OLIVER HOLT: City title machine will crank into gear as rivals crack

OLIVER HOLT: City title machine will crank into gear and rivals will crack under pressure

  • Manchester City have now lost two successive Premier League games
  • Arsenal’s win on Sunday was huge for the Gunners but a simple blip for City
  • Pep Guardiola will get his team back firing properly after the international break
  • Listen to the latest episode of Mail Sport’s podcast ‘It’s All Kicking Off!’

Pep Guardiola exchanged a handshake and a brief hug with Mikel Arteta at the end of Manchester City’s defeat by Arsenal on Sunday. But if Guardiola managed to keep things cordial — or business-like at least — his players looked thoroughly, and unusually, rattled.

Kyle Walker, who had had a superb game at right back, and Erling Haaland, who was largely anonymous in the 1-0 reverse, became embroiled in a pointing and shoving match with Arsenal set-piece coach, Nicolas Jover, who used to be part of the City set-up.

It was only a brief flare-up but it was a sign of City’s discomfort. It is rare that last season’s Treble winners lose a game. It is a matter of wonder when they lose two league games in succession. Tongues are bound to wag. Prophecies of impending doom will multiply.

City have a few problems. That is undeniable. Any team – even City – would miss Rodri, Kevin de Bruyne and John Stones from their starting line-up. City were without all of them – until Stones came on in the second half – at the Emirates.

Any team would suffer because of that and after the clash in north London, it was hard to remember a match when City looked so toothless up front and so devoid of ideas and creativity.

Tongues are bound to wag after Man City lost back-to-back Premier League games but Pep Guardiola (pictured) will get his side back on track

Guardiola (left) and Mikel Arteta (right) exchanged a brief handshake and hug at the end of Arsenal’s victory over Man City on Sunday

Arsenal took a big psychological step forward on Sunday but don’t confuse that with the idea that City are going to go away

Any team would suffer with Belgian midfielder Kevin de Bruyne missing from their squad

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It also feels as if they have been more exposed by the loss of Ilkay Gundogan. Gundogan was a crucial player for City in their all-conquering campaign last season. He set the team’s tempo. He scored crucial goals. He left for Barcelona when he was still at the top of his game.

City have lost other key contributors, too. Riyad Mahrez had begun to become marginalised at the Etihad by the time he left for the Saudi Pro League but he was still a wonderful player to be able to bring off the bench when City needed an injection of class in a stalemate.

Arsenal were able to call on Gabriel Martinelli to do that. His hunger and drive breathed new life into their play and ultimately won the game for them. City brought on Jeremy Doku, who is still adjusting to the Premier League. He was unable to make the same impact.

In situations where teams are as dominant as City have been for the last six years, where they have benefited from the vast wealth that comes with being state-owned, it is normal to latch on to occasional periods of difficulty, like this, and extrapolate from them the idea that their hegemony is coming to an end.

The reality is that rumours of City’s demise have been greatly exaggerated. Yes, Arsenal took a big psychological step forward on Sunday that should help them maintain a title challenge right to the end this season but don’t confuse that with the idea that City are going to go away.

City are too good for that. They have too many good players. Rodri’s suspension is over now and he will be back for the home game against Brighton, the first after the international break. Stones, such a vital part of City’s development last season, should also be back in the starting line-up.

The most important thing, though, the main reason why City are not going to disappear from contention, is Guardiola. The City boss has many talents but perhaps his most precious one is the ability to keep his players motivated.

His own unrelenting intensity refuses to countenance a drop in the intensity of his players. He has the kind of character where nothing sates him. No amount of honours, no amount of wins. As soon as one trophy is won, he moves on to the next. He has a party and a cigar and that’s it. On to the next one.

Guardiola will see his side boosted by returning players from injury after the international break

All dynasties have that. Remember the stories of Bob Paisley and Ronnie Moran packing away trophies almost as soon as they had been won and telling their Liverpool players in the 70s and 80s that they counted for nothing now. 

They always looked forward. They never looked back. Guardiola is the same.

And that is the way it will be at City now. They will get Rodri back, sure, and that will be important but not as important as how furiously they will work as a collective to get themselves back to the top of the table.

Don’t kid yourself they are on the way down. They are only two points off the top. The season has barely started. 

They have the unending resource of Abu Dhabi behind them. City is a machine, beautiful to watch, beautiful for its precision and its magic and its moving parts, but still a machine.

Arteta (pictured) earned his first win over Guardiola as Arsenal manager in Sunday’s 1-0 victory

Sunday’s result was big for Arsenal but it wasn’t as important for City. It was a blip.

City midfielder Rodri will be back available for selection after the international break

De Bruyne will be back in the new year and when other teams start to creak and shudder under the pressure, City will hit their stride. 

That is what usually happens. It is a cliché but City know how to win. They know how to deal with the pressure. They know how to cope with setbacks.

Sunday’s result was big for Arsenal but it wasn’t as important for City. It was a blip. A rival landed a punch but they’ll roll with it. They are still odds-on favourites to win the title with the bookies. Why wouldn’t they be?

No team has won four league titles in a row in English football but, when May comes around, the City built by Guardiola would still be my bet to be the side to change that.


It’s All Kicking Off is an exciting new podcast from Mail Sport that promises a different take on Premier League football, launching with a preview show today and every week this season.

It is available on MailOnline, Mail+, YouTube , Apple Music and Spotify

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