Defending like this puts your chances of winning at somewhere around zero. Mikel Arteta had claimed Arsenal’s results did not match up to the percentages on the eve of this tie but he will surely be exasperated at the ease with which Manchester City were able to move closer to a fourth straight Carabao Cup success.
Gabriel Jesus and Riyad Mahrez, in particular, benefited from shoddiness at the back while Phil Foden and Aymeric Laporte were able to help themselves too. Alexandre Lacazette had equalised for Arsenal but they were not even able to fully enjoy a lively return from Gabriel Martinelli, who departed with an injury. The pall of gloom around the Emirates remains as thick as it has ever been.
Arteta had urged his side not to approach the game “feeling sorry for ourselves” and if anything could cause Arsenal to puff out their chests it was the perception that they have become cup-tie specialists during his reign. City were among those seen off en route to last season’s FA Cup win while this quarter-final took place in part because his players had won at Leicester and Liverpool. None of that has glossed over a chronic lack of ingenuity in the attacking third but Martinelli’s first start since injuring his left knee in June, one of eight changes, offered some hope of a boost in morale.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, they are better at bolstering opponents’ egos nowadays. City’s relative lack of fluency has been notable for most of the current campaign and Jesus’s bluntness in attack has been a live issue. This was a clear chance to get his tail up and he took it within 124 seconds.
Martinelli had just offered an early sense of his energy levels by pressing Rúben Dias into a charged-down clearance but City were unhindered when Foden found Oleksandr Zinchenko scampering to the left by-line with Cédric Soares slow to react. Zinchenko’s cross was a peach and Jesus, darting between Shkodran Mustafi and Gabriel Magalhaes, nodded across Alex Rúnarsson. The home defence may as well have been absent.
They were similarly statuesque in allowing Fernandinho time to assess his options before shooting from range shortly afterwards, the ball taking a slight deflection and zipping just wide. Pep Guardiola had rotated heavily himself, retaining only four starters from the workmanlike win at Southampton, but for half an hour Arsenal were chasing shadows. Jesus spooked Mohamed Elneny and Mustafi into successive yellow cards and Aymeric Laporte, climbing high at a corner, headed fractionally wide.
It all looked too easy but then Martinelli offered the spark Arsenal sought. He had been busy enough to appear involved despite their near-total lack of possession but now, with the ball at his feet, he whipped in a right-foot cross that an unconvincing Zack Steffen punched away. He was offered another try seconds later and, this time with his left boot, clipped a tantalising delivery across the six-yard box. A stooping Alexandre Lacazette met it firmly with a smart, angled header and City were left blinking in disbelief.
Against all odds this was now a contest although Rúnarsson, hitherto as jittery as Steffen, soon saved superbly from Jesus after a Foden dummy had sent the striker through. There was then serious concern for Martinelli, who went down in obvious pain after Steffen had narrowly beaten him to a through ball, and clear relief when he signalled his willingness to return after treatment.
It was surprising to see him risked after half-time, however, and the folly of that was, on the face of things, exposed two minutes into the second half, when he pulled up and was replaced by Nicolas Pépé. A lower-leg injury appeared the problem and Arsenal will hope it is only a minor issue; Martinelli had, in his zeal and positivity, put down a marker that shamed many of his teammates’ endeavours.
Normal service quickly resumed. Mahrez, felled by a stray leg from Gabriel, licked his lips when sizing up a free-kick slightly outside the area but could hardly have envisaged the luck that would ensue. His shot was on target but far from his best; it was still, inexplicably, too hot for Rúnarsson to handle, though, and it slipped through his fingers before floating over the line.
The game was soon put beyond Arsenal and there was an element of slapstick to Foden’s goal too, given City were able to break after Dani Ceballos had hammered an attempted pass against his teammate Joe Willock. Eventually Fernandinho played Foden through for a clipped finish beyond Rúnarsson, who had ventured out in hope rather than expectation. VAR, absent here, might have ruled him fractionally offside but sanity prevails in this competition.
Arsenal remain constantly on the point of madness, though, and were finished off when Foden crossed beautifully and Laporte converted a well-placed header. Nobody could dispute the numbers here.
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