Manchester City responded to their midweek defeat at Newcastle United with a 3-1 victory over Arsenal at the Etihad.
A Sergio Aguero hat-trick took the champions back to within two points of leaders Liverpool, while Arsenal – who did their best to make a game of it in the first half – remain three points behind fourth-placed Chelsea.
Both sides are slightly below where they want to be in the table, but the result was a far better one for City than it was for the Gunners.
Here are five things we learned from the match.
1. Aguero gets off to another flyer
Sergio Agüero is the second player in Premier League history to score 10+ hat-tricks in the competition.
Alan Shearer (11) is the only player with more. ⚽️⚽️⚽️ pic.twitter.com/7kaYSlFidx
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 3, 2019
For the second game running, Sergio Aguero scored inside a minute. It took him almost double the time to score here, 46 seconds, as it did at Newcastle, 24 seconds. Remarkably, the Argentinian has scored the two quickest goals of the Premier League season in a matter of days.
Aguero loves playing against Arsenal and that’s showing no signs of changing. He has scored seven goals in his last five appearances against the Gunners at the Emirates. In fairness to the Londoners, no opponent is safe against Aguero.
This was his 10th Premier League hat-trick and his 14th for City in all competitions. It seems whenever there are questions marks over his class – or a suggestion that Gabriel Jesus should be starting instead – the 30-year-old responds with performance of the highest quality.
If City are to retain the title, they will be relying on Aguero to continue getting among the goals, especially with the pressure mounting going into a crucial stage of the season.
2. Arsenal’s away struggles against the top six continue
Arsenal have now failed to win any of their last 21 Premier League away games vs. the Big Six.
7 out of 63 available points taken. pic.twitter.com/FQ9PVgYyZE
— Squawka Football (@Squawka) February 3, 2019
Arsenal have now failed to win any of their last 21 Premier League away games against the other ‘big six’ clubs. Indeed, City were the last of those sides to lose at home to Arsenal four years ago.
That result, a 2-0 victory for the Gunners, was the consequence of Arsenal showing a resilience they rarely displayed in the latter stages of Wenger’s reign. The long-serving Frenchman was often accused of failing to prepare for the opposition properly in games of this ilk.
Unai Emery is far more pragmatic in that regard; Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette dropped deep at times in a bid to stem the City tide. However, that particular tactical decision meant the visitors lacked bite, and subsequently their poor record on the road against the big sides continued.
In fact, Arsenal haven’t won an away league game anywhere since November, something Emery must change if his side are to secure Champions League qualification.
3. Ozil or Ramsey? Emery chooses neither
Before the game, one of big tactical questions concerned whether Emery would go with Mesut Ozil or Aaron Ramsey in the central attacking midfield role. The Arsenal boss went with neither, instead selecting Alex Iwobi to support the two strikers.
The Gunners controlled a spell of the first half and looked more likely to score the third goal. However, their lack of a creative attacking midfielder was far too obvious in the second half as they failed to conjure up a single attempt at goal.
It’s a difficult situation for Emery. Ramsey is on his way to Juventus having reportedly signed a pre-contract agreement with the Italian champions, while Ozil’s inconsistency makes it difficult to pick him in big matches.
Denis Suarez was introduced in the second half but City had already effectively wrapped up the result. Whether the Barcelona loanee will be able to provide Emery with what he needs in central areas remains to be seen.
4. Guardiola doesn’t know his best defence
Kyle Walker and Aymeric Laporte played as a mix between inverted full-backs in a back four and wide centre-backs in a back three. Bernardo Silva and Raheem Sterling hugged the touchlines further forward when City played out from the back, moving inside when in possession, which allowed Laporte and Walker to overlap.
Perhaps surprisingly, Laporte got forward more often than Walker; Bernardo Silva and Kevin De Bruyne were responsible for most of the attacking work down the right. Laporte provided the assist for the opener, but for a club that has spent big in recent years, it’s strange that Guardiola has to turn to a centre-back to play on the left.
Benjamin Mendy’s injury is, of course, primarily responsible for that. Yet there is a feeling Guardiola doesn’t know his best defence – his experimental team selection was evidence of that.
As well as lining up with fluid full-backs, Guardiola dropped John Stones and started Fernandinho as a centre-back permitted to move into the midfield when City had the ball. In part it was a response to the defeat at Newcastle and ultimately the tinkering worked, but City’s defence is more concerning than it ought to be.
5. City’s response puts the pressure back on Liverpool
When City dropped points at Newcastle on Wednesday, Liverpool were given the opportunity to move seven points clear at the top. But the pressure got to Jurgen Klopp’s men, who could only manage a 1-1 draw with Leicester City at Anfield.
They will be feeling a different kind of pressure against West Ham United on Monday. This time, Liverpool must win to reclaim their five-point lead, rather than extend it. For that reason, the Reds will face one of their biggest tests of the season so far.
If West Ham do manage to get a result, City will be a win away from potentially over taking Liverpool next weekend. It is getting to the point now where every dropped point is disastrous for either side.
And of course, Tottenham will be keeping a close eye on proceedings. Mauricio Pochettino’s side have to go to Anfield and the Etihad yet. Those are certainly two fixtures to get excited about.