Arsenal buckle under the pressure ... But Pep Guardiola's Manchester City just inevitable

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta reacts after their defeat at Nottingham Forest. Picture: Carl Recine/Reuters

Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta reacts after their defeat at Nottingham Forest. Picture: Carl Recine/Reuters

Published May 20, 2023


London - The only real surprise about Manchester City's march to a fifth Premier League crown in six seasons is that a callow Arsenal side managed to keep Pep Guardiola's serial winners honest for such a long time.

Even until a few weeks ago the outcome of the title race looked, on paper at least, too close to call.

The reality, however, is that once City engaged top gear, ironically about the same time they were charged with around 100 historical breaches of Premier League financial rules, the outcome has never really been in doubt.

Since that day in February when City's critics licked their lips at the prospect of the club bank-rolled by Sheikh Mansour's getting its comeuppance, they are unbeaten in all competitions.

They have amassed 40 points from the last 42 on offer in the Premier League, scoring 39 goals and conceding 10 and registering 3-1 and 4-1 victories over Arsenal.

They also sauntered into the FA Cup final and reached the Champions League final with crushing victories over Europe's old masters Bayern Munich and Real Madrid en route and are closing on a repeat of the treble achieved by Manchester United in 1999.

Arsenal led the table for large swathes of the season as a first title since 2004 looked possible, but ultimately buckled under the pressure of a relentless City.

"Manchester City are a team that have had the capacity to win by 10 points but they haven't done that this season because of what we have done," Arsenal manager Mikel Arteta said of his side's brave attempt to stop City winning three titles in a row.

Arteta, like every other manager in the world, may cast an envious eye to the resources available to Guardiola.

The fact City can blow most of their rivals out of the water when it comes to spending power is obvious and the debate over what some label 'financial doping' will continue as City's lawyers go to battle in court.

But spending big does not always equate to success on the field, as a glance at Chelsea this season proves.

There is a method in identifying and buying components for a football machine that equipped just as much for rainy nights in Yorkshire as under the dazzling lights of Europe's big arenas.

A special coach to man the controls is also essential and in the uber-perfectionist Guardiola, City have arguably the best football mastermind in the business.

It still feels almost unfair that a team that won the 2021-22 title without even employing an out-and-out striker, then added Norwegian phenomenon Erling Haaland's unquenchable thirst for goals to the already rich mixture.

Not only that but they also welcomed in Julian Alvarez, Argentina's World Cup winning forward, to act as his deputy.

Yet in terms of the numbers of new arrivals, City are way down the list this season and Guardiola has used only 23 players in the league, the lowest of the 20 clubs this campaign.

Guardiola takes great pride in improving his players and it is no surprise that Jack Grealish, who took a while to learn the City way, has now nudged ahead of England colleague Phil Foden -- a player who would waltz in to most other first teams.

Holding midfielder Rodri's fourth season at City has arguably been his best, John Stones has cemented himself next to Ruben Dias in the heart of City's defence while Ilkay Gundogan and Bernardo Silva remain two of Guardiola's key lieutenants.

Haaland may have grabbed the headlines but Kevin de Bruyne remains the conductor in City's creative department, once again leading the goal assists table.

The galling thing for the clubs hoping to close the gap and knock City off their perch next season is that they will apply the same meticulous formula to their summer planning and no doubt come back even better next season.