Analysing Kevin de Bruyne's man-of-the-match performance against Arsenal
It wasn’t an ideal start for Manchester City in their victory over Arsenal at the Etihad, but they rescued three points in a pulsating encounter with a second-half performance that stunned the Gunners and helped Pep Guardiola’s team move up to second in the Premier League. For Arsenal, they surrendered a lead to lose for a second consecutive game.
Theo Walcott’s fifth-minute finish from an Alexis Sanchez pass had the visitors ahead at the break, but the second half yielded a quite excellent revival for City and a familiar collapse for Arsenal. Leroy Sane started the rescue mission, running on to David Silva’s pass to beat Petr Cech, leaving Arsenal appealing for offside, before Raheem Sterling completed the comeback with 19 minutes remaining, collecting Kevin De Bruyne’s inch-perfect cross-field pass before cutting inside Nacho Monreal and thumping in at Cech’s near post.
A goal down and facing the prospect of another damaging home defeat to a title rival, City needed their elite players to step-up in the absence of leading scorer Sergio Aguero. On Sunday, Kevin de Bruyne stepped up to the plate, not just with his wonderful second-half performance, as he began dictating play whilst his opponent Mesut Ozil vanished into obscurity on the Etihad turf, but in his all-round performance throughout the 90 minutes.
From the start of the game, after Arsenal’s early goal had stunned the Citizens, the Belgian midfielder immediately began turning the screw and crafting chances to try to get his team back into it. He finished the game having played seven key passes, more than any player on the pitch on the day, and the first of these almost yielded an instant City response on six minutes, with Sterling heading agonisingly wide from De Bruyne’s sumptuous cross just a minute after Walcott had opened the scoring for Arsenal. A guilt-edged chance squandered.
De Bruyne was at the heart of the action once again minutes later and driving City forward, but his and City’s luck was out again when another great cross found Yaya Touré, only for his headed effort to just evade the top left corner.
The Belgian was doing his utmost to try to get his team back into the game, but it just wasn’t going his way in the first-half, with all his incisive passing leading to nothing. Sterling saw a shot blocked away after being fed by De Bruyne on the edge of the Arsenal box, before he got another cross away right on the interval, and with Yaya Touré connecting, it looked a certain goal, only for the Ivorian to send his headed effort straight at Petr Cech.
For the first 45 minutes, the game had the feel of being just another one of those days for City, but all of that changed after they had a bit of luck just after the break, with David Silva’s pass finding Leroy Sane who hammered home, the officials ignoring vehement Arsenal protests for offside.
With the equaliser on the board, rather than let up, De Bruyne continued to turn the screw as the midfield lynch-pin and drive City forward for the winner. He attempted ten crosses throughout the game, trying to create opportunities for his teammates, and he looked to have finally created the winner on the hour when his sixth key pass of the game after being fed by David Silva found Leroy Sane, but his left-footed effort was well-met by Cech.
De Bruyne was linking everything together and most of his touches of the ball were in the Arsenal half, mostly concentrated in the pockets of space in the middle of the opposition half, where he might find joy between the defence and midfield. Besides attempting to create, he also got about the pitch and showed a work-rate and hunger to keep winning the ball back for his team. The effort was there for all to see despite losing all of his five attempted tackles, Gabriel wriggling away from him twice and Ozil once, and committing two fouls on Francis Coquelin and one on Gabriel, for which he was branded with a yellow card.
De Bruyne also managed a blocked pass and an interception both out on the left-wing in the first-half as he sought to close down Arsenal’s threat down the right and win back the ball, to help gain his side a foothold in the game, and he even tried his luck in the air twice, despite losing out on two potential flick-ons to the taller Gabriel.
But later in the game, his resolve began to make a telling difference as Arsenal began to tire, and for the first-time in the match he managed to successfully get beyond defensive-midfielder Francis Coquelin after a take-on, and with City’s relentless driving forward finally opening more space and yielding more opportunities, one sensed a goal was close. And De Bruyne almost got it, a curling effort taking a fortunate ricochet off an Arsenal player, only for Cech to deny him with a wonderful diving save.
Four minutes later, with 19 minutes remaining, the goal came, made by De Bruyne’s most telling contribution on the game,. From his position out on the left, he played a stunning cross-field pass- his seventh key pass of the match, and the most important- into Raheem Sterling on the right of the Arsenal penalty area, who collected the ball, came inside and arrowed his effort into goal beyond the despairing dive of Petr Cech at his near post for the winner.
The Belgian almost put the gloss on a good all-round performance with a goal of his own just six minutes later, but was desperately unlucky to see his left-footed effort hit the outside of the post after being found by substitute Jesus Navas’ cutback.
Having created the majority of City’s opportunities and wonderfully crafted the winner, Kevin De Bruyne was duly awarded man of the match in the estimations of BBC Sport. He linked up play and was at the heart of everything good that City did on the day, as shown by his average pass accuracy of 78% in the match.
De Bruyne was the catalyst for City’s second-half transformation that saw Pep Guardiola’s side seize control of the game from the Gunners. Their change of tempo and intensity was simply too much for the visitors to withstand, and they had no answer to De Bruyne’s craft, which was at he heart of their torment throughout the game, and in the face of it Arsenal could do little but fold in the second-half.
Manchester City are now seven points behind leaders Chelsea, and if Pep Guardiola and if his side are to have any hope of catching them, they will need performances like this on a consistent basis. The Belgian thus far this season has produced that, the bigger issue however will be keeping him fit throughout the latter half of the campaign, having already struggled in his absence this season. There is still a long way to go, and if he is fit and in this mood, he makes City more than a match for anyone.
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