scorer as Rodri secured the win with only minutes to go.
Guardiola made three changes from the first eleven that faced Brentford in midweek, Jack Grealish and a 'not fully fit' Phil Foden (out with Covid, along with Oleksandr Zinchenko) made way from the wings and were replaced by Raheem sterling and Algerian international Riyad Mahrez - who will be hoping to continue his good form into 2022 after ending the year as the blue's top goal scorer. Rodri replaced Fernandinho, and slotted back into his familiar role, sitting just in front of the back four.
It was a relatively quiet opening ten minutes, both teams sharing a fair amount of the ball but struggling to create any early chances, as the clock hit the tenth minute Stuart Atwell was called upon to make the first of many key decisions, as Arsenal's number 8, Martin Odegaard, was taken out in typical fashion by an overstretched Ederson. Attwell originally gave a corner, and that decision held up, despite an investigation from VAR.
City's first real chance fell to Ruben Dias in the 13th minute, after Sterling placed a Cancelo-esque delivery from the right-hand side - Dias did enough to make contact but did not manage to guide it past a stand-still Ramsdale, a chance which I'm sure our number three will look back on in regret.
Despite having the first real chance of the game, Guardiola's men were not nearly up to their usual high standard and were unusually sloppy in possession. Arsenal finally capitalised around the 30th-minute mark and took the lead, as Kieran Tierney's ball rolled inside the blues box and was met with an in-form Bukayo Saka, who swept it across Ederson and into the bottom right corner.
There was little response from City and Arsenal continued to apply the pressure, creating another chance when Martinelli received the ball after a poor Kevin De Bruyne touch, he ran past both Dias and Cancelo and somehow managed to get a shot off - one which Ederson dealt with reasonably easily.
Both sides failed to create anything serious leading up to halftime.
However, not too long after the break, City were gifted a penalty as Bernardo Silva drove into the Gunner's box and was taken down by a reckless tackle from Xhaka. Originally Attwell didn't deem it worthy of a penalty, but after a further look on the sideline screen, it was obvious that Xhaka impeded the Portuguese and did more than enough to force Atwell to overturn his decision.
Mahrez confidently grabbed the ball and looked focused, however, he had to wait as Arsenal's Gabriel received an unnecessary yellow for spitefully trying to scruff up the penalty spot in an attempt to off put the Algerian. An attempt which failed miserably, as Mahrez struck the ball into the right-hand side of the goal, sending Ramsdale the opposite way.
Arsenal's lead was almost immediately regained after a mix up at the back which saw a headed back pass from Laporte loop over a hesitant Ederson – it was a heart in your mouth moment for City fans across the world until Nathan Ake made a superb goal-line clearance and prevented an Arsenal second - one that John Stones would have been proud of.
The game's action seemed to be packed into ten minutes as only moments after, Arsenal's Gabriel was sent off for a second booking, after foolishly clattering into his compatriot Gabriel Jesus.
Gundogan replaced Jesus soon after the incident, with De Bruyne pushing up into a more advanced role - allowing the German to try and dictate play and retain possession, something which City were struggling with for large parts of the game.
However, 10-men Arsenal continued to play well and a winner looked more unlikely as time passed for Guardiola's men. That was until De Bruyne played a ball into the box with only minutes to go, Laporte and Rodri, two unlikely attacking options, had a scruff in the box which led to an opening for our number 16, who poked the ball past Ramsdale into the bottom left corner. He had won it for City.
Rodri's celebration was the best I've seen all season, taking his top off and running towards the Arsenal fans, who had been on the back of the referee all game, moaning any chance they got.
The boys in blue managed to hold on for the remainder of the game, and although Pep won't particularly be pleased with the performance, that was a huge win and took the team 11 points clear at the top. The champions did what they do best...win.
Ederson - 6
Cancelo - 4
Dias - 7
Laporte - 5
Ake - 6
Rodri - 7
De Bruyne - 6
B. Silva - 6
Mahrez - 7
Jesus - 6
Sterling - 6
Subs - Gundogan - 7
Written by: @BrookbanksHenry
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