Man City’s press, Arsenal’s lack of control and what we learned from Premier League title showdown

Manchester City 4-1 Arsenal: Kevin De Bruyne scored twice as the champions took a huge step towards retaining the title

Jamie Braidwood
Wednesday 26 April 2023 22:03 BST
Arsenal remain two points ahead in the title race but City have the advantage
Arsenal remain two points ahead in the title race but City have the advantage (Getty Images)

Manchester City tore Arsenal apart in the Premier League title showdown to take a huge step towards retaining their crown.

Pep Guardiola’s side produced a dominant display to cut Arsenal’s lead at the top of the table to two points - and with City having two games in hand.

Kevin De Bruyne was outstanding and scored either side of half time, as well as setting up John Stones’ header just before the break.

The result puts the title in City’s hands and is a devastating blow to Arsenal’s hopes of winning the Premier League for the first time in 19 years.

Here are five things we learned from the potential title decider

Arsenal fail to get their biggest game of the season under control

City were exceptional, but Arsenal needed to offer more resistance than they managed here after De Bruyne’s early opener. Even if it was getting back into half time at 1-0, Arsenal had to find a way of slowing City down, but the Gunners struggled to wrestle back any sense of control as Guardiola’s team ran riot.

The problems stemmed from midfield. Thomas Partey, isolated by Arsenal’s high press, was left exposed against the outstanding Kevin De Bruyne. Granit Xhaka was quiet. Oleksandr Zinchenko did not have the same influence from central areas. Martin Odegaard struggled to offer any inspiration.

It had a significant knock-on across the pitch. Bukayo Saka and Gabriel Martinelli, Arsenal’s leading scorers and wide threats, were starved of chances to get down the wing, although Manuel Akanji and Kyle Walker were also excellent in dealing with their individual duels.

In isolation, this was a bad night at the office. But this was a bigger night than just that, and what will hurt Arsenal and manager Mikel Arteta is how ineffective their efforts were to have an influence on their biggest game of the season.

Dazzling De Bruyne delivers when it counts

Another Premier League title showdown, another imperious performance from the sublime Kevin De Bruyne. Even with Erling Haaland in the side, De Bruyne is the City player who really knows how to raise his level when it counts - and when he does there are few better in world football. His last four Premier League goals have come against Arsenal, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Arsenal again thanks to his decisive double.

If the Belgian has sometimes been overshadowed by Haaland’s record-breaking season, this was a performance to indicate how De Bruyne’s big-game displays are now being elevated further by his partnership with the Norwegian striker. They have formed a front two that looks unstoppable when City are shown open space. De Bruyne knows how to find Haaland, and he has mastered the second-man runs when Haaland receives a long ball.

Kevin De Bruyne scored twice for City (Martin Rickett/PA)
Kevin De Bruyne scored twice for City (Martin Rickett/PA) (PA Wire)

So much of it comes from Guardiola’s system, which allows De Bruyne to almost take up a free role in the team. But De Bruyne makes it work because he is so clinical, especially on nights like these.

City’s press suffocates Arsenal’s title hopes

Much of the opening period at the Etihad seemed to play out on a loop: Arsenal took possession from deep, City pressed them wide and into the full-back areas, and Arsenal were forced to clear long.

City’s press was not frenetic but rather controlled and masterfully directed. With Bernardo Silva - City’s pressing monster - and De Bruyne on the right, Guardiola’s side guided Arsenal to play towards Rob Holding and Ben White, with Jack Grealish and Haaland also curving their pressing runs as if to funnel the ball to the weaker side of Arteta’s team.


The result was Arsenal constantly clipped the ball down the line and quickly lost possession. The strengths of Arteta’s side is when they make passes between the lines and use their off-the-ball movement, but City took away the threats of Gabriel Martinelli and Bukayo Saka.

It’s been well documented that Arsenal’s build-up play has been less precise without William Saliba and with Holding in the team, and this was another prime example of it.

Holding struggles as City go direct

You know, before De Bruyne burst clear, Arsenal would have taken the position City were pushed into. As the Gunners pressed Ederson and then John Stones, the defender was forced to hit long and clear the ball up the pitch.

It’s not what you would normally associate with a Guardiola team - but like in City’s 3-1 win at the Emirates - it proved mightily effective when the target was Haaland. Holding tried to get tight, but was muscled off the ball as Haaland brought it down and slipped in De Bruyne for his magnificent opener. Route one? Maybe, but it was a devastating route to goal.

Should Aaron Ramsdale have done better? It looked like that was the case, even if the goalkeeper would later redeem himself with a fine string of saves. Would Saliba have done better if fit? Well, Haaland also dominated the 22-year-old in aerial duels two months ago. Perhaps Arteta should have taken more of a risk to deal with the problem.

(Getty Images)

Is the title race over?

Not yet, but it very much looks like City will be lifting their third title in a row and fifth in six years under Guardiola.

Sure, Arsenal are still ahead by two points but City have two games in hand and on this evidence they look an unstoppable force. Their toughest tests look to be trips to Brighton and Brentford in their final two fixtures of the season, but by then it could be too late.

That’s because the biggest concern for the neutrals is whether Arsenal can sustain the race to that point. The Gunners are without a win in four and still have to face Newcastle at St James’ Park, as well as Brighton.

They have the harder run-in and although Arteta’s team have had a brilliant season, the title race no longer feels close. City have made sure of that, and another Premier League crown will surely follow.

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