1. Man City dominate second half to take trophy
Manchester City took the lead in Sunday's League Cup Final through Sergio Aguero in the 18th minute, and there were further chances for the Argentinian striker, Vincent Kompany and Kevin De Bruyne in the opening period. The Premier League leaders were far from their best in the first half, however. Their distribution was uncharacteristically sloppy and they were often slow to second balls, while they also gave away a number of free-kicks in dangerous areas.
Arsenal weren’t much better and fashioned few scoring chances, but they were still in the game when the players went in at the interval. It was a different story after the restart, though, as City settled into a rhythm and began to dominate proceedings. Their passing was sharp and snappy, and Arsenal had no answers as they were pulled out of shape time and time again.
City’s pressing was also excellent, ensuring their opponents spent much of the second period pinned back inside their own half. The injury to Fernandinho just before the hour mark looked like a major blow to Guardiola, but the Brazilian's early exit allowed City to return to their customary 4-3-3 formation, with Kevin De Bruyne and David Silva restored to the positions they’ve played all season. Despite a mediocre start, City were ultimately far too strong for Arsenal and thoroughly deserved to win this final by a convincing margin.
2. Arsenal fail to deliver on big stage
For all Arsenal’s obvious flaws in recent years, they’ve tended to deliver in big cup games at Wembley. Before Sunday’s showdown with City, the Gunners had won nine consecutive encounters at the national stadium (including penalty shoot-out triumphs over Wigan and Chelsea), scooping three FA Cups and two Community Shields in the process.
Two of their best performances at this ground came in last season’s FA Cup, when they beat Manchester City in the last four and Chelsea in the final. Guardiola’s team have made huge strides since that 2-1 defeat last April, though, and Arsenal simply didn’t show up on this occasion.
As well as their familiar defensive issues (more on which later), Arsene Wenger’s side were extremely flat going forward. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang couldn’t quite get a foot on Mesut Ozil’s cross in the eighth minute, but that was the only real opportunity they created all game. Arsenal didn’t produce a single shot on target after the break, with Granit Xhaka’s effort on goal in the 75th minute the first his team had managed since the half-hour mark.
3. Man City’s old guard make the difference
Aguero’s relationship with Guardiola hasn’t always been the smoothest, but there’s no doubt City’s all-time leading scorer has delivered when called upon in 2018. His first-half goal here was his 15th of the calendar year so far – more than any other player in Europe’s top five leagues – and proved again that there are few strikers more clinical in and around the penalty area.
Club captain Kompany, who's had a wretched time with injuries in recent times, was a surprise selection from the start, but his goal in the 58th minute put the game beyond Arsenal. The centre-back had gone close with a couple of efforts before he diverted Ilkay Gundogan’s shot home, and his defensive play was also impressive – particularly when the Belgian outmuscled Aubameyang inside his own penalty area in the first half.
The third was scored by Silva seven minutes later. The Spaniard's first touch from Danilo’s pass was superb to set himself up for the strike, which was drilled past Ospina and into the far corner. Silva, Aguero and Kompany have given great service to City over the years and would all surely get into any all-time club XI, so it was fitting that the long-serving trio were the players who made the difference as Guardiola won his first trophy in English football.
4. Defensive fragility continues to undermine Arsenal
City may have been below par in the first half, but they were gifted their opening goal by some typically poor Arsenal defending. Shkodran Mustafi was caught the wrong side of Aguero from a Claudio Bravo goal kick, with Laurent Koscielny and Calum Chambers slow to get around on the cover. It was a fantastic finish from Aguero to deftly lift the ball over David Ospina, but this was an entirely avoidable situation from Arsenal’s point of view.
It didn’t get any better as time went on, either, with the second goal another which could have prevented. Arsenal’s shoddy organisation without the ball has been a problem that's dogged this team for several seasons, and this was yet another example of their deficiencies being ruthlessly exposed by a superior side.
5. Where does Wenger go from here?
There were still 25 minutes left to play when Arsenal fans began pouring out of Wembley; by the time of the final whistle, there were huge swathes of empty seats at one end of the stadium.
The final few months of last season became extremely difficult for Arsenal as debate raged about Wenger’s future. The Frenchman may have another year remaining on his contract this time around, but there is every chance that the atmosphere around the Emirates will become toxic once more.
There have been signs this season that the club are attempting to wean themselves off Wenger’s influence, especially with regards recruitment. Yet meaningful change on the pitch simply cannot happen without a shift in direction in the dugout, and there will be renewed calls for Wenger to step down following this latest collapse.
If Arsenal lose to Milan in the next round of the Europa League, they’ll have nothing left to play for in the final few months of 2017/18. That tournament has therefore taken on even more significance after this defeat – particularly for the under-fire Wenger.
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