Manchester City will remember how Liverpool reacted to losing the EFL Cup in 2016 as they prepare for Arsenal

Miguel Delaney
The Independent
City will be wary to keep their motivation against Arsenal: Getty
City will be wary to keep their motivation against Arsenal: Getty

Even before Manchester City had finished celebrating on Sunday, Vincent Kompany had a warning for the very next game, that also happens to be their very next match against Arsenal.

That was because of an almost identical situation the EFL Cup winners found themselves in two years ago.

“We beat Liverpool in the League Cup final, and then three days later, we went to Anfield and got absolutely peppered,” Kompany said of that 3-0 defeat. “I’ll be the first one to mention that on Thursday, because Arsenal will be up for it.”

It is a dynamic that has actually often been seen in such double-fixtures in the past, especially when the second game is the least significant of the two, and the winners of the first might feel a sense of job done. It is also a dynamic that could be doubled down for this game because of the exact nature of the criticism Arsenal received for Sunday’s 3-0 defeat.

They won’t just be looking to make up for a lost final, but so much lost pride. Not for the first time, virtually everything about the first team and the entire club has been questioned, but this did feel a first in how deep it went. The criticism for once went right beyond Arsene Wenger, as so many of the players were called for apparent surrender and in some cases walking back to their goal when City were attacking. That could well sting Arsenal into a response, even if it is one of those classic Arsenal responses, getting a job done after the real damage has actually been done; a 2-0 second-leg win after losing the first leg 4-0.

“People who comment, their job is to comment, so you have to live with that,” Wenger said on Wednesday morning. “What is important is how we respond, how we analyse the game and how we respond in a united way.”

Wenger was adamant in his own analysis that the EFL Cup final was much tighter and more competitive than the 3-0 final score suggested - even pointing to how City had just three shots on target to Arsenal’s two - but there can be no argument or delusion around the table. His side are a massive 27 points behind Pep Guardiola’s in the table.

It is one of the other elements that does remove some of the importance of this game in terms of consequence, rather than just because it doesn’t have the prize of Sunday on offer. Sure, this is another of the season’s series of oh-so-built-up top-six games – but only in numbers. The gap between the sides doesn’t make it worthy of the same noise, because they are at extreme ends of that six. City are so far in front of the pack at 13 points with this game in hand that any defeat doesn’t really matter, Arsenal so far behind the Champions League places chase - eight behind fifth with this match in hand - that any win won’t do wonders for them. It is also why so much of the build-up was dominated by Wenger's future, rather than the more present challenge of the match itself.

That lack of concrete consequence still only goes so far, though, especially since both sides have tough fixtures after this: City at home to a hurt Chelsea; Arsenal away to Brighton and Hove Albion, in a match that has many of the ingredients for another of “those days”. There is thereby still a need to maintain a momentum given the greater potential damage of two bad results in a row and, even if Wenger’s analysis of the EFL Cup final feels self-serving and incorrect, it is not inaccurate to say some of City’s momentum has subsided.

They are nowhere near the level they were in December, and it’s difficult not to put this down to Guardiola’s physical conditioning programme as much as anything. There were similar drop-offs at this time at Barcelona and Bayern Munich, designed so the team would peak towards the end of the campaign.

Vincent Kompany scored during the comprehensive 3-0 win on Sunday (Getty Images)
Vincent Kompany scored during the comprehensive 3-0 win on Sunday (Getty Images)

That should be the greater frustration for Arsenal from Sunday, and why some of the criticism was fair. City did look entirely beatable, and susceptible to Wenger’s gameplan, except for the fact his players were so susceptible to losing all conviction once they conceded one goal.

That, however, should not take away from the idea behind the gameplan. Contained play and counter-attacking should be again how Wenger approaches this match.

“Look, we did that in the semi-final of the cup and it worked,” Wenger said. “I would just like to remind you that the possession was 57-43, so it was much more even than what you say here. We had less of the ball in the semi-final and we had beaten them, so if it was as mathematical as that, we analyse well our games and overall I believe that yes, we always have the ball because you cannot stop them completely from having possession as well because they are top quality.

“As I told you, they dominate the league at the moment and there is a reason. You have to accept that. I am quite amazed how people analyse that. It looks like we have lost against bottom of the league in division five. We have lost against a team that dominates English football at the moment. Yes we are unhappy, yes we are disappointed, yes we are not happy with our performance. But we have to take perspective and I think that means sitting back a little bit, analysing it well with a distance and then coming in and committing for the next game. I think we lack a little bit of perspective in our analysis.”

Arsenal, however, will need more conviction in their performance. Kompany, meanwhile, will have reminded the City players of the need to be aware of that.

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